I’m a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery. I support 12-step programs. I received a lot of help from them myself in my early recovery from bulimia – mostly from AA even though I was never an alcoholic.
However, I’m in a difficult position when I refer my eating disorder clients to 12-step. I want them to go and hear the stories, meet the people, feel the context of the behaviors and emotions. I want them to be able to tell their own stories. I want them to have the 24/7 phone support availability anywhere in the U.S. Yet I know dangers lurk in the sponsorship part of the programs.
I was glad to see the article: A Recovery Nightmare: Dealing With These Sponsors From Hell, by Natalie Baker on 18 May 2016 in Health and Wellness, Life in Recovery.
I am wary of what’s been happening in terms of sponsorship in the 12-step programs. I’m concerned about all vulnerable newcomers, not just people with eating disorders.
The old rule of a minimum of two years clean and sober before being a sponsor seems to be lost because the programs are jammed and there are not enough sponsors. But watering down sponsorship requirements waters down the effectiveness of the recovery work and can even cause harm.
Another old rule was no opposite gender sponsorships in order to avoid the 13th step, i.e. sex between sponsor and sponsoree. This rule needs adjustment now that we are more open about same gender sexual relationships. Where sexual attraction is possible, there should not a sponsor/sponsoree relationship. Recovery work is complicated enough without adding that to the mix.
Perhaps people in 12-step recovery, or at least people without solid recovery, don’t appreciate that recovery support and guidance is not just in what you tell someone or what you do with someone. It’s also what you emanate from your own psyche, body sensations and unspoken feelings. Sponsorees get that. And no one can fake or hide those emanations. They are natural and always honest.
If the sponsor has a hidden agenda or lacks solid recovery or both, the sponsoree will suffer. She will especially suffer because she won’t know enough to recognize these signals as unhealthy or dangerous. She is vulnerable, letting go of her defenses and hanging on for the recovery she so desperately wants. She might feel badly but since early recovery is full of uncomfortable and painful feelings, signals from an inadequate or dangerous sponsor will be accepted as part of her personal inadequacy and not as healthy cautionary signals.
I’m glad Natalie Baker wrote her article. I hope it gets lots of readers.
P. S. Please remember, your goal is not be live safe and obediently in a 12-step program. Your goal is to recover, be healthy and live your authentic life based on who you are without your eating disorder.
Picture Credit: Danger Collapsing Banks Saint-Étienne-Cantalès, Cantal, France. 23 June 2015, Source/photographer Père Igor
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