Sponsorship Discussion – Part Two

Joshua Hoe pic of snow in ypsilanti

Snow Falls in Ypsi

by Joshua Hoe

So, what’s next, starting to work on the formal first step. If you are new to the program, the formal first step is when you tell your entire story (of addiction) to your recovery group.

I try to get started toward a formal first step very quickly…One of the most important and powerful things about 12 step programs is they start getting the things that you have been bottling up inside yourself out.

To my mind, the quicker that process starts, the better.

Working the First Step

I generally ask sponsees to read all of the program literature related to working a first step.

I then ask them to write down any questions that they might have about the readings and discuss them.

As we discuss the questions, I try to get them to start sharing their story of addiction from the beginning. Kind of like a verbal first draft.

I see this part of the process as a good way to get a person to start to reflect on the chronological events in their first step presentation.

The next thing I ask them to do is to start deciding which of the chronological events they will choose to make up the first-step presentation.

I then ask them to do a run-through with me – sometimes this has happened at my house, sometimes at a restaurant, sometimes at a coffee house – I usually let them decide what they are comfortable with.

The general idea is to get them used to delivering the content out loud and with as minimal a script as is possible.

I try to emphasize that because you are sharing events that you directly experienced – a full script can be a distraction – and trying to memorize things almost always comes off as forced.

I try to get them used to just being comfortable telling their story with what I call ‘memory cues’ – a short outline of all the events you want to cover usually.

I try to give as much feedback at the end as I can….but always in the most supportive way possible.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that even talking about this stuff at all is a huge struggle.

Sometimes, I hear the first step at least one more time before they present for the group.

Usually, this ends up being a pretty hard, but rewarding, experience for the people that I have sponsored.


My basic rule is that a sponsee should try to check in every day (or as many as they can manage).

I tell them the length is not important, but that the idea is to start setting up routines that give them a structure for recovery.

Every day when we talk, I just ask how they are doing, if they are having struggles, and ask if they have any questions.

If there was reading or something we were supposed to discuss I also ask about that. I try to let them drive the conversations within any of the sub-headings.

If they are having problems, I try to share whatever experience, strength, and hope I have to share.

One thing I always try to do – but probably am not always successful at – is preface any advice with a caveat…something like this worked for me, or this might not make sense for you….something to recognize that our experiences are not universal and we each come to the answers in our own ways.

Another important thing to remember is to sometimes just listen…At least for me, my biggest problem is trying to share too much “help” when really sometimes people just want to dump their experiences.

Continuing Step Work

I generally follow the same procedure for continuing step work. Usually, guided by the process in the blue book, the 12 and 12, other program materials, and my experience.

After they finish the first step presentation – I try to give them decompression time then move to the second step etc.

It seems like for most people I have worked with – step 4 is the hardest with step 1 a close second.

Some people really like to work the steps quickly…And I have heard of sponsors that try to get through them all super fast.

But, I have also had sponsees for which this is too much too fast.

I think every person is different.

Odds and Ends

I find that maybe, for some, I am a bad sponsor – because while I am pretty involved – I really resist driving the program for them.

If they are committed to calling nearly every day (and many are) I seem to do pretty well.

How do the rest of you deal with this question of motivation?

I try never to discuss any of my sponsee problems with anyone but my sponsor – and when I discuss them with my sponsor, I never use names – only situations.

The book I read about sponsorship (put out in the group of semi-official literature) was very heavy on not talking about your sponsees with your other sponsees or meeting with them together. I try to follow these rules.

Sponsor Reliability

I try to be very reliable – because sponsor/sponsee seems to be a very important relationship built almost entirely on trust.

If my sponsees call – even if it is not possible for me to answer at the time – I always call back as soon as I am able.

I am not always great at this, but I try to let them know ahead of time if I will be unavailable.

At the same time, I try to mention on a regular basis that sponsors are addicts too and that I am far from perfect.

I try to follow the same process of amends and quickly admitting when I have made a mistake or have done something wrong and trying to make amends for it etc.

I also make it very known that it is entirely fine for them to fire me if I am not working for them or if someone else seems like they would be a better fit.

