Practice the Principles: Step 3

step 3


Step 3: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Being a self-proclaimed agnostic and some-time science nerd, it was initially difficult for me to accept and adhere to the 12 Steps, what with all the “God talk” throughout. Step 3 is the first to explicitly use the word “God” and this was off-putting to me. But I was in the business of saving my life and, having the gift of desperation, I was willing to try anything. Even Step 3.

At about thirty pounds under weight due to a steady diet of opiates, crack, and benzos I had the willingness to try something new, something different because I had tried everything I could think of to stop drinking and drugging. There was the moving from place to place (states apart), psychiatry, medication, acupuncture…you name it. But I couldn’t stop.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous tells me that this way of thinking and behaving is typical for people like me: the addict/alcoholic. It also tells me that sheer willpower alone will not get and keep me clean and sober; that I lacked a spiritual foundation without which, I would never get what I was seeking: a life without dependence on alcohol and other drugs. Steps 1 and 2 speak of our powerlessness over substances and mention the existence of something greater than ourselves that could save us from ourselves. Step 3 is the first step to suggest seeking God as that power “greater than us.”

Allow me to shed some light on my resistance to subscribing to a program that emphasizes the word “God.” I am that kid who, as early as elementary school, would be scolded daily for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance. My reasoning: because it includes the word “God” and, even at the young age of seven or eight, I was a firm believer in Separation of Church and State. I was that kind of rebel.

Now, I have for a long time made the distinction between being spiritual and being religious. I always thought of myself as a spiritual person but not a religious one. And there certainly is a difference. But, it wasn’t until I decided to get clean and become willing to follow the 12 Steps that I really got to test my ability to distinguish between the two. And Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him, was where the real test began because it is the first of the 12 Steps that uses the word “God.”


The Big Book’s authors did a huge service to the atheist/agnostic by preceding the Step 3 Principle with a chapter called, “We Agnostics.” In it, Bill W. and Dr. Bob acknowledge those of us who do not believe in the traditional concept of God. But our predecessors were even more understanding and respectful of the agnostic when writing Step 3; they explicitly included “as we understood Him” in the wording.  Aha! This sort of loophole is perfect to the alcoholic/addict who likes to manipulate words and meanings. And it was intentional. It allows those of us who do not believe in “God” per se, to create our own version of a power greater than ourselves when working Step 3.

Once I surrendered and worked Step 3 along with the rest of the 12 Steps, I was finally able to get and stay clean and sober.



How to be non-judgmental towards your Sponsee

How to be non-judgmental towards your Sponsee

How to be non-judgmental towards your Sponsee

Being judgmental is a part of human behavior. Unfortunately when we are judgmental it creates a division between us and other people. The same goes when you are judgmental towards your sponsee, that judgment creates a division between you making it almost impossible for them to connect with you on a deeper level. The best way to remain non-judgmental towards your sponsee is to remember you once were exactly where they were. You weren’t always the recovered sponsor, at one point you were the new sponsee.

If you find yourself passing judgment on your sponsee here are some ways to be non-judgmental towards your sponsee:

  1. Don’t pass judgment – This sounds redundant and probably fairly obvious but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you find yourself being judgmental towards your sponsee, stop yourself. It takes a lot of awareness or greater awareness rather than we usually have. So the first step to be non-judgmental towards your sponsee is to observe your thoughts when you are with them, while trying to notice if you are being judgmental. Remind yourself to observe. Once you are more aware of when you are being judgmental you can begin to stop yourself.
  2. Understand -Understanding is the opposite of judgment. Instead of judging your sponsee for what he or she has done, how they look, their actions; try to understand them. Put yourself in your sponsee’s shoes. Try to imagine your sponsee’s background. Talk to them and see if you can get them to open up about their story. This can really help with being non-judgmental towards your sponsee. You may find that the things you were judging them for actually have circumstances behind them that explain or have led your sponsee to acting like they do.
  3. Acceptance – Once you find understanding with your sponsee or at least you think you can kind of understand; which you should because you have been where they are, accept them for who they are without trying to change them. Your job as sponsor isn’t to judge your sponsees anyway, your job is to be a non-judgmental friend and support for them. Accept your sponsee for who they are and don’t try to change them. Accept that they will act the way they do and that it isn’t your place to change them but rather just to be there to help. The world is the way it is and as much as you can try to change the people in it, including your sponsees, no one can change another person. If you can find acceptance you are well on your way to being non-judgmental towards your sponsee.
  4. Love – Loving your sponsees rather than judging them will have an effect on you both. Loving others will make you happier and them. Loving your sponsee can change their life and your own. If you can accept your sponsee for who they are you can love them. Love them as a brother, sister, daughter, etc. It doesn’t matter their background, how they act, what they say etc. Just love them. If you do this then being non-judgmental towards your sponsees not only will help them but will help you too.

