The main purpose of the AA programme is to establish for me a relationship with a power greater than myself. This power will provide sufficient direction and strength to outrank and overpower my ego, which, if left to its own devices, will wreck my life, drive me to drink, and then sit on top of the steaming, tangled mess and blame me while it files its nails.
If this works, which it will if I promptly and fully complete the Steps as set out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, I will have access to that power, I will not drink, and my life will improve massively, as I pass through it like a hot knife through butter.
The main purpose of the AA sponsor is therefore to show me how to establish that relationship, namely how to work the Steps, how to apply the Traditions in my group to maintain unity and fellowship, and how to apply the Concepts in service, both in and outside AA.
What about the rest of my life?
Well, since I joined AA, I have asked sponsors and others what to do in questionable situations. I was 21 when I got sober, and was extremely naïve and gullible. I regularly granted sponsors the authority to pull rank and essentially tell me what to do. 'Oh, OK' was my invariable response, and, because I chose well (individuals with a decade or two of sobriety and enviable lives of happiness and usefulness), the results were good, as far as I can remember.
In fact, my sponsor says, 'I would rather see a person follow the bad advice of a well-meaning sponsor than their own best thinking.' I agree with this, in the main. All the trouble I have gotten into has been as a result of my own self-seeking, self-pity, or dishonest motives. I have never gotten into trouble following a sponsor's advice.
However, and it's a big however: the age-related idiocy I was encumbered with on arriving in AA is not a universal phenomenon. I was prone to making spectacularly bad decisions, particularly in the sexual and dating arena, and had zero instinct and zero ability to apply any moral or spiritual principles. Initially I had to have other people apply those for me until I had enough programme under my belt and enough stability of mind and spirit to start trusting instincts and conscience. Many people on arriving in AA, however, particularly older alcoholics who have had busy, successful lives but who have been cut down by alcohol in their prime, do indeed have plenty of skills to fall back on pending the full spiritual awakening. The need to resort to a sponsor for every outside decision, large and small, like a baby bird craning its neck for the next worm, is not necessarily there.
There are spiritual principles at play, here, too.
I do not tell other people what to do in their lives outside AA. This is for several reasons:
(1) If you take action, the consequences must be yours not mine. If I tell you what to do, and no opposition is brooked, I am responsible for your consequences. This breaches Concept X, the idea of responsibility and authority going hand in hand. If I have authority, I have to have responsibility. But I really can't bear the responsibility for your consequences.
(2) I rely on God for guidance in my life. God speaks through my conscience. He also speaks through others. I will listen heartily to others, but the decision is ultimately mine. That decision is not always right, however. I can share experience with you—I can share similar situations I have been in, what principles I applied, what decision I took, and what the consequences were. I can suggest that the outcome may be the same for you if you follow the same course, but I cannot guarantee it. In short, I cannot know what is right for you.
'Before taking drastic action which might implicate other people we secure their consent. If we have obtained permission, have consulted with others, asked God to help and the drastic step is indicated we must not shrink.' (80:1, Alcoholics Anonymous)
There is a school of sponsorship that is essentially dictatorial, where sponsees, even those years sober, defer to their sponsors for the smallest of decisions. This is not God-reliance. This is reliance on a human hierarchy, like a spiritual Ponzi scheme. Apart from causing untold difficulties as individuals run each other's lives much like Stalin ran Russia (with similar results, a friend adds), this results in the sponsees never learning to rely on God and the sponsors becoming conceited about their powers (I have made this latter mistake myself). The groups of recovered alcoholics thus formed tend to reflect this dictatorial approach. There is no true group conscience; instead, there is decision-making by trickle-down.
To sum up, therefore, I do not tell people what to do, and I am doing them a disservice if I do, ultimately enabling them to become dependent on me and ever more fearfully unable to depend on God, lest they make a mistake. Instead, I provide them with spiritual principles, practical tools, and experience of cause and effect in my life, sober.
There is one exception.
God does not always speak loudly and clearly through my conscience. I can perfectly well lose spiritual fitness and become blinded by my own desires or frustrations. In such situations, I rely on others in AA who know me well and are of sound mind themselves to call me out on such folly and strongly suggest a change in course.
That kind of trust can be built up only over months and years, however. Random strangers in AA or even people I know moderately well I will not automatically endow with that authority to override me. I have to have genuine confidence in their spiritual fitness, understanding of my situation, lack of desire to run my life, and whether they have my best interests at heart.
Even in such situations, and there was one spectacular example from a couple of years ago, the people I turn to have never said, 'you must'. They have said, 'I strongly suggest … although I might be wrong.' Now, when my sponsor or my best friend says, 'I strongly suggest … although I might be wrong,' I do indeed take that as an order, but that 'reading' of the statement is mine, not theirs, so the consequences of the decision I then take are mine. When such people speak to me, my conscience resonates, and I know they're right.
Our leaders do not govern.