It is suggested to sponsors working the DA program using the H.O.W. format that if a sponsee slips three times, the sponsor drops the sponsee. A slip, as I understand it, would be:
- Using unsecured credit of any kind (e.g., credit card, line of credit)
- Spending without committing it first
- Spending over $5 without recommitting it for a committed expense (such as groceries, where, for instance, you committed $100 and spent $110)
To that, I would, personally, add the following:
- Missing your sponsor call entirely for three days
- Calling your sponsor late (more than three minutes) for three days
- Refusing to do the reading and writing assignments
- Refusing to go to one DA meeting a week
- Making ongoing excuses for not making a daily outreach call
I have mixed feelings about all of this. For me, motive and honesty plays a large part. If my alarm clock doesn’t go off infrequently, despite my best intentions, I know that it is not something deliberate. However, if my alarm clock doesn’t work two days in a row, or I sleep through it, then I know that I need to find a better alarm clock. I have written about why calling one’s sponsor on time is so important to this program.
Or take the example of uncommitted spending. To me, there is a difference between the following two examples:
- Someone who is at the pump getting gas and realizes that he forgot to commit it in the morning … and immediately makes a phone call to his sponsor to let him know
- Someone who is out buying committed clothing for her children and suddenly decides to buy herself a pair of shoes without first making a call (or text) to commit it before making the purchase
In the latter case, that is willful and deliberate. In the former case, it is clearly a mistake.
So, too, I have found that sometimes relative newcomers aren’t aware of what suggested behavior is. For instance, I once spoke to someone who mistakenly overspent by $10 and didn’t call her sponsor until the next day. She wasn’t aware that, as an act of humility, we call as soon as we are aware of the mistake.
I believe that mistakes are part of our learning and are not slips (unless we debt, of course, which I would always consider a slip, if not a relapse). That is why I speak about motive.
I may not drop a sponsee who makes three mistakes, but will absolutely drop a sponsee who lies to me or is unwilling to do what I have done to get and maintain abstinence. There are so many out there desperate for sponsors, who will work this program to the best of their ability.
Of course, we are all addicts, so it is not easy for anyone to stay committed to recovery, especially in the beginning when it may feel overwhelming. And even for those with longer abstinence, they say, “the further you are from your last binge, the closer you are to your next.” So we are never “recovered,” just continually in process of maintain a recovery life.
When I hear people say they cannot do this work because of children, illness, or work, I think of all those I know (myself included) who had the desperation and the need for the H.O.W. format and made it work despite all obstacles. For us, it is like being the Prince in Sleeping Beauty, who had to slog through the vines and thorns with his sword to get to the princess. Indeed, each one of us has had a miraculous transformation and now cannot imagine life without this program as H.O.W. describes it.
Because those of us who are sponsors have done the hard work and kept our commitment not to debt no matter what, to reliably commit before spending, to call our sponsors on time, etc., we know this works. So if a sponsee is clearly not willing, by virtue of acting as described in the list above, it is only fair to the sponsor and to those who are willing to understand why the sponsor must move on.
It is not meant as a punishment and is not personal. We all want to help each other recover. It is simply that our time, as sponsors, is valuable. Plus, such a sponsee’s behavior may affect our own programs.
We want to do 12th Step work (“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs”) to give back what we have received. But we must, for our own sanity, work with those who have the same level of willingness and commitment that we have.
If you are new, I urge you not to beat yourself up or your sponsor if it doesn’t work out for any of these reasons. Please, just use this life lesson as a way to more strongly commit to recovery.
It may be that the H.O.W. format is just not for you. Not everyone needs the level of rigor and clarity of H.O.W. This is certainly not the only path to DA recovery. But for those of us who work it and for whom it works, there is no other way that provides us with the relief from compulsive debting and spending that it offers.