Sponsorship should be about their recovery, not my ego.

Meetings and Sponsorship

I generally have less interaction with my sponsees at meetings – part of this is to let them have their own relationship with the meetings…

Part of this is so they do not feel like they are ‘outed’ as my sponsees (identification should be up to them). The book seemed pretty strong on this point – and it seemed to make sense.

If they come and talk to me – of course, I am totally happy to talk and see them.

I learned what I know from my own sponsors, from books, and from trial and error. I think that this is a really great chance for all of us to share our experiences, strength, and wisdom with each other.

I hope some other folks will leave comments and share their sponsorship styles.

How do you work as a sponsor? How have your sponsors been from your perspective as a sponsee? Would love to hear your experiences, so please leave comments! Hopefully, we will all help each other!

My Basic Approach to Sponsorship – Part One

winter street ypsilanti

Even when things get bad, a good sponsor is there

by Joshua Hoe

Sponsorship is one of the best ways to work your 12th step.

I remember when I first started on my program of recovery, I did not have much guidance for being a good sponsor (Aside from the literature and my own sponsor).

I am sharing this to start a dialog, please feel free to share you own approaches to sponsorship by adding comments.

Starting Points

When I first meet someone who is asking for a sponsor, I tell them following:

– At least at first, it is probably a good idea to check in by phone everyday so we get a feel for each other and so that I can get a feel for where you are at with sobriety.

– I think it is important that you (the sponsee) initiate the contact between us because your motivation to work the program will probably be the difference between success and/or failure.

I will occasionally text or call you if I do not hear from you – but I do not want to work your program for you. At the same time, I will try to always be there for you when you need me.

– You can call me at anytime, even at 3 am, if you are struggling or need to talk to someone, I will try to answer or call you back as soon as I can. For normal daily check-ins I would prefer you call between 5 pm and 8 pm.

I try to live by this. When people need help they need help. One of the most frequent excuses people in recovery give for not calling is that they “did not want to bother/upset the person they were calling.

Service means helping when and where you are needed. And as much as it can suck, it does not mean helping only when it works for you.

You do have to set boundaries, for instance, I ask people to only call if it is an emergency during my work hours. But, I tell them I will always call them back as soon as I can. And I try to always do so.

– I always say that I believe overcoming the barrier of reaching outside of yourself for help in the moment of the crisis is the most important thing.

I believe that the rest of the program is relatively easy. The first thing you have to conquer is making the call (or prayer or meditation or whatever).

I emphasize working the steps with me as the second thing that needs to happen.

I believe that people have to get used to calling first.

The first time we talk – I try to set up a meeting so I can hear their story. When this happens, I let them tell my their story and try not to interrupt.

At the end, I share anything I felt or felt connected to etc.

Usually, when we first start talking, I will try to get a feel for where they are in terms of sobriety, ask questions about their triggers and struggles, and try to get a feel for how they want to proceed.

That is how I start with a new sponsee.

Next time I will start with working on a formal first step presentation.

How do you start with sponsees? What do you think the critical things to be covered should be? Would love to hear your opinions, leave a comment!

Recovery vs. Sobriety

Fall leaves in Michigan

Building Recovery is Progress

by Joshua Hoe

I recently had the following conversation with a friend who is about a year out from when he started his program of recovery:

He started by talking about he has been a failure and he is not sure he is any better off after a year of recovery.

So, I asked him:

Between 2013 + 2014 how many times did you act out?

He thought for a few seconds and said “I am not sure”

I said, “give me your best guess”

He said, “thousands of times”

Okay, so then I asked,

“How many times have you relapsed in the last year”

He responded,


I would say he came a pretty long way myself.

Overwhelming + Often Irrational Shame

How do you get to reducing from 1000 addictive actions down to 5 and not see progress?

I know in the depths of my addiction that I was acting out every day, every week, every month, every year.

My life was more about my addiction than it was about living.

How is that possible?

One thing never changed ever…After I acted out, my life became all about shame.

What I have learned, over a long time and after much struggle, is that shame and guilt is often part of the addictive cycle…and not in a good way.

