Posted by: innerpilgrimage | July 20, 2010

Sponsor to Sponsor: Service is Our Gift and Responsibility

      Following is my opinion. Other sponsors may not feel this way, but I have been confronted with something I feel is very important to the program from what I have gleaned from it.

      Dear OA Sponsor,
      We have taken on a wonderful service, one which heals us even as we help our sponsees. However, I am disturbed by a trend that I have seen both in and out of meeting–a sponsor’s sense of authority over one’s sponsee.
      This may take the form of a sponsor telling a sponsee to avoid listening to a Fifth Step, possibly because the sponsor does not feel s/he is qualified to listen. This may take the form of a sponsor telling a sponsee to follow his or her food plan. This may take the form of a sponsor presenting to a sponsee his or her experiences as OA dogma. Whatever this role of authority we take, we must be mindful that when we set ourselves up to be someone else’s Higher Power, we can fail that sponsee because we are only human. Because we are, just like our sponsees, eating disordered.
      I wish to turn to the Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous at this point. The Twelve Steps get a lot of play, and that’s fantastic. After all, it is the foundation of the individual program which allows an individual to reach that spiritual awakening promised in the Twelfth Step. However, our traditions are very important, too.

      Tradition Two: “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

      I am a trusted servant of my sponsee. I am equal to my sponsee, whether or not I have nine hours, nine days, nine weeks, or nine months of abstinence. We are working the same 24 hours, no matter how many days of abstinence I have chained behind today’s. I am constantly aware that I am one compulsive thought from one compulsive bite from a binge. That awareness reminds me that today’s abstinence is just as important as that first, agonizing twenty-four hours.
      I can blow abstinence so easily, if I chose to. Instead, I choose to let my food belong to my Higher Power. My food plan is my own. If people are interested in what I did to lose 100 lbs. over the last year, I will tell them. While that story is enticing (and it is, which is why I tell people so they can at least consider OA an option). I am not dieting, despite the appearance of dieting because of my physical program’s success. I am, in fact, eating the amount of calories a person with a 22.5 BMI (midline) at my height needs to maintain that midline BMI weight. I am eating for a lifetime, and that caloric amount will increase when I increase my activity level. If I reach that midline, good. If I don’t, fine. I have a healthy BMI and am at low risk for diabetes. That is my food plan. That is my abstinence.
      My sponsee’s food plan looks nothing like mine. Why? She has a different life than I do. She was seeking a food plan once, and I made it clear that her abstinence was personal–just like her program and her relationship with her Higher Power would be. Success in abstinence means she hit the right food plan for her. That’s how I measure a food plan working. Just because my food plan works for me doesn’t mean it works for anyone else. It’s an option, a Higher-Power-driven decision. That food plan is, to me, the first surrender we make to our Higher Power. We literally remove our moment-to-moment control over food to our Higher Power.
      I have given her my personal experiences and offered her what works for me. I have encouraged her to take from meeting shares and others in the program and take what works for her and leave the rest. I am not the arbiter of all things OA–her Higher Power is. If I guided her away from service (like listening to someone’s Fifth Step), I would be placing my will before her Higher Power’s will for her. It should be my sponsee’s personal choice.
      When I did my Fifth Step, I chose someone who happened to have less abstinence than me; this person also had not completed a Fourth Step inventory. Did it matter? No. This person listened to me as a friend and accepted me even after I finished my inventory. I was not the most horrible person in the world. I was just an addict, same as any other addict who does a Fourth Step Inventory in OA.
      To step in the way of a sponsee’s service to others suffering from compulsion is an act of pure ego–just like my calling out any sponsor who has done this is my pure ego. I know I am getting deep into my character defects by being so offended by it. Sponsorship is not an opportunity to guide; it is an opportunity to serve. It is our Higher Power’s calling to help someone else prepare to serve another newcomer in thankful humility. Ego means taking back control from HP; for me, if I take back control from HP, the foundation of my own abstinence crumbles. This I learned from observation of myself and others in the program. We surrender to our Higher Powers, period. We do not become others’ Higher Powers.

      Tradition Three: “The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.”

