I was talking with a sponsee last night who recently slipped after getting 90 days. Since then, he hasn’t been sober for more than a few days at a time. I’ve sponsored him for over a year, and he got to 60 days when we first started working together, followed by brief sobriety then slips. He described his moods during both 60 and 90 days as climbing the walls – sounds like white knuckling to me.
I’m a firm believer that recovery is for those who want it, not for those who need it. I’m not “my way or the highway,” but I offer the blueprint that got me sober as an option as a sponsor because there’s no one true way to recover. I’m open to other methods of recovery as it ultimately helps my recovery.
This sponsee has years of sobriety in other 12-step programs, so he’s read the Big Book cover to cover, sponsors others in other programs, etc. So he’s subtly resisted my suggestions and decided to do things his way throughout our relationship. Many times he’s said he doesn’t know how he’ll ever recover from this disease. He’s broke, single, middle aged with no job skills, etc. Each time, I’ve pointed out that he’s gained sobriety elsewhere, so if it’s possible there, it’s possible here.
He expressed doubt again last night, saying what’s the point, I’ll never get sobriety, etc. I first said there’s no doubt you’re aware of your powerlessness. Then I asked him to rate his desire to beat this disease on a scale of 1 to 10. He said 50. Then I asked him how far is he willing to go to get and stay sober. He said he would do whatever it takes because he’s tried so many different things.
Then I said, “Here’s the thing. I’m not patting myself on the back, but I have over 6 years of sobriety. Our stories are almost identical, and we both come from abusive childhoods. What I do works for me, and there’s a really good chance it’ll work for you. So why haven’t you followed any of my suggestions?”
After awhile, he said, “You’re right.” I told him that he’s admitted powerlessness and he has the desire, but there’s one thing lacking to stay sober: willingness. He’s not willing to do whatever it takes, despite what he says. Here’s how I know.
As I said, mine and my sponsee’s stories are very similar. The only difference was I did experience longer periods of abstinence, followed by an horrifically epic 2 year relapse. But, I tried everything I could think of to get sober. But I wouldn’t go to meetings, get a sponsor, go to a therapist. I can do this by myself, I thought. That’s not willingness… that’s willfulness.
So, back to my sponsee. He then said he was conflicted over his career because he was beginning to see that it was fueling his addiction. So I asked him, “so if it came down to it and you had to choose between your career and sobriety, what would it be?”
More crickets. “You may hit that crossroads at some point,” I said, “for now, just keep asking yourself: am I willing to do what it takes to get sober?’ If the answer is no, then ask for the willingness.”
After a long pause, I switched subjects. “Did you remember to make the list of people who harmed you?”
“Oh yea! I finished that as soon as we got off the phone the other day.” Much more enthusiastic sounding.
“Alright, I was wrong. You do follow some of my suggestions. Now I want you to pray that they get exactly what you want for yourself.”
“Oh.” Not so enthusiastic.
“What are three things you want for yourself?”
“I’m broke as fuck, so money. I want to be happy. And no more drama.”
“So, prosperity, happiness, and peace?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So make the prayer simple. Don’t even bother with starting with anything like ‘God’ or ‘Dear heavenly father.’ Make it simple. ‘Please give __________ prosperity, peace, and happiness.’ Do that for every name on the list.”
“EVERY name? It’s a long list.”
“Yes, every name, every day for two weeks. Even if you don’t mean it right now. And if you can’t bring yourself to pray for someone on the list, pray for the willingness to. 'Please give me the willingness to pray for __________‘s prosperity, peace, and happiness.’ And you know what? Since my last 4th step, I have a list of people who’ve harmed me, so I’m going to pray for them too, just like I’m asking you to do.”
When I compare my recovery journey to my sponsee’s journey, I see that our struggles to stay sober were because we weren’t willing to do whatever it takes. Trying to do it by ourselves and ignoring advice from those who have been where we’ve been and are where we want to be, despite our best efforts, is willfulness.