Should a Sponsor Randomly Drug Test Sponsees?

Drug Testing

Should a Sponsor Randomly Drug Test Sponsees?

What is a sponsor?

Sponsors are a term used by 12 step fellowships. Sponsors are not authority figures they are merely recovered addicts and alcoholics who have worked 12 steps and now have a relationship with a higher power. What sponsors do is take other individuals who have not worked 12 steps and help them, these individuals are known as sponsees. Sponsors are not meant to tell sponsees what to do but are meant to offer suggestions. A sponsor’s main purpose is to just be as helpful as they can to their sponsees, there is no better than or less than, and also to take them through 12 steps exactly as they went through 12 steps. Everyone who is sponsoring has been a sponsee at some point and they have a sponsor of their own.

So should a sponsor randomly drug test sponsees?
The answer to this question is a resounding no. A sponsor should never randomly drug test a sponsee. In fact a sponsor should never drug test a sponsee ever. Drug testing a sponsee is not the purpose of a sponsor. If the sponsee needs drug testing there will be other people in the sponsee’s life who will do the drug testing. The sponsor is merely another addict and alcohol trying to help and share their experience. Sponsors do not force sponsees to get sober nor do they interfere with a sponsees life in such a direct manner. Sponsors are there for support but they are not meant to be an overshadowing, authority figure that sponsees have to answer to.

Good sponsorship doesn’t need drug testing because the sponsees of any sponsor will be comfortable enough to tell them if they did relapse or end up using again. If sponsees don’t tell their sponsor that they relapsed then that is part of their journey which they must experience. Sponsors are not looking for anything from sponsees except for willingness. If a sponsee isn’t willing to do anything such as being honest about using or drinking a gain than that has nothing to do with the sponsor. The sponsor takes a sponsee through 12 steps. That is it. No drug tests. Sponsors randomly drug testing sponsees crosses boundaries and defeats the purpose of what a sponsor is trying to do. Also a sponsor is not above their sponsees they are exactly the same and they are on equal footing. For a sponsor to drug test sponsees implies that they are better than or are more responsible than their sponsee. This is not the impression that a sponsor wants to give. With sponsoring and sponsees it really is just two addicts and alcoholics sitting down and talking to each other. Nothing more and nothing less. This is where the magic happens and there doesn’t have to be drug testing for this to happen. The 12 step program which termed sponsors and sponsees did so because the way addicts and alcoholics recover is through sitting down and talking to other addicts and alcoholics. They can finally realize they are not alone. Drug testing would create a distance between sponsor and sponsee that defeats the purpose.

Being Transparent With Your Sponsee

Being transparent with your sponsee

Today during my morning reading, I came across a chapter that was all about the spiritual importance of transparency. Being open and sharing your true self with others, it said, was essential in order to clear the blockages caused by ego and truly open yourself to spiritual growth. I reflected on how important transparency is for addicts and alcoholics in particular.

Being transparent with your sponsee: What is transparency?

Before we get into the importance of being transparent with your sponsee, it’s probably best if I clarify what I mean by “transparent.” Transparency can be used in a lot of different contexts- to describe business dealings, government operations, or even material. When I talk about transparency, I’m talking about spiritual transparency. To me, spiritual transparency means being open and honest with the people around you. It means practicing what you preach. Transparency goes further than just “letting things go.” It means not holding on to those things in the first place.

Lack of transparency blocks us off from spirituality and connecting with other people. It is based in fear and self-doubt. We become blocked from others and we become anxious, uncomfortable, self-conscious, and/or frightened. We try to control the things around us.

Being transparent with your sponsee: We are as sick as our secrets

Often in AA, I’ve heard the phrase “Our secrets keep us sick.” or “We are only as sick as our worst secret.” More often than not, when someone relapses and comes back, and I ask them why, they tell me it’s because there was something they left off their fourth step. Instead of being completely transparent, they held something back.