I know when I was feeling like my friend felt, what I was often doing was telling myself some version of the following things:

“No matter how hard you try, no matter how many meetings you go to, no matter how many calls you make, you will still be alone and broken.”

“Nobody will ever really understand you, you will always be broken”

And then the kicker:

“So, you might as well act out.”

Exactly….how can you argue with logic like that?

Being happy became a trigger – Well, I guess I deserve a reward, better act out.

Being sad became a trigger – See, you will always be broken and alone, better act out.

My whole life became about the acting out…Not about the happiness or the sadness..or the living.

A Strong Program of Recovery Is The Key

One of the few disagreements I have with the official recovery texts is that they prioritize sobriety over recovery.

In fact, they often suggest that recovery is impossible without sobriety.

That is horse-poop.

I am not saying if you are in recovery that sobriety doesn’t matter. I am saying that recovery can be important even if you are struggling with sobriety.

Your program of recovery is a safety net.

Your safety net.

I cannot tell you how many times having a strong program of recovery has stopped a relapse from becoming a spiral into crisis.

I cannot tell you how many times a strong program of recovery has turned a crisis into a soft landing.

Recovery catches you when you fall.

Recovery lets you know that other options exist.

Before I had recovery, I only had myself and I had not other answers. With recovery, I always have a dialog – even when I call nobody…because, I know there are options I used to tell myself did not exist.

And, most important, like in the case of my friend, even if you don’t realize it, most people make progress in recovery…even when they fight it from the start, resent it, or go kicking and screaming.

Because I have a strong program of recovery…I made progress that led me to the capacity to stay sober.

Building Muscle Memory

So, I have talked before about how your brain starts to create a short-cut between your trigger and acting out.

Recovery is practicing for sobriety.

Recovery is building the muscle memory that builds your capacity for different short-cuts.

Going to meetings, calling people, meditating, praying, exercising, whatever your list includes..when you engage in those behaviors you are making a different choice..You are making progress.

You are building positive muscle memory.

You are using your safety net!

How do you feel about your own sobriety? Do you allow yourself to see progress? Do you prioritize your sobriety over recovery? Would love to hear your opinion, leave a comment!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. We are not therapists and do not pretend to be. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.

Emotional Error Light

by Joshua Hoe

Addiction is really not about a substance or behavior – those are just symptoms.

A symptom you need to learn to address and cope with…but, a symptom.

The cause is your triggers. Triggers speak to an inability to process our emotions and pain in a productive and healthy manner.

Emotional Deficits

Addicts, in general, have emotional coping deficits.

I tend to escape into my head + into fantasy to avoid the things that I find painful or sad.

When I feel emotionally vulnerable or emotional or pain I am triggered to act out.

So, my urge to act out is in some ways like an emotional warning light.

In other words, I can look at my urges as red flags…as my early warning system that tells me I should be dealing with something bothering me emotionally.

The Power of Habit

The problem, neurologists say, is that our brains tend to reduce workload by operating on autopilot as much as it can.

So, when, for instance, I drive home while daydreaming, I still make it home in one piece. My brain gets me home on autopilot because it knows how to do that…A pattern of travel has already been established.

Unfortunately, one of those patterns that the brain takes over is the addictive cycle.

My brain knows that when it feels a trigger that it is time to act out.

This is why, so often, I wondered why I acted out even when I did not want to…It was because I was on autopilot.

Changing the Wiring

The answer is to start changing the wiring.

Establish different patterns by learning to identify your emotional warning lights (triggers).

When you are triggered, try doing anything else but acting out. And realize you have something bothering you.

Over time, as you establish different responses to your triggers, your brain will stop seeing acting out as it’s default response to those triggers.

I believe very much that a large amount of finding recovery is about substitution behavior.

I do just about anything healthy when my early warning system goes off (call someone, exercise, meditate, cook etc).

It works for me.

Have you been able to utilize triggers as early warning? How do you create distance between triggers and acting out behaviors? I would love to hear your stories! Leave a comment.

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. We are not therapists and do not pretend to be. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.

