I have learned from painful experience that there is a big difference between giving advice and the experience, strength, and hope (ESH) that we are encouraged to share as sponsors and in our outreach calls.
Giving advice is telling another member or a sponsee what to do in his or her situation. I don’t know about you, but I get defensive when someone tells me what to do, especially if I haven’t asked for advice or I am dug in with what I WANT to do if it is in opposition to the advice.
Sharing ESH is a gentle, non-threatening way to help another member hear how you or people you know have handled a similar situation. It is the way we do our 12th Step work.
Most people want to be helpful. I, for one, have a hard time saying I don’t know and so reach deep down to find a solution to help. But it is not our job to tell others what decision to make.
We are not therapists, seers, or coaches. And the stronger our investment is in the other person doing what we tell him or her to do, the more warning bells should go off in our head!
I have had occasions where people called me with a terrible dilemma. They went on and on about their situation. Without asking if they wanted feedback, I have promptly given my opinion and advice. And I got skewered by the person. In more than one case, the person just wanted me to agree with his or her handling of the situation. In others, the person was way too fragile to handle my truth. In most cases, this is with people I don’t know very well, if at all.
I believe a better way for me to handle this is:
- To ask, first, if the person wants my ESH or just needs to vent.
- If they say yes, then I can share my own experience in their situation. Or say, if it was me, I would do such and such because (and say why).
If I disagree with what someone in program is proposing to do and they have called asking to talk it out and want my ESH, then I will share what I think, but doing my best not to judge the other person and to explain why it would be a mistake for ME to take the action the person proposes.
- If they say yes, and I have no ESH, then I must be honest about it and wait for their response. I can remember a case when I had to do that and the person was angry at me as well. But in that situation, at least I knew clearly that I was taking the right recovery action. It was certainly better than my trying to act as a counselor for the person, which is not our “job.”
- If the person says they don’t want any feedback, then I can just listen and tell them I hope they find a solution. I can be kind and not get riled up inside with how I could fix them if they would ONLY listen.
Whether we agree with their ideas or not isn’t the issue. We are there to be a support for others, not to solve their problems or impose our ideas on them. We are not anyone else’s Higher Power. So we cannot know if our idea is best for them.
It’s a hard line to walk, I think. And it really can apply to the outside world (unless, of course, you make your living as a counselor, seer, or life coach).
I still have problems controlling my insides when I disagree, even if I keep my mouth shut. But that is a character defect and I know that if I continue doing the right thing, it will subside eventually.
What About PRGs and Advice?
I have sat on PRGs and received PRGs where one person had an agenda that was in conflict with the recipient’s wishes. I don’t mean where there was a difficult action the team needed to work with the person to take. I’m talking about members trying to force their way without listening to the needs of the recipient.
This is quite painful to watch and experience. So, please be cautious and really listen when giving a PRG. It is great to suggest ideas … that’s what the PRG is for, but make sure you really hear the recipient’s concerns and that you and your team member are in agreement about the action. There is a big difference in gently guiding a member to doing what may be hard, and having an agenda that says your way is the only way.
And if you are receiving a PRG where you feel beaten down and not heard, please know that this is the exception, not the rule.
Even though we don’t get paid to give service, we must be cognizant of how strongly we can impact others. We are all here to recover, and to help each other and share our ESH as part of this path. But we must be mindful of how we do so, or we might inadvertently turn a member off to the incredible process a PRG can be or send them back out there to use because they don’t feel safe.
Though we cannot control others’ feelings, we can still do our best to act as kindly as possible, knowing that PRGs are often a situation in which people feel extremely vulnerable and frightened.
Working Step Twelve without Giving Advice
Finally, there is a difference between not giving advice and standing by while someone jumps off a cliff. I don’t really know how to tell you to recognize it, and you may make mistakes as we all do. But it is vital for us to live in our truth about recovery.
For instance, let’s say someone called to talk to me about getting a second mortgage on his house so he could go to trade school. I would lovingly tell the member that this wouldn’t be something I could do in my recovery because I don’t use debt, even secured debt, as a way to fund discretionary items. For me, as a compulsive spender, that is opening Pandora’s Box and would lead me down the slippery slope into full-blown spending and debting.
That is not to say I would be right in his case. I’m not his Higher Power. If this member was a DA long-timer who had been working with a PRG on this idea for years, had paid off his debts, and worked his program diligently, it might work for him. However, if that same person told me that he just got the idea to go to this school a few days ago, had recently “forgotten” to call in a few purchases, and his sponsor had dropped him because of that, I would feel more confident in bringing the big picture to his attention to urge him to pause.
In the same way, if we see a sponsee exhibiting behaviors that trigger a red flag, we definitely do want to address that in a personal way, because that is part of our responsibility as a sponsor. But how we do so is the way of ESH, not advice-giving (especially watching that we are not mean or punishing). And if the sponsee’s behavior violates your own recovery standards, you have every right to say, with love, that you cannot sponsor the person if they continue on that path.
So the next time you find yourself winding up to give advice to a newcomer, sponsee, outreach call, or PRG member, take a moment to breathe and feel if this is coming from a place of ESH or imposing your will.