Online Sponsorship in AA
The danger of “resting on our laurels.”
BB p 85
I was in the fellowship for over twenty-five years before I had my first experience of online sponsorship. Eleven years had passed since my last drink. Although it was a long time since the last relapse, mentally, I was struggling again. My beloved Mother had just died. When she passed, I was devastated. We got very close in the last two years of her life.
I took the loss so hard that I walked away from a Big Book study group where I was going through the steps again. At the time, I was unable to cope with anything else other than my grief and putting my Mother’s affairs in order. I left before sharing my fifth step with someone from the group. That turned out to be unfortunate. For several years, I was without a sponsor and was becoming increasingly depressed without a program.
Meeting my present online sponsor
The first Polish-speaking AA group opened in London over thirty years ago. As a native speaker and long-time fellowship member, some Polish guys asked me to help set it up. Seeing Polish AA’s rapid growth in the London fellowship was quite impressive. Seventeen Polish AA groups were in London alone within a few short years. Now, I suspect there are many more. In the late ’90s, they were a fledgling fellowship in the UK. The sober members were finding their way and only learning about the steps and traditions.
My future sponsor’s arrival from Poland.
The Poles invited a long-time sober AA member from Poland to lead a step and traditions workshop. He was considered an AA veteran who knew the program well. His name is Witold (pronounced Vitold in English, Vitek for short). The workshop committee asked me to offer him a bed in my flat during the workshop. I met him and liked him straight away. We got to know each other quite well when he stayed with us.
Vitek is an unassuming and humble person. He struck me as someone very knowledgeable about AA. Vitek’s depth and intelligence have given him an in-depth understanding of the Big Book and the 12 steps. After the workshop, he returned to Poland and gave me his contact details. I couldn’t find anyone in London to sponsor me, so I asked Vitek. It was time for me to get back into the middle of the AA bed.
Asking Witek for sponsorship
I called and asked him to take me through the steps again, and he willingly agreed. With him in Poland and me in England, the only way forward was through online sponsorship. He told me that this was his preferred sponsorship method, even with people from his local groups. He suggested Skype as the most user-friendly platform. As someone with twenty-five years in AA and several previous journeys through the steps, I had my first experience of online sponsorship.
AA online sponsorship
At first, online sponsorship felt strange and unfamiliar. I wanted to know if taking someone through the steps on Skype is feasible. I was pleasantly surprised at what a positive and practical experience it was. Vitek taught me everything I needed to know about good sponsorship. He believes online sponsorship has distinct advantages, which can offer a more helpful experience for the sponsee.
I quickly realized that he had excellent skills as a step guide. I could see why the Polish fellowship in London invited him to speak in the UK about the steps and traditions. He knew his job! Vitek has a wealth of experience, which became apparent when he agreed to sponsor me.
Schedule of regular online meetings
We met on Skype for an hour once a week, and he took me through the first nine steps. Online sponsorship has undoubtedly been the most dynamic type of sponsorship I have experienced in all my years in AA.
I discovered that written assignments on the steps are ideal for online sponsorship. I received the assignments by email after having them adequately explained. It was up to me to finish the assignments by Vitek’s deadline.
It usually took about a week to complete each assignment. My fourth step took longer. More than a month for sure. Vitek gave me a definite deadline for step four, which was helpful because it incentivized me to get on with it.
I have one delightful memory of our step work together. After finishing step four, I flew to Poland for a week to share Step Five with him. I always liked Poland, and it was a great experience to go to some AA meetings when I was there. I was amazed at how strong AA was in Poland and how much it had grown since the collapse of communism.
After returning home to the UK, Vitek took me from steps six to nine. In my book, “The Twelve Steps for Agnostics,” I offer written assignments on eight of the twelve steps. They are specially designed for agnostics in recovery and are ideal for the online sponsorship experience. They provide structure, discipline, and the need to complete the work in a given time frame. Online sponsorship is much more goal-oriented because of the time constraints imposed by limited step sessions online.
Online sponsorship as a way of maintaining healthy boundaries
Vitek also favors online sponsorship because it discourages what he sees as a potentially unhealthy dependency between sponsor and sponsee. I couldn’t just call him if I was having a bad day. He gave me the practical tools to help me have a good day. It was up to me to apply his suggestions or not.
Vitek’s boundaries let me know I was 100% responsible for my recovery. It was up to me to do the work. He would have cut me loose if he sensed I wasn’t committed to the work. I would email him if I had a crisis, and we would sometimes have an extra Skype session. These additional sessions were rare.
Reliance on meetings rather than a sponsor
Vitek always impressed upon me that my primary reliance should be on an AA group and not on him. He believes strongly in the therapeutic value of the group. Sooner or later, he said, newcomers need to find their own feet and become more independent.
He maintains that in the early days of sobriety, reliance on an AA group was healthier than relying too much on a sponsor. The power of the group was essential when the sponsee was going through the steps. Vitek is a strong believer that the AA group should always be the alcoholic’s primary support system. This is why Vitek believes in online sponsorship.
Goal-oriented and task-driven sponsorship
Online sponsorship is powerful and effective because it is goal-orientated and task-driven. I found it empowering because it was disciplined and offered natural boundaries. Vitek gave me an allotted period to complete a specific task. I always responded well to practical suggestions when being guided through the steps. Too much face-to-face discussion, especially about God and spiritual matters, sometimes confused and discouraged me.
These days, we meet on Skype on the last Sunday of every month. I look forward to these monthly meetings. He remains my eyes and ears. Vitek has never guided me wrong. We discuss my concerns, and he listens and advises me if I have issues with my sponsees. Based on his experience, I am learning to be a more effective sponsor.
Vitek has never raised his voice at me and has always told me that my responsibility is to be ready to take his suggestions. To the best of his ability, he tries to practice “Love and tolerance” for everyone. Page 84 of the Big Book offers this as a blueprint for an acceptable code of conduct between sponsor and sponsee. He has frequently reminded me that we alcoholics must try to be loving and tolerant if we are to stay spiritually well. After all the experiences I have had with hardcore fundamentalist sponsors, I wouldn’t want to lose him.
For the first twenty-five years in AA, I only ever experienced face-to-face sponsorship. It does have its advantages. For the last ten years, I have enjoyed online sponsorship. These days, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Online sponsorship may be the future for sharing the healing power of the Twelve Steps. What do you think?