The Honesty Imperative

by Joshua Hoe

Cleaning up your pile of guilt

Starting to clean up your pile of guilt

Someone was talking about honesty and lying at a meeting recently…

I remember sitting in group therapy sharing things that were 100% true but being genuinely shocked hearing them coming out of my own mouth…

Why would telling the truth seem so bizarre?

Because I had been lying to myself for so long I had almost forgotten what my own truth sounded like.

That’s when you know you have a problem

So, the first thing I thought when this person was talking about honesty…I am capable of an almost unbelievable and super-human ability to bullshit myself.

The second thing I thought was how much easier my life has been since I stopped lying to myself and others.

I used to have to somehow keep my stories straight, stress about being found out by any number of people, stress about betraying people’s trust…and then there is the living with all the guilt from the lies.

I am not a very mystical person, but I do believe we come pre-programmed with a moral compass. I believe it actually makes me feel bad to do bad. My justifications and self-lies might enable me to do things that I know are wrong…but in the end I am still miserable.

I would talk myself into acting out or cheating or something I knew I should not do…usually feel like a robot during the acting out of bad behavior and then be even more miserable after.

All that lying got me nothing but stress, sadness, and guilt.

Make a clean break with the lying if you can, it really changed my life and made me a much happier and better person.

How have you dealt with your own lying? Has it worn you down and depressed you like it did me? Would love to hear your comments!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. We are not therapists and do not pretend to be. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.

My Program of Recovery Keeps Me Sane + Safe

By Joshua Hoe

I hear people talk all the time about resenting recovery all the time. They resent the very idea of having to have a program of recovery.

They resent the meetings, they don’t like calling people, and they hate feeling obligated.

But, things are often what you make of them.

I look at my own recovery in an entirely different way.

I love recovery. I am constantly thankful for recovery.

I look at recovery as what enables me to actually enjoy the rest of my life.

It is like the insulin that keeps me from going into my own addictive version of self-destructive shock.

I am lucky that I don’t have diabetes…and I suspect most everyone struggles with something. Nobody is normal, and everyone has some crosses to bear.

But I am a recovering addict, and my medicine is a strong program of recovery.

Changing My Game

Before recovery, I was successful but miserable and often terrible to people.

After recovery, I am rarely miserable and usually very decent to people, even caring.

I have made friends in recovery that I know better than people I knew for decades before recovery.

I learn things in every meeting I go to. Things that help me with my own pitfalls and struggles. Things that keep me on the beam.

And recovery was the first time, maybe in my whole life, where I felt people really understood my problem.

Maybe equally important, recovery – meetings, reading, working the steps, and calling people – create a structure and routine that keep me sober every day and remind me to stay in the 24 hours I am in.

Last but not least, when I falter, or struggle, recovery and my recovery community are a safety net that can help keep me from relapsing or keep me from falling too far when/if I do relapse.

Things are always about how you look at them.

I look at recovery as one of the best and most necessary parts of my life. I have seen the wreckage my life can become without it first hand….And now, because I found it, I can be happy and nice.

And, because of recovery, I can be the best person I can be most every day!

Do you struggle with loving recovery? What are your struggles? How do you keep yourself going back? I would love to hear your comments!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. We are not therapists and do not pretend to be. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.

Start Simple – Make a List

by Joshua Hoe

I talk with people all the time who are triggered by feeling they have way too many things to do and way too little time to them in.

I have struggled with this a great deal myself.

In my old career, I used to work 100 hour weeks and travel all the time, I never felt like I had real time to recover, it always seemed like there were 100 projects pending and that I had time to maybe finish 80 (if I was lucky).

But the truth is, with addicts, this is just another form of catastrophizing (when you look at problems as impossible to overcome, when you see things only as the worst possible outcome).

For me, all it took was getting  the discipline to write out the list of what needed to get done every time that I started to feel triggered.

Writing A List

Three things happen when I write out a list.

First, simply be writing it all down, it proves that I  don’t have a never-ending amount of things to do. It might be a long list, but it is still a list with a tangible amount of things on it.

Second, it allows me to start prioritizing the things that are most important to accomplish first.

In medicine they call this triage and it is how they decide how to apply resources in most emergency rooms.

