Being of service, requires a commitment to compassion and an ability to have firm boundaries. Within the realm of the 12 steps, service work is imperative. The formula, if you will, is Unity, Service, and Recovery. All three of these support each other. Without unity (fellowship), one is apt to isolate; without being of service, the tendency is toward selfishness. That said, without fellowship, and service work, your recovery becomes less stable. We need to support each other during this endeavor of healing and remember that recovery is not a lone-wolf venture. This is where sponsorship and mentorship come in.
Sponsors or mentors are there to guide you on your recovery path and they will always encourage you to be of service. They are there to take you through the 12 steps (or 4 noble truths of recovery if you are using the Refuge Recovery model), and to support your recovery. This also means they will hold the line when there’s resistance. Sometimes, this means hearing something you don’t want to hear, but the intention of a sponsor is to facilitate awareness around your recovery, not to co-sign negative behaviors.
Keep these things in mind when you are looking for someone to sponsor you and make sure they are:
- An individual of the same sex. Yes, you can have a sponsor of the opposite sex, but it’s more beneficial to you and has less potential for complications if sponsorship is gender specific.
- Someone who has what you want. I’m not talking cars, finances or partner, but someone whose spiritual life and sense of self is something you can strive toward or which you admire.
- An individual whom you can trust. If there’s any reluctance, look to someone else.
- Find someone whose actions reflect his or her words. A sponsor who functions under the guise of “do as I say, not as I do,” is not the one for you.
- Someone whose recovery inspires you.
When you find someone you want to work with:
- Call them, even when you don’t need anything. If you don’t have that relationship developed, you won’t call them when things are tough.
- Be consistent. Remember the lengths you would take to use? Apply that same sense of urgency to your recovery.
- If you think you made the wrong choice, realize it’s ok to move on. It’s your recovery, not theirs.
It’s helpful to remember what y our sponsor/mentor is and what your sponsor/mentor is not:
Your sponsor (is):
- A guide
- Tough when necessary
- Works a program
Your sponsor is not:
- An ATM
- Your therapist
- Your parent
- Your best friend
- A guru
- Your lawyer
- Your higher power
If you are looking for a sponsor or mentor, keep this in mind: Finding the “right” sponsor/mentor may take time. If you are struggling with untreated mental illness, your sponsor should ultimately ask that you seek professional help. They are morally obligated to do so. The relationship of sponsor/sponsee is one that will follow you through your sobriety and recovery.
Sometimes, you may come across someone who needs a recovery program but sincerely struggles to relate to the theistic practices of the 12 steps. I’ve had the honor of working with a couple of women who required the use of alternative language and while the steps are still applied and used to create a foundation of recovery, the use of intentions and meditation, breath and body awareness is also used to enhance recovery support. Being of service is the one thing that is a through-line, regardless of program.
Over the last several years, there has been a groundswell of people in recovery seeking alternative recovery tools. Noah Levine, founder of Against the Stream aptly responded to this with Refuge Recovery. This particular model “is a community of people who are using the practices of mindfulness, compassion, forgiveness and generosity to heal the pain and suffering that addiction has caused in their (sic) lives and the lives of their loved ones.” In essence, they have embedded service work into their recovery model in an influential way.
The act of looking at ourselves honestly and learning to sit in the discomfort of our feelings and emotions is transformative. Being of service allows us to get out of ourselves and into action. One thing that transcends all modalities of healing is this service work. There is always a way to recover and to be of service; sometimes it’s easier than others, but the key is not to give up. Reaching our hands out to help others demonstrates that our suffering is not unique to us–we all suffer, so why not help each other out?