Tuesday, November 11, 2008

First hand experience of CLA Sponsorship Tool

CLA Tool Box

The CLA "Tools of Recovery" state:

Sponsors are CLA members who are committed to recovery through the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. A Step sponsor leads us through the 12 Steps of recovery. We choose a sponsor who has what we want. The sponsor and buddy may be the same person.

In working another 12 step program, I got aware that my life was unmanageable around clutter. For years, I had been paralyzed, overwhelmed and oblivious about the boxes, piles, collections, unpaid bills, ignored correspondence, unfinished projects, unopened purchases, unused items that filled my hallways, overflowed from my drawers, spilled out of my closets. I knew that underneath all that was dust and filth – I didn't know there were also mice.

I had a good excuse – I was a widow raising 3 young children. I had moved to a much smaller house following my husband's sudden death. I was an Internet professional and had worked in volatile start-ups. I juggled my work, my special-needs daughter, my community activism, my 12 step meetings, my insomnia, volunteering, driving my children to their various extra-curricular activities and Sunday school teaching.

In retrospect, I did it by moving from one activity to the next without stopping to clean up from my last project or prepare for the next. I needed to be busy so I didn't have time to feel anything. By the time I got home every day, I was exhausted, angry, resentful, full of pride and incredibly hurt. I was too tired to deal with laundry, cleaning, cooking, organizing or maintaining a healthy home environment. I couldn't think straight in such a messy environment, but I could watch television and berate myself for everything that I was NOT doing and fall down a familiar, negative spiral of depressive thinking until I dropped to sleep.

These self-pitying feelings originated in my traumatic childhood. I had survived by repeating the same patterns through-out my life – investing myself 110 percent to accomplish big things that helped others and got me recognition all the while sacrificing my own needs. I got much approval from others, but I never approved of myself. I never counted myself in my priorities, I never noticed the good things I did, I did not think I deserved my own attention.

When I found CLA initially, phone meetings were hard for me because I could hide my shame, not pay attention nor stay focused to listen. I am visual and it helps me to view a person's communication in order to remain engaged. I found that when it comes to things that are emotionally threatening – I will take any distraction and not reveal the truth about myself. On the phone I can stay in my head, but at in-person meetings, I am forced to come out of isolation and be seen. Miraculously, in my desperation, I started an in-person CLA meeting with someone I met at another 12 step fellowship who had shared about a problem with cluttering. I knew I could get myself to in-person meetings, and it was simple to set it up using the traditions and support provided by CLA WSO.

Because we were all new to CLA, and for many, our meeting was their first exposure to a 12 step program, we had no available sponsors. I have had a sponsor in another program that I speak to daily. I yearned for such support in CLA. I knew I did well with structure, but I could provide none for myself even though I could organize someone else and had worked my way through college as a personal assistant and executive secretary.

I desperately wished for someone to be witness to my commitments, to provide feedback from their own experience regarding the reality of my intended projects, and show me the way. I don't have good judgment when it comes to how much time it takes for me to do something. I don't know how to take care of myself. I have absolutely no idea how much energy I have. I think that I am depleted before I even begin to deal with paperwork. (It had taken me 7 years to send my husband's death certificate to my accountant. I constantly misplaced my children's birth certificates and sent for them several times, only to lose them again.)

I had promised I would find a CLA sponsor and then was embarrassed to admit when I didn't do it. I became ashamed of myself and felt I had let the meeting down by not being a good role model. It was an intervention from my HP that got me down to LA for the Clutter Free day. Out of nowhere, I got a call from someone driving down. I went with the intention of finding a sponsor. I had hoped there would be discussion around this tool.

It was wonderful to put faces to the voices I have heard on the phone and words I have read in CLArity. I heard people communicating about how their mind was a jumbled mess, just like mine. I was surprised, relieved and disappointed to find that I was not alone in not having a sponsor and also in refusing to sponsor someone else. People who I judged to have it "together" in their appearance, spoke my concerns about not considering themselves "advanced enough" in the program and definitely not able to assist someone else's recovery.

I learned at the Clutter Free Day, that recovery is about "Progress, not perfection." I heard that "You can not think yourself into right action, but you CAN act yourself into right thinking." I took home with me that all we need to be is "one step, one action" ahead of someone else in order to be a sponsor.

I established a sponsor relationship with someone I met in LA, and I agreed to sponsor someone who had asked me repeatedly at home. I will sponsor as long as it supports my recovery. I must get more from sponsoring than I am giving so I sponsor to be reminded of what I am committed to in my recovery from cluttering.

