Rigorous Honesty with an AA Sponsor
A therapist’s view of addiction
I want to share the following story before I tell you what I have learned about the importance of rigorous honesty with a sponsor in AA. When I was new in recovery, I went into group therapy with other alcoholics and addicts.
The group facilitator was a therapist who worked at a 12-step rehab in London. Liz was well-liked and respected because she cared about us and wanted to see us do well. One week in group therapy, she said something about relationship honesty that shocked me. It has always stayed with me.
She said that addiction to alcohol or any mood-altering substance, from a psychoanalytic perspective, is an “attempt at a relationship.” She suggested that addicts and alcoholics are not well equipped to cope with honest and meaningful relationships. Their addiction to alcohol and drugs is a substitute for a relationship.
“Constitutionally incapable of being honest” (BB p.58)
My way of dealing with life was to deny my pain and inner emptiness by becoming dependent on alcohol and drugs. I learned to lie to myself and everyone else to avoid looking at myself. In recovery, I began to realize that dishonesty and denial were keeping me on the merry-go-round of relapse.
While on the streets, I learned to lie and to play the game of survival. How on earth was I supposed to suddenly become honest when I came into recovery? I didn’t have a clue. My behavior with people had similar dynamics to the way I used alcohol and drugs. They were all about fixing me. I’m not proud to admit that I used people in the same way I used alcohol and drugs—anything to avoid facing the inner void.
Honesty with my sponsor
Why was this relationship more honest than my relationships with all my other sponsors? There are two answers to that question. The first is that after years of relapse in AA, I was ready to explore what honesty even was. I was ready to try to integrate it into my life and relationships.
The second reason was that I have always enjoyed a positive experience with my present sponsor. I not only genuinely liked him, but I also trusted, admired, and respected him. There is no question I looked up to him. He became my role model. It was easier to learn about honesty and accept his feedback. His empathy, integrity, and commitment to AA’s spiritual principles were plain. There is very little ego in him. He has found the life-giving quality of humility as the result of his own step work.
As his sponsee, I was like a seed planted in fertile soil. He provided an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard. My capacity to trust helped me be more honest. I grew and flourished into the person I was always meant to be.
A template for future successful relationships
My sponsor once told me that the honesty achieved in the sponsor/sponsee alliance could be a template for successful future relationships. The relationship with my current sponsor has been like a workshop in which I have learned the value of honesty. What is truly wonderful is that he provided me with a template for the success of all future relationships.
I have now been with my current partner for ten years. I am now 69 years old. Ours is the longest, happiest, and most functional relationship ever. Better late than never, right!? I owe my present happiness to AA’s twelve steps and the way my sponsor passed them on to me.
I have never met anyone who is such a powerful example of “love and tolerance.” (BB p.84)