A Letter to My Sponsor

You came into my life at a time when I most needed someone to help guide me through the AA program. Your words helped calm my fears as I started out in my sobriety and gave me strength to stand in my own truth. I have valued you as a sponsor, which I believe is an incredible privilege. And, inherent in that privilege is the responsibility to maintain clear boundaries. But, the moment you embraced and kissed me in the way you did, you violated those boundaries. I would like to believe your intentions were good somehow, but the reality is your behavior made me uncomfortable. Worse, it was obvious you knew “something” had shifted and you made no attempt to ask if I was okay. Some acknowledgement on your part would have eased the confusion and allowed me to voice my uncomfortableness even if I still needed to process my feelings.

What did I do or say that would make you think you could be so bold and irresponsible? I do not understand how a heartfelt thank you for listening, like other times, gave you the right to behave in such a manner. Your embrace was different – tight and my body warned me after your second kiss. When you started to kiss my cheek again, my body went stiff and I leaned slowly away trying to keep my face as straight as possible because I felt fear. Fear that you would next kiss me on the lips. You then jerked away, seemed embarrassed and nervously laughed saying “how funny that we both pushed away quickly”. My immediate response was to state that I did not scoot away. I said it with so much energy, that you quickly grabbed my hand with both of yours and held it tightly. Even your smile was different as you searched my face – more like a grin of relief. Was that it? Were you relieved that I had not reacted angrily or forcibly push you away?

It was hard to breathe – the air had suddenly vanished from the room. I knew you were talking, but I could not hear what you were saying. My focus was not on your words, but on your body to make sure I was prepared in case you made another move. I felt pinned in place because of how hard you were holding my hand to the sofa. Getting out of your grasp safely became my most urgent need. What a struggle to act normal, while my mind was racing to understand what had just happened. Did I imagine this? I could not quickly enough wrap my brain around the fact that I was experiencing this with you. Or, was I overreacting?

Just when I was feeling confident about myself, and the possibilities of having authentic relationships, this happens. In a split second you took advantage of my vulnerability. Then as if nothing happened, you got up to leave. You got what you wanted and then left me to deal with the aftermath. I was inundated with memories of others’ violations – I have been here before. Have you stopped to think how your inappropriate behavior made me feel? Have you considered a call to check in, maybe apologize, or just take some responsibility? But that requires courage, doesn’t it? Instead, I get silence – as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. But, we both know differently.

I spent the rest of that day in disbelief; defending your behavior all the while my entire being was screaming to come out of my skin. Can you begin to imagine how lost I felt, anxious and alone? Until, finally I heard myself say out loud that it did not matter what your intentions were, your behavior made me feel uncomfortable, unsafe, period! I was so exhausted at the end of that day; struggling to find clarity, reminding myself over and over that I will be okay. Did you wonder if I slept that night or how restless my sleep has been? Did you wonder about my dreams, or rather nightmares?

Let me tell you about one that first night – I dreamt I was in a large room surrounded by familiar people and someone had come to round up all the bad people to be put to death. My heart was racing, and there was no safe hiding place. A hand was reaching out to take me away, but I stood my ground and yelled out that I would not go – and suddenly, I no longer felt scared. As the round up was finishing, I found myself walking out of the building the back way. But halfway down the hallway I caught myself – I was angry with myself for trying to get away without anyone noticing me. I screamed out that I have done nothing wrong to deserve this! I took a deep breath, turned around and went back into the room and asked someone to direct me to the front door. Telling, don’t you think?

Can you imagine the flood of emotions when I awoke from that nightmare? A peaceful, sleeping giant had been poked in the eye. Everything I had been pushing down the day before came flooding through. I was overwhelmed with rage, shame, guilt, deep sadness, and dread – I wanted the pain to stop. I felt humiliated and stupid for finding myself in this situation again. I let my guard down with you – I never saw this coming. I trusted you.

Since that day, I have cried endlessly; just when I think I have no more tears, they burst through again, and again. I have screamed my lungs out until they hurt. I have punched the air instead of anything else so as not to hurt myself. I have had to hold myself to stop my body from literally shaking. I have had to lay down to slow my breathing so as not to hyperventilate. I have walked miles in my home because it’s difficult to sit still. And, while I still struggle to see the end of the giant’s tail wagging, it has settled down a bit since I reached out and gave voice to my experience with you.

Incredible you might think, that your inappropriate behavior could trigger such a flood of emotions. I hope one day you can believe that it has. Intentionally or not, regardless of my history, you crossed a sacred sponsor boundary. In an instant, you have taken away the trust I had of you, made me question my ability to trust others, and worst myself. Can you even appreciate how I struggle with guilt for the anger I feel towards you and have some compassion for the pain in your life? Isn’t that crazy? But it also serves as a reminder that I am worthy, good, lovable and capable of honestly loving. That I am deserving of respect and everything that entails.

Where from here you might ask? I can tell you that I believe in your goodness regardless of your reckless behavior. But our relationship has changed. While I will be respectful of you, I will not continue our sponsorship relationship. I can also tell you that I know I did not imagine your inappropriateness; I did nothing wrong to create this situation; I will be okay, and I trust that someday, I will see the gift of this experience.

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Julia E
Julia E

I am so sorry this happened to you. In 26 years of sobriety and sponsoring I have never found it appropriate to touch a sponsee in this way and I would never contemplate sponsoring someone I’m sexually attracted to or if I think I might become so. The responsibility for considering this and declining a request if such an attraction might arise is with the sponsor. The sponsee is usually not enough aware of the danger and cannot be expected to protect themself in the early stages of sobriety. That is why the old advice of men for men and… Read more »

Jax
Jax

And once again sex, the most misunderstood and grossly mishandled subject in human culture, rears its head and claims more victims. I once headed a newcomers group. Whenever the subject of sponsorship came up I always told the group to take time and ask around about a prospective sponsor. I said this for two principal reasons: I’ve seen men (usually) aim for newcomers. I’ve dealt with the shrapnel of such men and their sexual conquests of newcomers. Safety used to be men sponsor men and women women. But no longer. Asking around is a good alternative. The other reason, I’m… Read more »

Anton Duerard
Anton Duerard

Very powerful story, should be required reading for both people contemplating, or in, a sponsor-sponsee relationship. Thank you for sharing it.

Pat Nagle
Pat Nagle

I’ve always heard, in terms of work relationships, “Don’t get your honey where you get your money.”, and I’ve seen people hurt (and fired) because they didn’t practice it. The analogy in AA would be “Don’t get your honey where you get your sobriety.”, and I’ve seen folks relapse or get hurt by ignoring it. I especially despise anyone with a few years sober who hits on a newcomer, who is apt to be raw, confused, and needy. That’s emotional greed.

Heather B
Heather B

Thank you so much for this vulnerable piece. I’m sorry your sponsor betrayed your trust.
Sending love and support.