As a sponsor, I share how I work my program and I sponsor someone who wants to work the program in a similar fashion. This is unnerving at the beginning, because we get to learn to tell the truth and trust someone else with intimate details about our living situation. As I gain the ability to do this daily, I am finding that I deserve to give myself attention and I can trust someone else to be understanding. Here's what works for me:

I write down my mantra for myself that I can view during the day when I forget who I am and what I am committed to. I email it to my sponsor and sometimes I look at it 25 times during the day. It looks like this:

I am a compulsive clutterer. I am abstinent and grateful today because I don't add anything, unless I remove something first. Daily I commit to my sponsor my plan of action. No matter what happens today, I know that I am working my program to become clutter free. I make my bed when I wake up. I put away everything I take out. I do one act of de-cluttering. I clear my sink before I go to bed. I write down my schedule and assign a timeframe to each task. I ask for help to bookend and turn over my anxieties when I get stuck.

It has been amazing to me to see how much I do when I write it all down and how much easier it is when I turn it over to someone else. I ask my sponsees to do the same for themselves.

It is much easier to sponsor than I feared, because daily I get a phone call about someone else's de-cluttering progress, and I get to be witness to their spiritual and emotional growth. They are so grateful when I point out their obvious progress. It strengthens my focus and I know I am not alone, because I have a sponsor that I am turning over my goals to as well.

Before I only noticed what didn't get done and now I'm relieved of that critical judgment because I have someone else "holding the space" for me to recognize how much I have done as well. I am learning to measure my time and choose where I invest my time, energy and resources. I am learning to say no to things and people. I am recognizing that I am only obligated to my own program and my own commitments come first. I heard someone say that CLA is a "selfish" program, and I think it is true for all of recovery, we must mind our own business first.

It is uncomfortable and I feel guilty, but the more I say no to what I don't want, the more I am able to determine what does work for me and the free-er I am to enjoy what I do choose to have in my life. This has been a long process – its taken 2 years of going to in-person meetings to get to this place. Weekly I work the steps with a step buddy. Some days it seems like 2 steps backwards instead of 1 step ahead, but I have another day tomorrow and every day is a success if I do one thing that I said I would.

No longer do I have to struggle, stay stuck, or keep something that doesn't support me. Every day I am reminded to take care of myself first, turn over my plans to my sponsor and let my higher power support me. I don't have to do it alone because today I have tools of the program, as well as the steps and the fellowship. It is simple, but not easy. I am truly grateful for the 12 steps and CLA tools for recovery, especially the tool of sponsoring and being sponsored.

Cindy S., CA

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What is a Sponsor?

A sponsor is a more experienced member of the program who guides the newcomer through the process of recovery. Generally, a sponsor has at least one year or more in the program; however, some cities have so many new people coming into the CLA meeting that supply and demand makes such criteria unrealistic. With this in mind, some CLA communities suggest a sponsor have six months living the program. The most effective sponsors have:
  • A working knowledge of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions
  • Personal experiences dealing with life in recovery
  • A willingness to listen
  • A willingness to help another person build a foundation for recovery by sharing their experience, strengths, and hopes
  • A willingness to guide a person through the12-Steps based on their own personal experience
  • A willingness to make suggestions and refrain from giving advice.

Having a CLA sponsor provides the opportunity to learn to trust and be trusted, perhaps for the first time. Many of us wrestle with our problems alone for so long; there is a tendency to isolate, even after coming into recovery; we have to come to believe that we are not alone and that we never have to be alone again. We can do what we could not do alone. Calling a sponsor usually provides comfort, identification of the feelings, and hope that, in spite of how the person feels, he or she does not have to self-destruct.

A sponsor provides a listening ear and acts as a sounding board for decisions that have to be made. If a sponsor has no experience in a particular area, a wise sponsor will direct the person to someone else who has had similar experiences. Guidance is freely given so that the person gets practice in making sound decisions.

Sponsors do not give advice; they only make suggestions, based on their experience, strengths, and hopes. Sponsors who have had experience with a particular situation that is presented, will share with the person what their feelings were and how they handled a similar situation using the tools of recovery. This shared experience process keeps the newcomer from feeling alone with their problem. In the fullness of time, the newcomer sheds the question that haunts most of our lives, "Am I the only one in the world who feels like this?" The realization that we are not so different, not alone, in our problems gives us relief.

It is the member's choice whether to take the suggestions once they are given. There are no "musts"; "Take what you want and leave the rest." Sponsorship is an effective tool of recovery because sponsors are people who have suffered with the same problem and are on the same road seeking recovery from the chains that once bound them; sponsors understand because they have been there.