By seeing which items are most important, I am taking control and starting to make progress instead of letting my tasks control me.

Third, it helps me manage my procrastination.

By getting in the habit of writing a list every day, and keeping to it, I don’t spend the whole day in paralysis because my tasks seem to large to conquer. Instead, I spend the day marking items off my list.

Often I promise myself that I will do something fun (but not triggering) when I finish off the list (instead of spending he day doing nothing I do something fun when I finish my tasks).


I disagree with people who think powerlessness is universal.

You have power, just not over the urges for your substances or behaviors.

When it comes to your substances or behaviors, you are powerless but not helpless – you can call people, surrender, engage your relapse plan, do positive cognitive behaviors…all kinds of things.

When it comes to the rest of your life you have just as much power as anyone else.

It is probably true that none of us has as much power as we would like (or sometimes think that we have) but we are not universally powerless.

We are powerless over our substances or behaviors.


I used to think advice like this was paternalistic and insulting.

Now, I realize sometimes I need to remember the simple things.

In my case, I am certainly an addict that is good at some complicated things and really awful at many of the simple things.

I used to be less disciplined and much more paralyzed by my daily tasks.

I certainly wasn’t making lists. And while maybe I thought I was “beyond” that kind of thing. It turns out I wasn’t.

Not at all.

This is why I say all the time that there is no place for cynicism or sarcasm in recovery.

Humility is a HUGE weapon in recovery (and one I am not so great at remembering).

So, now, I humble myself, and do simple things that I maybe forgot about.

And it makes everything work better for me.

I hope that it will help you too.

What are your thoughts on making lists? Or on paternalism and powerlessness in recovery? Would love to hear your opinion, feel free to leave a comment!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. We are not therapists and do not pretend to be. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.

Entitlement Vs. Love + Intimacy

 By Joshua Hoe

I was thinking today about feelings of entitlement to sex that come in relationships.

You know, when you feel it is a biological right and something you are supposed to get as part of your signed relationship agreement…and can get grumpy about when it doesn’t happen.

No matter what a relationship is, it probably should not come with entitlements…Entitlement seems to me a close relative of objectification…Another technique we can use to make someone controllable, knowable, the way we think we want the world to be.

And What About Love?

Sounds like the title to a bad 80’s hair band song…(ummm it is).

I always try to think about love as being when you care about someone as much or more as you care about yourself.

(Of course, when you care too much, we addicts are often at risk of co-dependency and trying to control things too much – but that is a subject for another day).

Love should certainly not be conditional on a partner’s sexual capabilities should it?

What if your partner has a car accident and is rendered no longer capable of having sex…would you no longer love (her/him)?

My inner devils advocate responded “that seems an extreme analogy, most people who don’t want to have sex are capable.”

I thought about it a bit longer…

If there is something making someone feel uncomfortable about sex shouldn’t you care more about whatever that “something” is than you do about getting laid?

Shouldn’t you care more about that “something” than you do about yourself, if you love your partner?

I shared this thought with a friend and they said “Yes, if someone was in a hospital bed you wouldn’t feel entitled to sex…but, if they have something upsetting them emotionally about sex, it is like them being in a hospital bed that you cannot see.”

Really true. Great insight.

Of course, most of the time, sex lapses in relationships happen because there is not enough time in the day, there are too many responsibilities (kids, work, commitments etc).

But sometimes, sex is an emotional minefield. I know it has been for me.

Treading Too Carefully To Care

For years I pushed all of my emotions away and tried to mistake sex with love…and a healthy relationship with lots of sex.

Then I pushed all of my emotions away and tried to cover them up with sex…often with partners other than the one I was committed too.

Then, after two separate people made me really understand how terrible I was…I withdrew into myself and could not handle any sexual contact outside of fantasy.

In all of these periods…one thing was constant, sex was ONLY about me (to me).

It certainly was not about caring, or being present, or intimate.

I was either only giving myself physically (never emotionally) or totally withdrawing. I was incapable of connecting in any way beyond the physical.

Yup…An emotional minefield

Recovery + Intimacy

Recovery is certainly not about sex…But, I consider recovery to be like emotional training wheels on the bike of intimacy.

