Christian Recovery Radio: Author Dick B. on “The Neglected Sponsor” and His Needs

Dick B. discusses the neglected A.A. sponsor on the July 28, 2013, episode of the “Christian Recovery Radio with Dick B.” show
Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

You Can Hear This Radio Show Right Now

You may hear Dick B. discuss the neglected A.A. sponsor on the July 28, 2013, episode of the “Christian Recovery Radio with Dick B.” show here:

or here:

Episodes of the “Christian Recovery Radio with Dick B.” show are archived at:


Today’s radio program is all about sponsors and sponsorship. Its subject will be presented also at our conferences this year in: (1) Portland, Maine; (2) the San Francisco Bay region; (3) the Phoenix and Tucson areas of Arizona; and (4) Roseville, California. There is a recognized need for solid guidance today on learning the 12 Steps, on how to take them, and on how to take others through them. Also on why one needs a sponsor, and on what the sponsor needs to know. Then, on what the sponsor should pass along to sponsees. And finally what the newcomer needs to hear from his sponsor and his Fellowship, and then learn. Today, a potential sponsor has many tools that did not exist when A.A. was founded. But the early Akron AAs had Dr. Bob, his wife Anne, Henrietta Seiberling, T. Henry Williams and his wife Clarace, and later, Clarence Snyder. Dr. Bob was their leader. All were Christians and Bible students. All knew their Bibles and much of the Oxford Group literature and Christian literature and devotionals they used. Bill W. was thoroughly trained by the Episcopal Rector Sam Shoemaker. And all were highly intelligent teachers and guides. But a great deal of the Akron program and its origins and ingredients of recovery are virtually unknown today. The Bible has vanished as the standard. The records are there. We’ve written about them. But most potential sponsors know little if anything about them. Today’s talk will explore many qualities, training items, and needs that sponsorship entails; and we believe, if followed, they will greatly enhance the knowledge and success of the fellowship, groups, meetings, sponsors, newcomers, and speakers.

The Neglected A.A. Sponsor, and What He or She Needs

By Dick B.
© 2013 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Many of us who come into A.A.are enthused over it and eager to get on with recovery. But we see and know far too little about sponsors and sponsorship.

Within three or four days after I entered the rooms of A.A., I got and started working with a sponsor with only six months of sobriety. His sponsor had suggested he approach me and become my sponsor. What did not seem apparent to either of them was the fact that I was sick, confused, frightened, and starting into a detox I knew nothing about and did not expect. In a matter of two or three days, I had three gran mal seizures, almost died, and was sent to treatment by my physician.

When I was discharged, after 30 days of treatment, I had to face the wreckage of my past. I was a basket case. And after thirty plus days of brain damage, misery, continuing insomnia from sleeping pill addiction, troubles, and fear, I checked into the VA psych ward in San Francisco.

I had been imbued with so many statements about helping others that I got permission from the VA staff to take patients to A.A. meetings all over San Francisco during my two months of hospitalization. Worse, I found a newcomer, somewhat crazy, who was a drug addict; and I proceeded to “bless” him with my sponsorship. I was on top of the world. But the mentally ill recovering addict knew little about A.A., about his illness, or about his serious impairments. And I knew little about my inadequacy!

And, truth be told, when I later returned to A.A. from the psych ward, I realized that in my home county there were very very few who were serving as sponsors and really accomplishing much with the men they were trying to help.

What was the problem? With me. With my sponsor. And with these other kind helpers?

Now a concert pianist seeks good teachers and practices, practices, practices before he goes on stage or on tour. This I know because my mother was a concert pianist.The rock star does likewise. The football coach serves his internship on junior varsity, varsity, second string, assistant coaching, and finally the pinnacle. But he had better keep observing, studying, and improving or his contract will be pulled. So too, in a general sense, with physicians, accountants, marketers, authors, mechanics, bridge builders, contractors, and medical technicians. But most do not deal with life and death sickness, or with seemingly inextricable life problems, or they lack some kind of qualified teacher and instruction. And there is nothing about A.A. and the dire consequences of inadequate sponsorship that seems to suggest that top assistance is there required in helping sick alcoholics and addicts.

The point of this article is that help is on its way for the sponsor who sees the problems and wants to help others effectively.

A sponsor needs a good sponsor. So does the good sponsor. And the longer A.A. survives, the more information becomes available and could go into the mind and training of a good sponsor.

Let’s look at some areas where there is a noticeable shortfall. At the outset, the newcomer needs to find and work with a qualified sponsor. But he is hard put to make a judgment call. For the neglected area of sponsorship makes it bereft of many essential capabilities. First, the capability of being a sponsor who has learned about A.A. history; learned the many changes in and programs of A.A. itself, and knows A.A.’s Big Book thoroughly, how to apply its “practical program of action,” what the “solution” is, or how to take a newcomer through the suggested steps of recovery.

There is need for a sponsor who is familiar with our conference-approved literature, the relationship of A.A. to the Bible, the Oxford Group, “A First Century Christian Fellowship,” Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, William D. Silkworth, M.D., Dr. Carl G. Jung, and Professor William James. The “good sponsor” needs to know the details about the upbringing of Dr. Bob and of Bill Wilson, the writings and teachings of Dr. Bob’s wife Anne, the unique role of Henrietta Seiberling, the special help given by T. Henry Williams and his wife Clarace, the claimed and documented cures in early A.A., and the statements about them.

The “good sponsor” needs to learn about the Four Absolutes and where they came from; the original Akron A.A. program summarized on page 131 of DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers; the sixteen practices of the early pioneers; the so-called six word-of-mouth ideas mentioned by Bill Wilson; the original manuscript of the 1939 Big Book, the changes made in it, the last-minute pre-publication changes in the original Big Book manuscript’s Step language by four people whose stated purpose was to accommodate atheists and agnostics.

