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By Bill M.

I recently heard someone in a meeting say, “There is no mention of sponsorship in the first 164 pages of the Big Book.” I’ve heard that a few times and always felt it was a glib pronouncement, a myth, so I consulted a word-search program to find out. Guess what? The word “sponsor” is not there — no myth to debunk!

That got me thinking about how the pioneers and early members characterized their relationships with the next alcoholics to come through the doors.

In Akron OH in early 1937 there were twelve active members of a group that was not yet calling itself Alcoholics Anonymous. They were tightly bound to the local Oxford Group and adopted many of that group’s spiritual precepts. In the book Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, Clarence S. notes, “In Cleveland or Akron, you couldn’t just walk into A.A. the way you can today, you had to be sponsored.”

Webster’s Dictionary defines a sponsor as “a person who takes the responsibility for some other person or thing” and that accurately describes the early relationships. Members in the role of “sponsor” would first counsel the alcoholic’s spouse, arrange (and often pay) for “defogging” at a local hospital, provide temporary shelter, connect the alcoholic with local members, and often help with employment issues.
The role of “sponsor” at that time also involved one more step as mentioned in Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, “If the newcomer agreed to go along, he was required to admit that he was powerless over alcohol, and then to surrender his will to God — in the presence of one or more of the other members,” including his sponsor. Wow! And mostly what we do is go out for weekly coffee, spend some time in the literature and share our experience.

The idea of sponsorship was formalized in A.A. for the first time in 1944 when the Cleveland Central Committee published a pamphlet under the title “A.A. Sponsorship…Its Opportunities and Its Responsibilities.” When the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions was published in 1955, there were 19 references to “sponsor” or “sponsors,” and when Living Sober was published in 1975, it included a chapter titled “Availing yourself of a Sponsor.” In that chapter it says, “Sponsorship turned out to be such a good way to help people get established in A.A. that it has become a custom followed throughout the A.A. world…” The chapter goes on to state: “A good sponsor is as much helped as the person being sponsored. You’ll find this to be true the first time you sponsor someone.” That’s been my experience.

The DNA of Alcoholics Anonymous is one alcoholic working with another — there are well over 120 references in the first 164 pages of our Big Book about it. It doesn’t matter whether sponsorship leads to that work or if work with another alcoholic leads to sponsorship. What matters to all of us is the actual connection and the outflow of faith and hope it generates.

Bill M.’s Home Group is BYOBook 9am Saturdays at Faith Lutheran Church in Castro Valley. Hybrid Meeting – Zoom Code is 871-0897-4652. Passcode is 110619