Good news, victories, and hopes are also shared with a sponsor. Some of the principles both sponsor and the person being sponsored practice through developing this crucial relationship are unconditional love, selfless giving, patience, tolerance, honesty with another human being, and trust.

A sponsor is neither a counselor nor a mental health professional. If, the sponsor is a counselor professionally, that role is left at the door of the CLA Program. The sponsor is in recovery, too. Sponsors are equals who are members of the program also on the road in search of lasting recovery. Sponsors are not to be used as therapists, loan companies, landlords, nor do they work the program for you. They listen, share their experience, and guide the people they sponsor through the12 steps and 12 traditions of the program. When additional help is needed, members are encouraged to seek professional guidance; doctors, accountants, marriage counselors, and financial brokers are all to be found outside of the program.

It is suggested that a sponsor should be of the same gender. The newcomer to the program is quite vulnerable; for some of us, this is the first time we have expressed our true feelings, our secrets, and our fears. Experience has shown that this new relationship with a member of the opposite gender could be misinterpreted, which if acted upon, could reduce the chances for sustained recovery for both parties. One of the advantages of choosing a same-gender sponsor is that the member will get to know more about himself or herself as a member of that gender. Experience has also shown that it is sometimes more difficult for a male to talk to a female and vice versa. As open dialogue is of paramount importance in the sponsor/newcomer relationship, it makes good sense to avoid gender based communication problems.

    • A sponsor is an objective person on the outside looking in.
    • Sponsors are able to see patterns that emerge and point out problem areas before the person sponsored gets into more trouble.
    • Sponsors see how much a person has changed and offers encouragement along the way. There’s a slogan that defines the need for a sponsor, "Other people see you better than you see yourself"
    • Sponsors generally stress accountability
    • Sponsors help the people they sponsor stay focused on their recovery.

Sponsorship is a two-way street. It is a relationship built to help the sponsor and the person being sponsored; therefore, people who opt not to choose a sponsor, or later not to sponsor others, are cheating themselves and fellow human beings out of a great opportunity to grow spiritually and emotionally.

Sponsorship is a vital tool of recovery. Sponsorship allows another person in so that together they can begin the process of healing and learning how to live one day at a time.

Sponsorship is a beacon in the night; this is especially true, in the beginning, when the new member feels that his or her whole life is one opened festering wound. Newcomers usually say they feel like they are bombarded by an onslaught of emotions, feelings, and painful memories; they doubt that the program can and will work for them; and they are usually angry because of their failure to control their own lives.

Newcomers, normally, have a myriad of complex problems that are a direct result of the out-of-control lifestyle; these problems will not go away overnight and will take time and patience to remedy—patience that newcomers usually don’t possess. This is where a sponsor can shed a bit of light by sharing with the newcomer his or her own experiences, strengths, and hopes. Sponsors can empathize because they have been where the newcomer is; they have known the hopelessness, desperation, humiliation, and powerlessness to control or change themselves for the better. Someone was there for us when we first sought help in the program; so, we want to be available for the newcomer. The program is built on this mutual sharing of recovery. Sponsors strongly believe the motto: "You can not keep what you have unless you give it away."

Sponsors are committed to the fact that they get more from the sponsor/sponsee relationship than they give, as it is a mutual benefit. Sponsors know that sponsoring supports their own 12 step recovery and commitment to "sober" living.

A sponsor's primary responsibility is to help a sponsee work the 12 Steps

  • A sponsor helps us work the 12 Steps by providing explanation, guidance and encouragement.
  • A sponsor helps us get established quickly in our Fellowship by explaining basic concepts and terminology and by introducing us to other members.
  • A sponsor is a safe person whom we can learn to trust.
  • A sponsor can answer the many questions that we can have as newcomers or develop as "mid-timers."
  • A sponsor can help us in the process of self-examination that the Steps require.
  • A sponsor encourages us to read the basic text of our Fellowship and other program literature and to engage in Fellowship activities and service work.
  • A sponsor can monitor our progress, confront us when it is appropriate and generally help us stay on the recovery path.
    • A sponsor confronts our behavior, not our being, and he or she does it with compassion.
  • A sponsor reminds us to apply 12 Step principles in our lives.
  • A sponsor models the 12 Step program of recovery.
  • Our sponsor is available in times of crisis.
  • A sponsor provides practice in building relationships.


  • A sponsor cannot keep us in recovery.
  • A sponsor is not our therapist
  • A sponsor should not attempt to control our lives or encourage an unhealthy dependence.
  • A sponsor should not take advantage of us our exploit us in any way.