By learning to be present and care about other people you connect with in recovery, by actually paying attention, by caring about their problems, by knowing the little things about them…You are learning to be emotionally connected to another person.

It was like I grew up and never learned intimacy correctly, I faked it all the time but I was like a robot imitating what I thought I saw the people do.

Recovery has gradually gotten me to where I feel very close to people…where I care about people in a different way.

Instead of seeing people as aliens I fear, or aliens I withdraw from, or aliens I manipulate…I am learning to really care.

That is probably a little extreme, I always cared, but it was more in the abstract…like I didn’t trust them to care for me, so there was always a distance.

I had one long time girlfriend who cared so much that ANYBODY could have seen trust would NEVER be an issue, and I ran from her too.

The part of me that let people in was broken really young…and it has taken decades to reactivate it (robot language).

In programs, when they say we are emotional cripples that is certainly true of me.

Real Caring

I kind of feel now like all that would matter for me are the following few things:

  • Am I really present with my partner, no matter what my partner is talking about…do I really listen, not just by being physically there…by caring because she is talking. Do I care enough to listen when she would need me to listen, even if it interferes with my agenda?
  • Do I think of her always as her own unknowable subject – as someone I love because I can never entirely understand her..because she is who she is, not who I want to control and enjoy.
  • Is sex just a means of getting satisfaction or, as it should be, an end…what comes from true intimacy and partnership…what comes from trust and love? I kind of believe that the sex that is born of desire, lust, and the need for satisfaction is false…only a walk down the path of acting out (where what matters is ONLY me).

After well-over five years of total sobriety from sex (and I mean total), I know for a fact that while we might have a biological sexual response at times (nocturnal emissions), we can do just fine without sex.

My desire for love did not die, and I suspect my desire for sex did not either, but I know I am as happy and well-adjusted as I have ever been waiting for it to be right (truly intimate).

Twenty years ago, I would have thought that statement was insane.

I still do not believe all relationships have to end in marriage…or that the only time to have sex is after marriage…But, I now do believe that sex should be about love and come from love.

I do not believe that should, in any way, be enforced…But, I do believe, for me, that is the ONLY place a positive sexuality can come from.

What do you think about love, intimacy, and sexuality? I would love to hear from you, feel free to leave a comment!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. We are not therapists and do not pretend to be. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.

Sponsorship Is About Trust – Not “Firing”

By Joshua Hoe

At one of the meetings I attend, every third week we listen to CD’s from annual conferences…It is one of the coolest parts of the Recovery month as it almost always generates really great discussions afterwards.

Anyway, last month, we were listening to a CD about sponsorship and one of the taped participants started explaining that after a sponsee relapses a third time he “fires” them….


He fires them?

I guess had heard of some other people “firing” sponsees…and I have certainly lost sponsees who left the program or went with someone else…But, I have never personally thought of firing anyone.

Why not?

1. Don’t Feed The Shame

Addiction is almost always based in shame and the last thing in the world an addict needs is someone telling them they are too messed up to qualify for sponsorship.

In other words (IMHO) there are not many things I can imagine that would make a sponsee feel more shame than being “fired” by a sponsor (and that would be more likely to move them to a new bottom)

2. Negative incentives are a poor model for recovery

I am very wary of creating negative incentives for people in recovery.

Addiction is very often a house built from decades of negative incentives.

People have to want to recover for themselves..they have to want to be better…they should not recover so that they don’t lose a sponsor, or because they might not get a token etc.

3. Tough love DOESN’T WORK

Read the literature, read the studies, take your own anecdotal polls…you will find that people do not recover because someone was “tough” with them (or because anything really).

Usually, what tough love is really about is making people feel better about walking away from addicts (at least I am not enabling him/her anymore).

My point is not that people should not walk away when an addict has burned the bridge one too many times. Obviously, some times we have to walk away.

But my point is that NOBODY knows why people recover…

Tough love, enabling, rock bottom…there is no science behind any of it.

Whatever the alchemy is, it does not seem to start at a predictable place.

