Do I Really Need a Sponsor for Food-related Recovery?

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The short answer? Yes.

The long answer? Yes, you can’t do this alone. If you are like me, you have begged God to relieve you of your addictive or compulsive behavior. I can’t tell you how many times I prayed, asking God to make me wake up thin and promising to give Him all the glory for it. Of course, that would mean I did not have to change my behavior.

Spoiler alert! I never woke up thin. I read a quote recently that helped me understand why. It is from an Overeaters Anonymous book titled Voices of Recovery: A Daily Reader. My sponsor recommended it. It cites a powerful quote from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous: “Before we joined the OA Fellowship, our prayers for help may have gone unanswered simply because we were never meant to face this disease in isolation.”

This does not just refer to food addiction but to all types of addictions and compulsions. Relatedly, we can read the Big Book and/or The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments all we want, but unless we put in the work with the support of a fellowship and a sponsor, recovery will remain out of reach. I honestly thought if I just read the literature I’d be in recovery. Unfortunately (or is it, fortunately?), it is not that simple.

A fellowship can give you support and lift you up, but only a one-to-one mentorship with a sponsor can get you through the nitty gritty of the Twelve Steps. My sponsor is leading me through the Twelve Steps gently and lovingly, but she can be firm if need be. I know I can tell her anything, and she will not judge me because she has walked those same steps before me. She can encourage me when I am down, and she can hold my feet to the fire when I’m slacking. She celebrates my small victories with me. I respect her wisdom tremendously. She is the sister I never had.

I also have the support of a small workbook study group. All of us in the group are dealing with food addictions. The fellowship in this group is amazing. When we discuss the work we’ve done in the workbook, it amazes me how differently each of us responds and yet all of our responses are valid. Each of us expands ther understanding of the others. It is a work of grace. But does this replace the work with a sponsor?

Here is how a woman in my small group responded to the question.

“Having a sponsor means I am accountable to someone for how my program is going that day. When I have a failure, my sponsor is the person I talk to. When I’m feeling conflicted, uncertain, and in chaos, I talk to my sponsor. Having regular contact with my sponsor helps me stay in the program when I’m slogging the road of happy destiny.”

And here is another’s response from a woman in my group to whether we need a sponsor or not.

“Having a sponsor is like having a cheerleader on my side. My sponsor was the one to take me through the Twelve Steps, using her experience, strength, and hope. She shared what worked for her, and she stressed the importance of being honest all through the process. She understood what I was going through because she had the same obsession with food and behaviors that I did. She had recovered! Having her by my side gave me so much hope for my own recovery. She is the one I call when I find myself slipping. She is the one I call when I feel hopeless. She was the one who explained that we don’t look at others’ behaviors when doing the 10th step but look at ourselves. She was the one who taught me that it wasn’t the food but my feelings that drove me to act out. I am so much better now, and I credit God and my sponsor for this. I still have a ways to go, but I do believe I am on the road to recovery.” 

I couldn’t agree more! I know there are thousands of other stories of people who found recovery with the help of a sponsor. In the book The Soul of Sponsorship: The Friendship of Fr. Ed Dowling, SJ, and Bill Wilson in Letters by Robert Fitzgerald, SJ, I learned that even Bill W. had a sponsor! He probably did not use the word at the time, but he valued the opinion of Fr. Ed and bounced ideas off of him when writing the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. He often sought his advice concerning his own recovery and major life decisions. Bill W. even considered becoming Catholic due to Fr. Ed’s influence. 

Imagine that. Bill W. was almost the very first Catholic in recovery!

So, do I really need a sponsor for food-related addiction?

Yes, and thank God we do!

Celeste is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Louisiana’s Cajun Country. She is a lifelong Catholic and committed to spreading the Gospel through small group formation programs. She is a recovering food addict (embracing the slogan, “If you can’t stop at one, have none!”), an avid knitter, and a lover of God.