      Why did I pick that one? Because it is a core reminder that we are as prone to lose abstinence as our sponsees. I tell my sponsee that I am walking beside her today. We are working side-by-side to get through today. I do not want her or anyone else to give a s–t if I have a magenta coin in my wallet that says I was able to chain nine months of abstinence. That magenta coin is there as a reminder to me that I am a food addict, that I cared enough about myself nine months ago to fight that first painful twenty-four hours and surrender to my food plan. I work the program one day at a time like everyone else. I will work the program one day at a time like everyone else, even if I break abstinence tonight and have to earn my 24-hour chip all over again tomorrow. I will work the program because I am compulsively addicted to food, and surrender to a Higher Power has saved my life, given me purpose, and even gotten me to contribute to society. It’s not about whether or not I follow my food plan for the day any more. When I follow abstinence, I can work my mental and spiritual program because the food is handled. I can become a person with meaning and purpose and enough love to follow my Higher Power’s guidance and serve another human being in crisis.
      My HP served me when I was in crisis. My HP brought people into my life to help clear the debris and create a foundation for the rest of my life. I will never be cured of my addiction, but that sweet awareness that I do not have to submit to it (because I have a Higher Power holding me up) gives me the determination to serve my Higher Power’s purpose for me.
      I am an OA member, first and foremost. So is the person who has taken the newcomer packet and realizes that OA makes sense to them. I am equal to every person who comes in and decides to work the program to the best of their ability (as the inspirational “Invitation to You” makes so clear). And I find that sometimes the greatest HP messages come from people just hitting their clarity stride. Because they work their program, they will hit upon things I will have missed in my own.
      For example, my eyes were opened in meeting by something that hit me right in the Third Eye (meaning my spiritual self): “My Higher Power will never trick me into thinking poison is a treat.”
      Wow. Just, wow. I never considered it before. And now that I have, my food choices are changing slowly yet again. When I bring that awareness that I want “a treat” that I know is poison, I know it’s not my Higher Power guiding me to it. That is one more point of surrender, and it came from a person who has less abstinence than me.
      So in this service I, as a sponsor, have taken on, I am reminded that I am not only a sponsor but I am a sponsee of the group. I’ve learned through personal experience that my Higher Power will talk through anyone. I have to be ready to hear Its message–whether it comes from a person who’s been in the program since 1960 or a person who’s been in the program since the start of that meeting I am sitting in at the time. I honor my Higher Power by being receptive to Its messages, from whatever the source.

      Tradition Five: “Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.”

      OA is not the only option, but I work to make sure people at least know it is an option. Yes, I trot out the 100-lb. weight loss I attribute to OA and my Higher Power because, like most people, I “came for the vanity and stayed for the sanity.”
      I have what a lot of people want–a healthy (relatively speaking) body. I have a normal BMI after decades of being morbidly obese. This is because I surrendered.
      Surrender to my Higher Power’s will for me was the greatest gift I gave myself, outside of taking that leap of faith in trusting that admitting I was a compulsive overeater could actually keep me from bingeing. It was the most counter-intuitive thing for me to do, personally. I’ve found that the counter-intuitive nature of this program is its source of success. Admit I am an addict. Take responsibility for it. Release control of it to something so much more powerful than me that it can hold me up when my spiritual, mental, and even physical knees buckle under the stress of taking on a new way of living. Dredge up my past hurts despite fearing they will cause me to relapse. Admit to another person that I had a part in that pain, that I fed it, despite fearing it will cause me to relapse. Do the same for my character defects, and lay them before that Higher Power, praying to be released from them as I was released from the bondage of food obsession and believing wholeheartedly that my Higher Power can do it. List the people I have harmed and dredge up all of the harms I have caused, despite fearing that will cause me to relapse. Tell them I acknowledge what I have done, apologize, and make amends in person wherever possible, accepting that I may not be forgiven by some of them. Then? Oh, then I have to do it on a daily basis, adding each of the nine steps to my daily abstinence plan despite the worry it will overwhelm me and I’ll relapse. Keep the lines open to my Higher Power, listening for Its messages on how I can be of service, accepting that when I give up control I find myself competent and capable and looking like I’m “in control”. Be of service by letting others know that I am a food addict and that OA is an option for anyone seeking to release the control food has over them, despite my fear of others knowing I have a deep character flaw that I cannot run from–I am an addict.
      Nowhere in there do I see: “Become a spokesperson for OA to get membership numbers up.”
      When we first enter OA, we are in “the clutches of a dangerous illness”. We are suffering compulsive overeaters seeking guidance and answers. As a sponsor, I have made a few mistakes. I have fallen into the traps, trying to guide my sponsee toward my own plan. I have also learned that when I do that, I gyp myself and my sponsee. When I acknowledge she and I are equals in the program (which we are, because we work the program one 24-hour period at a time), I serve my Higher Power by submitting to the understanding that I am no better than anyone in the program. I am working an imperfect program, and I always will. That acceptance makes me entirely aware that I have no authority. Only personal experience. If my sponsee gets something out of my personal experience, then that’s great.
      My commitment as a sponsor is to actively make myself readily available to one person. I make myself available to all other members, but I go out of my way for my sponsee because I committed to serve her needs until she’s ready for me to simply be just another OA member for her. She knows if she finds a person who is better-matched as a sponsor that I encourage her to move on and develop her program with that person. At this point, I am still her sponsor. My biggest issues are with my own tendency toward isolation. I don’t take every day to communicate with her, something I really do feel is a disservice to her. Even checking in daily is a service to my sponsee. And sponsorship is, by the very definition of it, service to both the program and to its members. In service, we find joy in the humility of being relied upon. Of being someone else’s HP’s tool. Of being our own HP’s tool. This is good, as long as we remember that we are not teachers; we are servants.