  1. Has what we want
  2. Lives in the solution
  3. Walks the talk
  4. Has a sponsor
  5. Emphasizes the steps
  6. Has more time in recovery than we do
  7. Has worked more steps than we have
  8. Is available for telephone calls and meetings
  9. Emphasizes the spiritual aspect of the program
  10. Gender is the same as ours*


Some reasons are:

  1. The person is currently sponsoring as many people as he or she can handle. A sponsor who takes on too many sponsees does each of them (and himself or herself) a disservice.
  2. The person is not taking on new sponsees because of a heavy travel schedule, a planned move, or some other reason based on where he or she is in life or the program.
  3. After discussing the potential sponsorship, the person realizes the match would not be a good one. That conclusion is as much about the potential sponsor as it is about us.
    • When potential sponsors reject our request for sponsorship, it is usually about them.
    • It's a privilege to sponsor someone. And it's one of the ways we stay in recovery.

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CLA Meeting Service Positions

General requirements for CLA Service:


SECRETARY -- Requirement is consistent attendance for the previous 2 months. The Secretary's responsibility is to assure that the meeting takes place every week by:
  • Arriving early, before the meeting, to see that the room is set up.
  • Bringing the meeting format and timer each week (if not left in a safe fashion, at the site).
  • Getting someone to lead the meeting (for those formats that change, and allow for different readings, speakers, literature, and/or Courage to Change, etc.)
  • Making announcements, like providing reports, CLA News, upcoming events, business meetings, etc.
  • Being responsible for gently monitoring that all other service position responsibilities are being attended to. When someone needs to be replaced...see below!
  • Calling for, and conducting periodic Business Meetings, as needed.
  • If the Secretary is unable to be at a meeting, it is his or her responsibility to find someone that will fill in as a temporary replacement Secretary for that week, so that the meeting continues to function.
  • Note: this officer's position can be shared amongst 2 people, to make sure that the post is covered!
  • Offering a friendly reminder to keep the sharing on track and on purpose, limiting to 3 minutes (or whatever has been agreed upon, lengthwise), etc. As a friendly reminder, no outside-of-our CLA Program material, literature, workshops, books, tapes, etc. can be talked about during our CLA meeting.
  • Secretary is responsible for upholding the safety, integrity, and anonymity during the shares and meeting duration, responding to and handling interruptions, emergencies, unforseen events to enable the meeting to continue
TREASURER -- Requirement is consistent attendance for the previous 6 months. They must also not have any money, tax or debt problems.
The Treasurer handles all of the money that is collected by:
  • Passing the basket for the 7th tradition, for WSO.
  • Collecting any money that is donated for literature.
  • Keeping a written record of any and all money that is collected and/or spent.
  • Keeping a Prudent Reserve of at least a 3-month site rental fee in the Treasury at all times.
  • Paying the rent. Note: this includes maintaining communication with the location organization, keeping paperwork and receipts of payment.
  • Providing money to the Literature person, to replace it, when needed.
  • Sending donations that are left over, after the Prudent Reserve, to WSO.
  • 7th Tradition: This is whatever donations are left over, after the Prudent Reserve, which might be 3 months rental fees. These contributions are sent to WSO, POB 91413, LA, CA, 90009. These contributions keep CLA in operation and pay for the website, webmaster, phone service, printing literature, meeting lists, postage, producing events and paying rents.
  • Giving a Treasurer's report to the group at Business meetings or regularly. This consists of in/out/balance. Keep it simple and easy.
  • Suggested columns: Meeting Date, # attendees, 7th Tradition Income, Literature Income, Expense, Balance Forward.
LITERATURE -- Requirement is consistent attendance for the previous 1 month. The Literature person serves by:
  • Arriving before the meeting to put out the literature on the counter. Note: In keeping with the 6th Tradition, only CLA WSO-approved literature is displayed.
  • Putting the literature donation basket on the counter. This person gives the money (25 cents/pamphlet) that is collected to the Treasurer, and it must be recorded as incomel.
  • Keeping inventory of the literature, and purchasing it from WSO when necessary. Get the money needed from the Treasurer. Filling out the literature inventory form, and sending it to the WSO with postage.
  • Getting and filing updates from WSO, i.e. meeting notes/minutes, etc. with the literature notebook. Keeping one copy of all pamphlets and flyers as needed.
  • Maintaining a library of CLA approved/AA literature including big book, 12 and 12, etc.