There is need to know the literature early AAs read, the Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, Quiet Time, the special importance of the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, of The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, “Pass It On,” “Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, and The Language of the Heart.

The “good sponsor” will be ill equipped if he doesn’t become acquainted with the conversion of Bill’s grandfather Willie Wilson and his cure of alcoholism. For this event imbued in Bill the idea that alcoholism could really be cured for good by a vital religious experience. The “good sponsor” needs to know Dr. Silkworth’s advice to Bill about the “Great Physician” Jesus Christ; to be aware of the recently investigated roots of A.A. in Vermont; to pass along the successes of Akron A.A.; and to emphasize the rapid founding and growth of Cleveland A.A. and its top success rate of 93%.

Before tiring our listeners and seeming to pose an impossible task, let’s ask this: How many writers, historians, therapists, treatment programs, substance abuse training and continuing education courses, counselors, 12 Step speakers, “trusted servants,” clergy, physicians, sponsors, and potential sponsors, or peer guides are given even an introduction to the neglected areas of necessity. The answer is that the thousands of hours that some counselors must spend training; the curricula for clergy, physicians, social workers, treatment facilitators, and others; and even A.A. literature can do the job. But the job itself is ignored, given short shrift, or scantily handled.

Mundane, readily available, and of major importance are the efforts the good sponsor needs to make: (1) Learning the Big Book. (2) Learning other A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature. (3) Learning the roots of A.A. (4) Learning the history of the recovery movement and its high points. (5) Learning the personal stories in the First Edition of the Big Book. (6) Reading a good Step Guide such as Our Legacy. (7) Listening to a Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminar. (8) Learning exactly who to take and then to take newcomers through each of the Twelve Steps. (9) Learning the “spiritual” and the “religious” beginnings of A.A. (10) Learning and teaching what early Akron AAs found in the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. These tools were read in early A.A., but rarely if ever even mentioned today. (11) Learning to qualify the newcomer. (12) Learning to send the newcomer at the outset for medical advice or hospitalization. (13) Teaching, teaching, teaching the things so learned. (14) Taking sponsees to quality A.A. meetings and quizzing them about content as to Big Book, Step, history, and statements about God. (15) Encouraging sponsees to go to district and area functions, roundups and conferences, recreational functions, seminars, and international conventions. (16) Learning and conducting tests teaching the newcomer how to identify alcoholism from such resources as (a) Big Book pages 30-31, 44, (b) the Big Book chapter “More about Alcoholism,” (c) the famed “Twenty Questions,” and (d) my own simple four-part test of “drink, drunk, disaster, return for more.” (17) Reading the Big Book and Step guides with sponsees. (18) Teaching sponsees about A.A.’s roots, the upbringing of its cofounders, the institutions and people who contributed ideas to the early program, how the first three AAs got sober, the prayer session in Akron which put Dr. Bob on the road to recovery, the miracle of Bill Wilson’s appearance in Akron, the conversion experiences of Bill Wilson with his grandfather, Bill W.’s born again experience at Calvary Rescue Mission, and his “vital religious experience”—called by him a Towns Hospital room blazing with an indescribably white light,” Bill’s sensing the presence of God, Bill’s thinking: “Bill, you are a free man. This is the God of the Scriptures.” Bill’s abandoning all doubts about the existence of God (no longer warranting the comments today that Bill was an atheist or agnostic after his experience), Bill’s new found obsession with helping all the drunks in the world get well. Bill’s initial witnessing with a Bible under his arm, going to the streets and hotels and wards telling drunks to give their lives to God, and Bill’s formulating the key to his own story on page 191 of the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it, and telling people about it.” (19) Establishing in the mind the simple formula of the first three AAs for getting cured—as all declared they were. The formula was: (a) Quitting drinking permanently after hitting bottom. (b) Entrusting one’s life to the care, protection, and direction of God. (c) Helping others get well by the same means.

Bill Wilson once wrote: Physicians and clergy are the experts. We are simply their assistants. And when someone pipes up in a meeting about his doctor or his minister and then is scolded by someone else that this is an “outside issue,” that “someone else” should be informed at or after the meeting that his comments run counter to A.A. history and counter to vital recovery aspects.

Once again, the question: Is all this too much to expect of sponsors? The answer is that it worked and it works. But the price is high: Licensed counselors need the kind of material just mentioned. So do physicians and therapists. So do treatment facilitators. So to those who produce huge and helpful seminars and conferences like those pertaining to Steps and Big Books—yet they just don’t get close to meeting the complete need.

The answer today is that half a loaf is no better than none.

The doctor with an infected scalpel, the minister who paraphrases his Bible, the nurse who is high on drugs, the counselor who learns far more about 12 modalities of treatment than about A.A., the treatment program or government facilities that hire underpaid, under-trained, and under-informed nurses and counselors all contribute to what might well be called unethical or unprofessional or certainly undesirable conduct in their fields.

The answer is that Bill W., Dr. Bob, Bill D. of Akron, Dr. Bob’s wife, Henrietta Seiberling, Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, and Clarence Snyder all devoted their entire lives to helping drunks. And neither Bill W., Dr. Bob, Bill D., nor Clarence Snyder ever drank again after his sobriety date. All were avid readers. All were on the firing line. All were highly educated. Most were good teachers. And none ever presumed to know all about alcoholism, addiction, God, the Bible, treatment, medicine, or religion. They just kept growing!

Gloria Deo


About mauihistorian

Uses pen name Dick B.: Writer, Historian, Retired attorney, Bible student, CDAAC, and active and recovered A.A. member with over 25 years of continuous sobriety. Published 42 titles and over 650 articles on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Christian Recovery Movement.
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