      Tradition Twelve: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all these Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

      Yes, my sponsee knows my name. My sponsee even knows some personal things about me, revealed when I used personal example so she could take from what I had experienced. However, I am distilled down to (and should be!) an OA member. I am a food addict, just like her. I am a person who has chosen to take action rather than die of this addiction. We share the core of the program.
      Like I said, I have not been a perfect sponsor. I have talked from a place of ego to her, and we had some conflict because of it. However, because I believe her program is her program and my program is mine, we seem to have gotten past that. When I back down and realize that I’ve either been too wimpy a sponsor (trying to get her to like me) or too demanding a sponsor (trying to get her to “buckle down” and take on my own program as her own), I realize that it’s been an ego trip the whole time.
      Sometimes she needs me to be more involved; sometimes, less. Whatever my involvement level (which does sometimes expose my neglect of my service to her–because I am an imperfect food addict working my own program at the same time), I hope she knows that (1) I care about her recovery and am excited as she develops her mental, spiritual, and physical programs and (2) she can come to me any time to tell me of her successes, frustrations, and even her food plan. I am here to serve her as her sponsor. She knows I can’t work her program for her, that her recovery is hers and her Higher Power’s. She can turn to me for advice (which often has been filtered down from my own meetings, telephone calls to other members, and readings from the literature), and I am always ready to state that I am not the arbiter of all things OA. Anything I say is from my personal experience, for her to take from it what she wants and for her to leave the rest.
      As she progresses, I turn to her, as well. It’s a mutual relationship based on one very important shared experience: We are both food addicts who have chosen Overeaters Anonymous and have found the program works for us. Some day I won’t be her sponsor. I am not hurt by this at all. I am not pained by it at all. When my usefulness as a sponsor has finally hit that point of diminished returns and another sponsor (even her Higher Power, as many seem to use because I’ve found we lack sponsors in this program), I will become an OA member to her–just another person she can call on who understands the importance of her mental, physical, and spiritual successes. I share excitement in her victories (yet do not take credit for them) and I empathize when things aren’t going easily. That is the service we provide when we sponsor.

      So, fellow sponsors, I ask that we remember to our first day in OA. I ask that we recall the fear of walking into that room as our last hope. I ask that we remember that we are servants of our Higher Powers, that we need to actively approach our sponsees (who often are still nearer the compulsion than we are because we’ve had the gift of “acting as if” we are normal eaters for so long we’ve gotten into the habit of effectively emulating it). I ask most that we remember we are, above all, OA members and equals to our sponsees.
      Encourage service. A sponsee who has reached and solidly grounded themselves Step Three and is working Step Four can be a step sponsor. A sponsee who has been asked to listen to a Fourth Step Inventory as another person’s Step Five and who wants to do it should be encouraged to follow our model of service. The literature states that anyone can hear someone’s Step Five–even people outside of our program. Anyone. To discourage a sponsee to perform service willingly rendered is stepping between one’s sponsee and their Higher Power. It is placing one’s personality before the principles of OA.
      Happily, I have been fortunate to have met many sponsors who seem to take the service of sponsorship with the same humble seriousness I do. I currently have one sponsee. That one sponsee I have is ready to be a Step One-through-Three sponsor when she is ready. And when she gets to Step Twelve (possibly even before me, which she and I are both aware of because I’ve said as much), she will be an amazing sponsor whose commitment to the program will help a lost soul drowning in food addiction become an amazing sponsor in her own right some day.
      This is the service I perform. This is the service we all should perform, with the humble thankfulness that our Higher Powers have given us the opportunity to help others with grace and empathy and love.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict. I am an imperfect sponsor working an imperfect program. As my own sponsee once told me, “Progress, IMperfection.” I take that forward with me, as a reminder that only my Higher Power can truly give guidance. The rest of us can, however, give love and empathy and kindness to those who are taking on the greatest challenge of their lives–to surrender to their own Higher Powers and embrace a life of action, meaning, and value.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for this, Jess. 🙂


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