This is one of the biggest reasons it is so important to be transparent with my sponsees. If I am not transparent with them, how will they feel comfortable being completely transparent with me? If they are not transparent with me, what are their chances of staying sober?

Transparency makes accountability possible. You can only be accountable for where you’re going, what you’re doing and how you’re spending your money if you are 100% honest.  A sponsor or other sober friend can help you spend your money on right things rather than your addiction–but only if you don’t lie to him or her about it.

Being transparent with your sponsee: Primary purpose

Our primary purpose as active members of Alcoholics Anonymous is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. We cannot carry a true message if we are not transparent in all our affairs. Sure, I could go to a meeting and speak about the spiritual principles of AA, but if I’m not practicing these outside of AA, then what kind of message am I sending?

One of the great gifts of being transparent is it means that I can use everything that you have experienced to help another alcoholic achieve sobriety. If I can share my own experience with another member of AA, and make them feel less alone, then my experience wasn’t a waste.

Anywhere you give yourself room to hide your actions and your true self; you may also be giving the darkness of this addiction room to grow.  It can be much too easy to lose yourself in that darkness.  When I think of transparency, I think of the pane of a window.  It lets in the light and leaves darkness no room to hide.

What makes a good sponsor?

What makes a good sponsor?

What makes a good sponsor?

There are so many people out there who get sober and are willing to sponsor but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they would make good sponsors. Good sponsors have less to do with how much knowledge of the program they have and what kind of relationship with a higher power they have. When we as addicts and alcoholic get a sponsor who takes us through steps, it is not the sponsor who gets us sober but the higher power we find during the process. So what makes a good sponsor?

  • A good program

A good program is essential to a good sponsor. A good sponsor will have worked all twelve steps in a twelve step program be continually taking action throughout their daily life to keep progressing. Working a good program means that they continue to attend meetings, help newcomers, have a growing relationship with their own understanding of a higher power and practice spiritual principles throughout every aspect of their life.

  • Integrity

Integrity is one of the main ingredients in the mixture that makes a good sponsor. Integrity means that even when no one is looking this individual continues to do the right things. They practice what they preach. A good sponsor will give you a suggestion and then also practice that in their life. A good sponsor will never tell you not to cheat on your boyfriend and then cheat on their boyfriend. If this is the case chances are that your sponsor is a good person but going through a spiritual rough patch and you may want to find someone with a little bit more integrity.

  • Practices principles in all aspects of their life

A good sponsor practices spiritual principles. A good sponsor doesn’t just practice spiritual principles at meetings or with sponsees, they also practice spiritual principles in their relationships, at work, with their families and in all areas of their life. The 12 step program is a design for living not for staying sober and good sponsors recognize this and practice the same patience, tolerance, kindness and love that they practice in the rooms, in every area of their life. They let all the principles of the program spill over into the way they handle their career, their school, their friends, their family, and their relationship.

  • Someone who has time for you

A good sponsor will always have time for you. A good sponsor will usually stop whatever they are doing to help you, that is, if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. You can’t ask a sponsor to give their all if you are not giving your all in the program. Just as your time is precious so is your sponsor’s. So if you are respectful of their time you should expect the same respect of your time and they will always manage to fit you into their schedule regardless of how busy it may seem they are. They are never bothered or too busy to talk on the phone or in person.

So what makes a good sponsor? What they are doing in their own program not so much what they are doing for you because as it was first stated your sponsor won’t keep you sober but they will be a huge part of your journey into recovery. That’s why it is good to find a good sponsor who doesn’t work your program for you but works their program every day to the best of their ability as it carries over into their daily life.

How to redirect your sponsee to a different recovery coach

How to redirect your sponsee to a different recovery coach

The relationship between a sponsor and sponsee is one that is fundamental in getting sober. Everyone in the 12 step program who wants to work steps must have a sponsor to work with and when they are finished with their steps, must begin working with their own sponsees. So what happens when you need to redirect your sponsee that you just picked up to a different recovery coach?

The best way to redirect your sponsee to a different recovery coach is to be upfront and honest while coming from a loving place. There are only few instances when you should redirect your sponsee to a different recovery coach. Those instances usually are if your sponsee continues relapsing and they may get more help from a different recovery coach, you think someone may be a better fit for them, or you don’t have the time needed to give them.

