“This guy looks over at me, he saw me when I walked up, and he goes ‘Hey, I got a beer, would you like one?’ And I go, ‘No, thank you, I don’t drink, I have my root beers.’ And he goes ‘What do you mean you don’t drink?’ And I go, ‘Well, I’m a clean and sober addict/alcoholic.’ And I just started talking to this guy, and he said, ‘Well I have a friend, who has a problem with drugs and he doesn’t know what to do and it’s getting out of hand.’ And I said, ‘Well, I go to a meeting at the corner of 6th and Julian, have him meet me there, my name is Willie, have your friend look me up. I’d be glad to help him.’ He’s been in the program ever since then. His life has entirely changed, he got married, he bought a house, and he’s enjoying life.”
This story is a snapshot of Willie Cisneros’s openness, honesty, and dedication to those struggling with the disease of addiction. At 18 years clean and sober Willie is a big, friendly man who is deceptively reserved, and has the kind of face where a smile fits naturally. He’s a jovial man, but not without a seriousness that comes from a life of overcoming the disease of addiction.
He believes in sharing his experience with addiction to help others on the path to sobriety the way he was helped. Because of his strong belief in leading by example, he became a volunteer sponsor at Pathway Society as a way to stay in service. Willie runs a transportation company, and when he first became a volunteer to provide vehicles to transport clients to and from recovery meetings, “[f]or us that are recovering alcoholics, [staying in service is a way] to help the others, to do the same thing for others that was done for us when we were new.” Willie has amassed a lineage of sponsees, and speaks cheerfully about his experience as a sponsor, “It’s like having grandchildren, one day I’ll have a great-grand sponsee!”
In fact, Willie’s own sponsor from when he was in treatment himself now sends people to Willie for advice. As a sponsor he sees himself like a brother to his sponsees. He had an excellent relationship with his sponsor, and wants to replicate the closeness and respect he has for her with his own sponsees. “My sponsor said to me, ‘You have the drive to stay clean and sober, you don’t want to go back out there.’” Long after he started his recovery process, he still spends time with his sponsor, and sees her as mother figure. She still teaches him about right from wrong, just like he does with his sponsees.
His approach to sponsorship is extremely personal. One of the crucial pieces of advice he gives people is “[d]on’t pick up, don’t drink, and if you do call me before you do it.” In addition to working through the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, he makes himself available to his sponsees twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, a mark of his dedication and seriousness. To Willie, sponsoring a person in recovery is a mentorship process. He is positive and encouraging, as well as honest and firm. He shares his personal experiences with sponsees, and how he handled the trials and tribulations of his road to recovery, “I teach what to do and what not to do, preferably what to do. And that’s what works.”