Gamblers Anonymous (GA) sponsors and sponsorship
The importance of a Gamblers Anonymous sponsor
Because I had been a member of AA for years, I knew the importance of finding a sponsor. Sponsorship is a relationship between two people in recovery where the sponsor agrees to be a “mentor” and “recovery helper” to the sponsee. A sponsor guides the sponsee through the program and the steps. My sponsor would also know when I was emotionally or mentally off-balance, usually before I did. I knew I should choose a female, but there were no women in Phoenix GA at that time, so I asked a male member to sponsor me.
How to choose a sponsor in GA
Before I chose my sponsor, I listened to the men at the meetings and I liked the way Bert G. worked his program. He also had 22 years in GA and had been a longtime member of AA. So after the Tuesday night meeting, I walked over to him and tapped him on the shoulder, “Bert, do you have a minute?”
“Sure, Marilyn,” he said. “What do you need?”
“I’ll be going to court in three months and I want to know if you’ll be my sponsor?”
I saw a look of uncertainty in his eyes. “Marilyn, I don’t know about that. I’ve never sponsored a female before.”
“I know I should have a female sponsor but there aren’t any women in the program.” “Let me think about it. Maybe we should wait and see what happens in court.”
“Bert, I can’t wait that long. I need a sponsor now. I met your wife at an AA meeting and she said she’d be my AA sponsor, and if you’d be my GA sponsor, I could visit both of you at the same time.” I knew I must talk fast. “I already asked Betty if she’d mind if you sponsored me and she told me she wouldn’t.”
So Bert became my GA sponsor. Bert and Betty believed strongly in their 12-step programs and lived “One day at a time.” For the first couple of months, each time I drove to their house, I would be in tears by the time I got there. After many long talks in their kitchen, Betty became my dearest friend. She would sit me down at the table and say, “Go ahead and cry, dear. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.” And I’d sit there with the box of Kleenex while she did her dishes. And then I would talk and talk. After talking for weeks, I learned that if I did all the talking, the only thing I would ever hear was what I already knew. And then Betty taught me how to listen.
Lessons in recovery from compulsive gambling
Bert patiently explained to me that, “Being ‘powerless over gambling’ doesn’t mean we don’t have the power to gamble, it means that we don’t have the power to stop or to predict the outcome. Gambling controlled us. Do you understand?”
Betty watched me closely and when I said the word but, and quickly added,
“Marilyn, if you go to meetings, come visit us, make telephone calls, and work the steps, you’ll put discipline and structure back in your life.” I thought to myself, I don’t even know the definition of those words anymore.
Bert reached his hand across the table and covered mine and said, “We’ll show you how we learned to make choices in our lives. And they’re realistic choices, not dreams.”
“I don’t ever want to gamble again. It was such a miserable life.”
“Okay,” Betty added, “You just made your first choice, you said you don’t ever want to gamble again. You know Marilyn, nothing or no one can make you gamble. Only you can make that decision.”
I worked diligently on my program while my two sponsors answered my questions. Bert’s answers often quoted portions of the GA Combo Book. One afternoon he explained to me, “For seven years, gambling has been your coping skill to solve all your problems. Gambling helped you escape situations you couldn’t deal with. But you’ll learn new ways to manage your life and how to deal with any trouble that comes along.”
Common sense tells gamblers that the odds are against them but, as an addict, I ignored common sense. I wondered if I really believed that gambling might help a problem or was I just trying to escape from reality. Each time I couldn’t handle an issue in my life, I drove to [the casino] in Laughlin.
Photo credit: jeremy.wilburn