When you sit down to redirect your sponsee to a different recovery coach is good to always start off by letting them know it is because you are incapable of helping them anymore for whatever reason. You should never tell them what they are doing wrong but focus more on what you cannot do for them. This makes it about you and not your sponsee. The next step is to give them the phone numbers of other people who they may want to be their recovery coach and explain why you think they might be a better fit for them instead of yourself.

Make sure to always keep the focus on how it’s going to be better for your sponsee to have a different recovery coach instead of yourself. If you don’t have time you can say something along the lines of, I don’t have the amount of time in my schedule to give you what you need so I think it is best if you find a different recovery coach to help you through your recovery.

Always let your sponsee know they can call you for any kind of sober support even though you won’t be sponsoring them anymore. Just because you are redirecting your sponsee to a different recovery coach doesn’t mean that your sponsee can no longer talk to you, be friends with you, call you, or ask you for advice. The only difference will be that your sponsee will be working the 12 step program with someone who else who is better equipped in whatever way to help them.

We always want the best for our sponsees and we always want to be of maximum help to them. This can even mean redirecting your sponsee to a different recovery coach if you think it’s going to be of more help to them. That’s the primary purpose. We never want to hold onto sponsees if we aren’t able to be of maximum benefit to them. We always want to point sponsee in the right direction. You can’t tell your sponsee what to do but you can help to redirect them to a different recovery coach.

Top 5 Things Not to Do With Your Sponsee

Top 5 Things Not to Do With Your Sponsee

The relationship between a sponsor and their sponsee is a delicate one. In 12 step fellowships the sponsor usually has accumulated a few years of clean time and is available to take on a sponsee to mentor through the 12 steps. The sponsee is usually newer and has not been through 12 steps (although, due to relapses a sponsee could be redoing the steps). It is the job of the sponsor to just share his or hers experience with the sponsee and tell them how they went through 12 steps to help the sponsee achieve the same thing they have, permanent sobriety. If you are a sponsor you should know though that there are some boundaries with your sponsee and some things not to do with your sponsee.

  1. Become their therapist. This is one of the biggest things not to do with your sponsee. You don’t psychoanalyze sponsees nor do you try to give them life advice. You merely just share your experience with them. If you don’t have any experiences on the situation they may be asking you for help with than it is best that you direct them to someone who does have similar experience.
  2. Give them medical advice. This is another huge thing not to do with your sponsee. You should never give your sponsee any kind of medical advice. For instance you should not tell them to start or stop any medication, that is a doctors job and most likely you are not qualified. You also don’t give them any advice on any mental or physical conditions they may have other than telling them to see a qualified medical professional.
  3. Tell them what to do. As a sponsor one of the top 5 things not to do with your sponsee is tell them what to do. As sponsors we give suggestions not demands. Giving demands to a sponsee gives off the feeling that you are better than them and in all reality you are not. You just merely have been through steps. So you don’t tell them what to do, you suggest it and let them decide for themselves.
  4. Become their best friend. This is one of the top 5 things not to do with your sponsee right now. You may become friends with your sponsee later but right now your only job is to take your sponsee through steps. While doing this you both may get to know each other very well and become close but it is best if your sponsee finds outside supports and women or men that they can rely on to stay sober. Becoming best friends with them can also cause some complicated problems if you get in a fight etc.
  5. And last but not least the top thing not to do with your sponsee is let them be dependent on you. The whole point of working the steps and taking your sponsee through the steps is to share your experience with them so they can get a relationship with a higher power. Your sponsee should always be dependent on their higher power first and you second. They should learn to pray before they call. You can’t fix all their problems but a higher power can and that’s the whole point. So don’t let your sponsee become dependent on you.

Sponsoring isn’t tricky and it’s not something that has to be done perfectly because whether or not your sponsee stays sober really has nothing to do with you and everything to do with a higher power. But you definitely want to try and stay away from the top 5 things not to do with your sponsee so you can give them the best shot at finding a relationship with a higher power through working 12 steps.

Taking your sponsee through the 12-steps

Taking your sponsee through the 12-steps

Taking your sponsee through the 12-steps

Taking your sponsee through the 12-steps

Taking a sponsee through the 12-steps has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in sobriety for me. I feel privileged to walk another woman through the process that saved my life. Every sponsor has a slightly different way of taking another woman through the steps. Some go through the Big Book of AA, page by page, others prefer a “quick step” method. I’m not sure how Narcotics Anonymous does it; I have no experience with NA, but I believe they have a workbook for step work.

