My addiction recovery sponsor is mean

He's helping me, I guess, but he cuts me no slack and takes my wife's side

Published September 17, 2009 10:17AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I quit drinking on June 13, 2009. This was the result of 18 years of hard, hard drinking and the accompanying drug use. At the time of my decision this was an act of self-preservation to keep me from being permanently separated from my faculties. For several years before that I was one of those alcoholics who "wants to want to quit." At this point, 84 days into sobriety, that is my real goal. I want to want to quit, and I think that I am making real progress. While the journey so far has had its white-knuckle moments, it's overall been easier than I thought to not drink so long as I work the A.A. program, which I have been doing diligently (I have 131 meetings as of 84 days).

Anyway, like most other people, its was pretty hard for me to get up the courage to get a sponsor. In fact, I really didn't ask my sponsor. Instead, after a meeting he came up to me and said "Sounds like you need a sponsor." After calling him a few times in tight spots, I asked him to be be my sponsor. Since then it has not felt quite right. I just don't think I sync with this guy. I understand that my sponsor is not supposed to be my best friend, marriage counselor, etc., but I still don't have the easy rapport that I see other alcoholics in the program have with their sponsors. That said, he has given me very sound (and as it turns out, sage) advice, and he has really helped me work through the few very tough times I have had so far in sobriety when they arose, and effectively saved me from my alcoholic thinking and that first drink.

So comes today. I spoke with him after a meeting about a problem I have with my wife and how she is sort of out to lunch on the whole recovery thing and how I had to skip one of my favorite meetings in order to watch my children so she could do a "girls' night out" (out drinking!). I told him how this behavior as well as other things she has done has really upset me as to her insensitivity to my sobriety and the importance of my meetings. His response was to basically hammer me for complaining about not being able to get to two out of my favorite seven meetings that week, and that she has been through a lot and I should assume for the time being that I am usually wrong in all matters because I probably was when I was drinking and the alcoholic thinking is still with me.

Several people in the meetings have said how good I look and how great I am doing and to keep it up. I was even nominated to lead a meeting prior to 90 days, which I declined due to only having 77 days at the time. He has rarely given me any praise, and did not acknowledge my nomination even though he was standing there.

While his sponsorship has kept me working the program hard, often I feel pissed off and my accomplishments unacknowledged by him. Now I feel like he is defending my wife's real insensitive behavior. What should I do? Am I a whining sponsee or does this relationship really not work?

Sober and Getting Very Resentful

Dear Sober and Getting Resentful,

I suggest you stick with this guy for now and try to use this situation as a learning opportunity. This guy is telling you some hard truths and not giving you much kindness, and it's making you upset. That's understandable. You're human. I don't blame you for being upset. But I suggest you stay on course, keep moving forward and use this as a way to learn how to be upset and not get what you want and still keep working your program. It's a learning opportunity. Everything is a learning opportunity right now. You're learning a new way of dealing.

It's not going to be easy. You're going to get upset. That's the point: Learning how to get upset  and not have to take a drink about it.

This guy is trying to show you some other things, too. He is trying to show you how to respect another person's viewpoint. It may seem to you that he's taking your wife's side. He's not. He's on your side. What he's trying to show you is that your wife is going to make independent decisions and you have to find a way to accommodate that.

Generally speaking, a person who's been drinking for years has made allowances for himself, and make the lives of others difficult. The idea, as we downsize our egos and try to fit into the spaces allotted to us, is to reverse our customary procedure and instead be hard on ourselves and easy on others.

That doesn't mean the dramatic kind of self-hatred we can sometimes indulge in. It's more like acquiring the habit of imagining how our actions are going to affect others, and making decisions accordingly. This takes time to learn. Some people learn it early in life. Others, like us, we have to go back to school on the basics.

He is being a bit of a hardass, true. But I suggest you think of your life right now as a laboratory. You are concocting new behaviors out of stuff you had lying around but hadn't used for a while. You know how to laugh, right? How about trying to laugh this off, this put-upon feeling you have about your sponsor? After all, you are certainly not alone; yours is a classic situation, survived, endured and cherished by many people in similar straits. Also, there's nothing wrong with venting to others; he's not the only one you are authorized to converse with! Go ahead and complain about him to others. If they have gone through similar things, they will relate, and also may reassure you that this is survivable.

Basically, I'm saying stay on course and let yourself feel the things you feel. Allow yourself to express them. There's nothing wrong with being upset at the way he's treating you. It doesn't mean you have to run out and get a new sponsor, or fix your feelings, or change your routine, or decide if being upset is right or wrong. All you have to do is go with it. Acknowledge that you feel very pissed off at him right now. Now, in a few months or a year you may find it's time to move on and find a new sponsor. What I'm suggesting is to see this one experience through first. See what you can gain from this.

You're going to have ups and downs. You're going to get pissed off. What you're experiencing is what non-alcoholic people live with every day. Somehow they learn to get by. We can, too.

In recovery? Having trouble? Been there, done that

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Alcoholism Drugs Since You Asked