I know for me, I just decided I didn’t want to be crazy anymore…Tough love didn’t hurt or help..It was more about encountering answers that made sense (therapy + recovery program) at a time when I was open to recovery.

4. It is not about the sponsor, it is about recovery

I don’t know about you, but I came into recovery because I failed a million times without recovery (and several times with recovery). People find sobriety and traction in recovery at different times and for different reasons.

Why is it we so often hold people to standards we ourselves might not have met?

I always tell my sponsees that they can fire me anytime, because it is about them finding the best person to help them find recovery…If I am not that person great…But, if they want to stay with me, and they feel comfortable with me, I am sure not going to abandon them (often when they need me the most).

The reasoning on the CD was something like this:

“Obviously, if they keep relapsing, I am not the sponsor for them”

But, sponsorship is not about saving people…It is about making yourself available to help them.

Recovery, therapy, a strong program, and a spiritual awakening save addicts…Sponsors walk alongside sponsees…IMHO we are helped as much by sponsees (at least by being reminded how close we are to relapse) as we ever help sponsees.

I have often imagined a sponsor as like Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio…Jiminy spent most of the movie giving Pinocchio great advice that Pinocchio ignored…But, Jiminy kept on keeping on.

You could be the best sponsor in the whole world, and your sponsee might relapse…You could be the worst sponsor in the world and your sponsee might recover for decades….You are a channel for good but it is not your story.

5. Don’t Rip The Safety Net

When people who have a program of recovery relapse, often what makes the difference between a cliff dive and a pedestrian relapse is support and a program of recovery.

There are relapses….and RELAPSES!

When people look for support, often, a sponsor is on the top of the totem pole when it comes to people in that network.

I have seen people who used to fall of that cliff – stop short ONLY because they had people to call who they could count on. I have seen people’s relapses cushioned because they had a strong network of support…and we have all seen people tumble into disaster without support.

And, even when they tumble all the way to the bottom, would you rather they have somewhere to go, a hope that recovery is possible? To me, recovery is about hope and we all have been at the bottom of that cliff…when there is no hope, cycles of acting out become inevitable.

6. Trust Is Important

So, if you have not reached the end of the road with an addict, you might be doing him or her no favors by throwing them back to their own devices.

Sometimes it takes every bit of courage a person has to even ask for a sponsor..Many addicts spend a great deal of time thinking that they will never be accepted or loved really…really….

Putting faith in people is VERY hard for addicts.

I have often said that I think recovery is a process of riding the intimacy and trust bicycle with training wheels.

Firing your sponsees is kind of like ripping the training wheels off.

People need the most help when they are struggling, and they need to know that their are people that they can trust.

Making that trust conditional seems a recipe for disaster to me.

But aren’t addicts manipulative?

Sure, but usually, if you have been around someone enough you get hip to their tricks…No?


I think this whole “firing” concept probably comes from the school that thinks you need to take a hard-line with addicts or risk enabling them.

In my experience, realizing you have no other option but recovery is not something that can be induced or coerced. It happens when it happens (often after years and sometimes decades of awfulness).

There are boundaries you should set as a sponsor, and if someone is endangering your recovery or hurting people, you sometimes have to remove yourself. But, most relapses probably do not reach this high bar (I would assume).

There are also personal boundaries you can ask your sponsees to respect, if they are not willing to respect those personal boundaries, you might have to remove yourself…But, again, most relapses probably do not reach this high bar (I would assume).

How often has tough love really worked as a solution to addiction? It certainly hasn’t been much of a success in our criminal justice system…It certainly hasn’t cured anyone I know of. To me, recovery is about helping people reconnect through empathic support and guidance.

What To Do With Relapses

Most people outside of the addiction community think along these lines:

Addicts never have any consequences for their actions,

Addicts are basically getting a free ride to destroy people’s lives all while they are having a good old time acting out.

This is really not too terribly different from the logic you usually hear when people talk about firing sponsees:

“Well, if you can’t keep sober then I obviously am not the sponsor for you…”

Except, we all know it is a progressive disease and that recovery happens at different times for different people.

No More Bootstrapping

One of the most harmful narratives in public policy discourses is the bootstraps metaphor.