Before starting my steps, my sponsor asked me two questions:

1. Are you willing to go to any lengths for your sobriety?

2. When we are finished, are you willing to take other women through the steps?

These are the same questions I ask my sponsees when taking them through 12-steps. The first indicates a willingness to commit to sobriety and take the action needed to stay sober. The second question is important because we cannot keep what we have unless we give it away. If an alcoholic isn’t willing to share the solution once they go through the steps, they have little chance in staying sober.

Before I take a sponsee through the 12-steps, I ask them to read the Doctor’s Opinion. The Doctor’s Opinion lays out exactly what alcoholism is; the three part illness-the physical allergy, the mental obsession, the spiritual malady. This is important because it defines the disease of alcoholism.

Again, every sponsor takes a sponsee through the 12-steps, but everyone does it a little differently. It was explained to me that the first three steps were “commitment steps.” They were decisions. They were my pledge to finish the rest of the work. I didn’t have a tough time with the idea of a higher power, but a lot of alcoholics do. The chapter “We Agnostics” can be very helpful in these situations.

There is always a lot of trepidation when I am taking a sponsee through the 12 steps when we get to the fourth step- the moral inventory. In my experience, the dread before doing a fourth step is much worse than the actual step. I did a lot of things in my addiction, a lot of terrible, risky, and time-consuming things for my drugs when I was using. How bad could it be to simply sit down and write a list of my resentments, fears, and harmful sexual behavior? And that’s what I ask my sponsees when I take them through 12-steps. We go over the moral inventory for the fifth.

Six and seven are pretty short, and then we put pen to paper again for the 8th. Writing down the people I had harmed and how. For nine, my sponsor told me which amends to make, and which to wait on. There were plenty that I will never make directly. My amends to those people are simply living amends, living my life according to spiritual principles and trying to not ever harm anyone else the way I harmed them.

Ten, eleven, and twelve are the maintenance steps. These are the steps I work every day to maintain my sobriety.

There is much more involved when taking a sponsee through the 12-steps, this is a very brief overview. But to truly know how to take a sponsee through the 12-steps, you must go through them yourself.

What to do if your sponsee relapses

It’s not hard to tell when a sponsee is headed towards a relapse. Usually, they’ll stop calling, stop going to meetings, and stop working the steps. What you do really depends on your sponsee. There’s really nothing you can do until your sponsee wants to come back, that’s when you take the action. If they are out there using and don’t want help, the only thing you can do is pray and be available to them when they do want help.

If your sponsee relapses for a couple of days, then wants to come back, there are a few different options. You can pick them up and take them to a meeting, start steps over, and offer support. If detox is an option, you can help them find a place to go. Usually, if your sponsee has a short relapse like this, they don’t necessarily need to return to treatment, but every situation is different. If your sponsee wants to go back to treatment, then certainly be supportive. Sometimes, if a sponsee is living a dangerous environment (i.e. with other people who are using) then treatment can be a good option.

Treatment is advantageous when your sponsee relapses, because it takes them out of their “using environment” for a period of time. Usually if a sponsee relapses for a couple days, they aren’t going to be immediately living in a “using environment.” With longer relapses, however, treatment is sometimes the best option, particularly if they have had some kind of trauma while relapsing. Treatment allows a person to stabilize and focus on recovery, and it also allows them access to therapy.

If your sponsee relapses while living in a sober house, your plan of action will likely depend on the rules of the sober house. Usually, the first time your sponsee relapses, the sober house will require them to go to detox for a specific period of time before they can come back to the sober house. Sometimes a sober house will evict them.

If your sponsee relapses, the main thing is that they need to be willing to get or receive help. If they are willing to try to get sober, you can offer help, and design a plan around their needs. However, you can’t force anyone to get or stay sober.

Sometimes, when your sponsee relapses, you may need to make a 12th step call. Maybe your sponsee calls and asks for helps, or maybe it is a friend or family who will ask you to make a 12th step call. These calls are similar to interventions, and for exact guidelines, ask your sponsor. Generally, however, you will take another person in the program with you to meet your sponsee. You will try to convince your sponsee to get help, either by taking them to detox or a meeting. Some sponsors I have known have taken their sponsees to their own houses to sober up, though this is controversial. Again, consult your sponsor before making any kind of 12 step call when your sponsee relapses.