In her own words: A life Turned Around
April 24, 2019
Finding Religion in Recovery
April 25, 2019

By Olivia Adams

A husband and wife. A dad and his son. A mother and her daughter. These are relationships that are sacred in some families. Similarly, the connection between an addiction recovery sponsor and their sponsee is a family-like bond. It becomes essential to the recovery process, and overtime is unbreakable.

Sponsors are the “heartbeat of recovery,” says 45-year-old sponsor and construction project manager Diana Goodwin.

Goodwin, a recovering addict herself, has been a sponsor for five years and says she has loved every second of it. Goodwin says she loves her own sponsor and how she guides her in the right direction. She wanted to be that for other women.

“I get to see these women change from when they are just so … when they come in and they’re broken … they’re looking down and you can tell they’re ashamed or afraid,” Goodwin said.

When she witnesses women who start sharing find peace in themselves: “There’s really nothing like it,” she said.  

Goodwin describes how at first addicts are unable to trust even their sponsors because of all the lies and manipulation they practice during active addiction. They are not sure who they can trust with their truth until they find the person that they can trust with more than their truth.

“I view the sponsor and sponsee relationship as sacred,” she said. “My sponsors are not my friends. A friendship can grow from that, but my sponsor guides me and that’s what I try to provide for the girls that I work with.”

And she does just that with the women she works with. One of her sponsees, a current nursing student, says she would not be the person she is without Goodwin.

Her sponsee describes Goodwin as a maternal figure and does not know where she would be in life without Goodwin and her insight.

“My recovery depends on that relationship. It’s vital. There is no way I would be able to … sure, I could stay clean without it, but staying clean is just one part of it. Living with life is another part,” Goodwin’s sponsee said. “There would have been no way I would have been able to stay clean without her … it’s a lifeline.”

Delaware County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Zach Craig said, “The connections run deep because their lives really do depend on it.” He said addicts who have sponsors or recovery coaches do better than those who don’t because people need a judge-free zone. Sponsors offer a sense of family, he said.

“We’ll see people in court who think they can conquer this problem by themselves,” Craig said. “I don’t think they truly appreciate the depth of their problem. It’s the ones who seek out sponsors and seek out the recovery coaches … those are the individuals who are appreciative and recognize the true monster that they are dealing with.”

Tom Sloan, a sponsor and 70-year-old retired firefighter, believes the best way to help his sponsee is to live the program himself.  He continues to live the program to this day because the last step, step 12, is to carry the message of the 12th step to others in need, according to American Addiction Centers.

Sloan uses a 12-step program. He says he has done step one with 125 people, but has reached the last step — step 12 – with only four. Sloan believes that by living the program, they will be able to recover and become who they want to be.

“Living the program means getting a sponsor, reading literature, pray to whoever you believe in, come to meetings, and once you begin to recover, give it away, meaning go out and do this,” Sloan said.

“I go up to the psych unit every Tuesday and do a presentation. I go to the jails to do whatever, and give it away and find a way to give it away. This is a very self-centered disease,” he said about drug addiction.

Only a few are able to slay the monstrous addiction they are dealing with and become a better version of themselves, he said. Sloan likes to stick around with the ones who are able to get past it. He and his sponsees that have stuck with him for a while have such a special bond because of it. They talk on the phone every day to get advice from one another and see how each other is doing and look when the next MMA fight is coming up to find a place where they can all watch it together.

Sloan and one of his sponsees, Todd Stone, take a fishing trip every year to Lake Okeechobee in Florida just to be together, to talk and relax. Stone said they have been to Lake Okeechobee at least 10 times and they have an amazing trip every time.

Stone is forever grateful for Sloan and their relationship that turned into a friendship. Because of Sloan and their relationship, he is 15 years clean now.

“I’d be dead without my relationship with Tom.”

Todd Stone
Tom Sloan’s sponsee

Along with his relationship with Stone, Sloan and five to eight of his other sponsees meet up with each other, watch MMA fights and hang out.

At first, Sloan said his sponsor was just a name so he can say he has one to get through the 12-step program, but now, his sponsor is very important to him. He hopes that his sponsees feel the same way about him as he does with his sponsor. “Many of my sponsees are like brothers to me,” Sloan said.

The bond runs deep between a sponsor and a sponsee. Not only are they making lifelong connections, but they are saving each others lives.

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