Requirement is a willingness to serve, and to give back for benefits gotten from CLA attendance, working the program, using the Steps and Tools, etc. The WSO Delegate serves as a liaison between the local group and CLA World Service Organization by :
  • Attending WSO meetings, held monthly, on the telephone. They are held on the last (4th or 5th) Saturday of the month, and anyone can attend, speak/participate, or not. No one knows whether or not you are on the line unless you choose to join in with the discussion! Meetings run from 10 AM - 12 PM Pacific Time.
  • Representing the local group by giving an informal status report to the WSO of their activity, such as attendance, business, problems/successes, etc. It is in this manner that all voices and ideas can be heard, both up, and down, the grapevine!
  • Distributing any of the other paperwork that is produced, such as any Newsletters, Treasurer's reports, minutes, agenda topics, discussions, notes, etc.
  • Reporting back to the local group any news from the WSO meeting.
NEWCOMER CONTACT -- Requirement is a willingness to serve. The Newcomer Contact serves by:
  • Identifying him or her self by name during Meeting Announcements.
  • Being available for questions about CLA after the meeting. Don't worry about the details, as any "old-timers" will lend a hand, if asked!
  • Making sure that each newcomer gets a packet of all of our literature and newcomer brochure (which has the meeting list and web information). There may be as many Newcomer Contacts as there are people willing to serve, as decided by a group conscience.
Service terms are for a suggested period of 6 months, and can run from 1/1-6/30 and 7/1-12/31 of each year. If a position is vacated in mid-term, the replacements serve and complete just the current term, and not a full additional 6-month term of office. The requirements for positions and the length of time served were determined by a group conscience at a Business Meeting at a local CLA group meeting held September 8, 1997. The WSO Board has since expanded upon them in 2006.

All service providers agree to uphold the 12 Traditions as follows:

The Twelve Traditions of Clutterers Anonymous

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon Clutterers Anonymous unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority -- a loving God as expressed through our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for Clutterers Anonymous membership is a desire to eliminate clutter and bring order into our lives.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or Clutterers Anonymous as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose -- to carry its message to the person who still suffers.
  6. A Clutterers Anonymous group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the Clutterers Anonymous name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, or prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every Clutterers Anonymous group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Clutterers Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. Clutterers Anonymous, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Clutterers Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the Clutterers Anonymous name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, or films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Four ways to contact CLA WSO:
1. mail: CLA WSO / POB 91413 / LA, CA 90009
2. phone: 310-281-6064
3. Web: http://www.clutterersanonymous.net
4. Email: clawso@hotmail.com

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Berkeley Clutterers Anonymous

You are cordially invited to join us in person!
North Berkeley Clutterers Anonymous Meeting

Monday evening 7:15-8:30 PM

Tuesday morning
10:00 AM sharp until 11:15 AM

Epworth United Methodist Church
1953 Hopkins Street
Berkeley, Ca 94707

Directions to Epworth:
Epworth United Methodist Church is located at 1953 Hopkins Street at Napa Avenue, near the south portal of the Solano Avenue tunnel.

By Public Transit:

AC Transit local routes 43, 9, and 7 stop at the corner of Hopkins and Sutter (Shattuck Avenue), near the south portal of the Solano Avenue tunnel. (Route FS provides TransBay service, weekday commute hours only.)

From there, it's a one-block downhill walk to the church. Route
15 stops at the corner of Hopkins and The Alameda (MLK Jr. Way), near the North Berkeley Branch Library. Walk uphill on Hopkins past Milvia - the church will be on your left.

Transfer to the 43, 9, and 7 buses at the Berkeley BART station. (Route 9 no longer stops at North Berkeley BART.)

On Your Bike:

The northern end of the Milvia Street Bicycle Boulevard intersects Hopkins Street, just a block from the church.

From Major Highways:

From the Eastshore Freeway (I-80) take the Gilman Street exit and continue eastward until Gilman intersects with Hopkins. Turn left and proceed uphill on Hopkins. You'll pass Monterey Foods, MLK Middle School, and the North Berkeley Branch Library on the way.

From Highway 24, take the Tunnel Road exit, and proceed west on Ashby Avenue to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Turn right on MLK, drive north for about two miles, then right again on Hopkins.

First Tuesday of the Month: Business Meeting
Second Tuesday: Speaker Meeting
Third, Fourth, Fifth Tuesdays:
CLA Literature

Our blog at http://berkcla.blogspot.com/ exists to achieve the goal of the 5th Traditon: "Each group has but one primary purpose; to carry its message to the person who still suffers."

We have a Google Group for email discussions!
Group email

Google Group

Isolation and shame are two major factors from which many clutterers suffer. Sometimes it takes a long time to really see improvements in our physical clutter and our thinking. We welcome you! You are taking a bold step forward and you are not alone! Remember: Progress, not perfection! The information posted here, the tools, readings, phone meetings and resources support us all in our process to recovering from cluttering.