No one likes to talk about it. You may not even want to think about it. And yet it does happen; men and women with years of sobriety, who serve as sponsors and mentors to countless others, regularly relapse.
One of my best friends in early sobriety had a sponsor named Seth. When my friend had just over 90 days sober, Seth relapsed after more than eight years clean. My friend was devastated, worried and, unfortunately, quickly convinced that “going out” was inevitable. He too relapsed within a month. It was a long and painful year before he came back.
Recovery programs are built on hierarchies of time. We learn from the experience, strength and hope of those who walked these paths before us. Almost of necessity, we put these people with time up on a pedestal. We need to believe that recovery is possible, and these are the people whose lives prove that it is.
And then, sometimes, they go out.
To be clear, relapse is common—but not universal. Not every mentor or sponsor will relapse. Perhaps it’s safe to say that most won’t. Yet it’s important to remind ourselves and our friends that we need to make sure that our recovery isn’t tied too closely to one or two magnetic personalities.
My sponsor made me make four phone calls a day: one to him, one to a newcomer with very little time, one to a peer with roughly my amount of time, and one to someone else with more time than me. I called the newcomer to be of service, I called the peer for friendship and camaraderie, I called my sponsor for direction and I called the other old-timer just to remember that my sobriety didn’t hinge on my mentor’s direction.
What’s the point? Your recovery program should revolve around taking direction from people with more time. That’s essential. But your program should never rest on one or two individuals, no matter how loving or wise or charismatic they are. The best insurance policy against the heartbreak of having a sponsor relapse is to make sure that your sober roof is held up by many pillars.
A good sponsor will want that firm foundation for you as well.