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This article is written by Donna Thompson, publisher of Challenges, in which she writes her featured column, Get A Life®. A publication for people in recovery and their families.

Sponsor? What's that?

"Huh? Sponsor? What's that?" What were these Al-Anoners talking about? Was there something else I needed to join in addition to Al-Anon and someone needed to sponsor me for membership, vouch that I didn't eat peas with my knife?

Through her coaching and example, I integrated the Twelve Steps into my life.

Once I calmed down (not necessarily the easiest accomplishment for a stressed-out wife of an active, off-the-wall drunk who had yet to acknowledge he was, indeed, an alcoholic), I learned that a sponsor was a trusted confidante, someone I could unburden myself to between meetings, and know that whatever I said would go no further.

I believe I made a couple of mistakes during my first months in Al-Anon (modesty prevents me from admitting to more! ). First, I didn't latch on formally to even a temporary sponsor, although I did use a new friend at the other end of the state as a sounding board and received good feedback from her because she already had a few years in Al-Anon and a lot more therapy than I. Second, I stayed away from meetings that focused on the Twelve Steps because some old-timers had said to.

Six months into Al-Anon, I began my sponsor search. By then I was listening to what my inner voice was saying, consequently my over-reaching guideline for a sponsor was that she should have weathered experiences similar to mine, done her Al-Anon work, and come out on the other side. She must be someone I could respect and trust with my innermost thoughts.

There for me

I chose Grace. We burned up the wires. After a year or so, when I'd refer to her as my sponsor, she'd say, "Who's sponsoring who?" For six, intense years, she was a spiritual anchor for me. . She asked leading questions. She helped me sort through issues. Sometimes she brought me up short; most times, she validated me. She also laughed at my jokes. Grace was there for me -- through thick and thin.

Through her coaching and example, I integrated the Twelve Steps into my life. When others honored me by asking me to be their sponsor, I was prepared -- thanks to Grace.

She was not pleased when after eight years I stopped attending Al-Anon. "You have so much to give," she'd scold in her gentle way. I chose a different venue -- publishing, sharing what I've learned and reprinting the wisdom of others.

Last week Grace and I celebrated our day-apart birthdays with our annual one-on-one luncheon date. We talked non-stop for three hours. I marveled that 15 years ago when I was hurting and confused, I was guided to this truly good person.

So, what's a sponsor? My answer is: Grace.

More from Donna
Previous guest columns written by Donna Thompson for the Alcoholism site.

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