“If I can do it everyone else can too” story that allows us to blame anyone who doesn’t accomplish what we accomplished as easily or despite hurdles (like we did).

I prefer the humility narrative myself.

I only found recovery after years of disastrous and progressive acting out, and but for the grace of God, I would be right where everyone struggling with sobriety is.

I certainly do not want to judge anyone else for failing to find lasting sobriety quickly enough.

And, more important, I don’t want to contribute to anyone’s addictive cycle…Sponsorship is about trust…Not tough love.

What are your thoughts on firing sponsors? On sponsorship in general? Would love to hear your opinion, feel free to leave a comment!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. We are not therapists and do not pretend to be. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.

Token Trouble

by Joshua Hoe

Fall in Michigan by Joshua Hoe

Fall in Michigan

I enjoy my sobriety anniversaries, I like eating cake, I like everyone congratulating me, I like feeling special…I am an addict (and therefore also a bit of a narcissist).

Anniversaries can be really positive for people struggling with recovery, and having recognition (or any structure to cling to) every month when you are starting sobriety can be really helpful.

I also feel tokens and token ceremonies show newcomers that sobriety is possible.

All good so far,

However, time and again, I run into people who overly fetishize sobriety…Who imbue tokens with social power…People for whom the motivation for recovery and sobriety becomes almost exclusively getting tokens and recognition.

Incentives Are Not Always Good

At my heart, I am a capitalist, I believe that incentives are key to motivating changes. But, sometimes, in the case of tokens, incentives can create perverse outcomes (no pun intended).

God Bless anyone who can stay sober simply for the love of tokens.

In my experience, however, the love of tokens often becomes a process where people often replace the work necessary to constantly build on a healthy program of recovery with their next anniversary date.

Instead of working with a sponsor on recovery, they spend a ton of time circling the drain while clinging with white knuckles to a populist sobriety ONLY so they do not have to be embarrassed about relapse in front of the group…Or, so they can show off how good they are at recovery.

Or worse, they act out and lie about sobriety rather than be honest about acting out and missing out on the social support that comes from receiving tokens.

Or, even worse yet, people let acting out put them into a shame-spiral of acting out. As in “I can’t even make it a month, I will never be able to do this, so I should just give in and act out.”

In other words, most groups I have participated in approach tokens mostly on auto-pilot…uncritically…maybe un-carefully…which is troubling because tokens troubles do happen (I see them all the time).

I think what I am suggesting is that people approach newcomers and sponsees by putting tokens in context and adding cautionary notes….I am certainly not suggesting anything more radical (as for many people reward structures at the beginning are really critical).

Humility + Accomplishment

As I mentioned before, I love getting my token every year…Mostly because I love cake (sad but true).

However, in reality, I try to only really care about one token….My 24 hour token.

I keep my 24 hour token in my wallet, so that every time I open my wallet I am reminded that it is a 24 hour program and that all that matters is being sober today.

My 24 hour token is the ONLY token I keep with me.

Sobriety Tokens Only Mean That You Can Do It

No matter how much sobriety you accumulate, you are still only minutes away from a relapse.

Staying alive in the humility of knowing that relapse is possible helps stave off the ego that starts to make you believe you have “solved” your addiction problem by staying sober for a long period of time.

Staying humble in the face of addiction is really hard for a raving egomaniac like I am.

The 24 hour token reminder helps me (I also try to make a first step table every week so that I can stay close to the idea that I am powerless over my addiction and that my life can always be unmanageable).

I think if you are discussing tokens with a newcomer or sponsor, this might be a good place to start.

I also know a few old-timers who think it is important to remind people that relapses frequently happen around anniversaries (well, I made it, I deserve a “reward”).

Let’s face it, recovery isn’t easy (especially at the beginning)…By reaching anniversaries you have accomplished something that you should enjoy and celebrate (in a healthy manner)…But my advice to my sponsees is to celebrate genuinely, put it away, and start working on the next 24 hours.

What are your thoughts on Tokens? Have you experienced people struggling with “token trouble?” We would love to hear from you, leave a comment!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.