What is a sponsor?
During your treatment you’ve probably learned quite a bit about Twelve Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Most likely, you’ve attended a few meetings and have been asked to find a meeting that you will go to regularly. During Twelve Step meetings, you probably have heard people refer to their sponsors. AA is built upon the premise that recovery begins when we become willing to share our stories with another human being. AA literature describes a sponsor as “an alcoholic who has made progress in the recovery program and shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through AA.”
Why do you need a sponsor?
A sponsor is a special person who can help you with the process of self-examination that the Twelve Steps call you to do. If you are a member of a Twelve Step organization, you need a sponsor. The great thing about having a sponsor is that you won’t have to go through recovery alone. A sponsor will be able to help you work the Twelve Steps and deal with issues in your recovery. Sponsors can help monitor your progress and keep you honest and accountable so you stay on the recovery path. When times of crisis arise, your sponsor will be there for you.
What does a sponsor do?
There are many roles a sponsor can play in guiding you through recovery. Here are some of those roles:
- A sponsor can help you work the Twelve Steps, sharing his or her experiences, guidance, and encouragement.
- A sponsor can help you integrate more quickly into a Twelve Step fellow- ship by explaining how a Twelve Step meeting works and by introducing you to other members.
- A sponsor is someone you can learn to trust and talk to. This person will listen and help you work through the difficulties of recovery.
- A sponsor can challenge you to read the Big Book, be honest in your self- inventory, and encourage you to grow as a person.
- A sponsor can be there in times of crisis.
- A sponsor can help you learn how to build positive relationships.
- A sponsor can call you on “stinking thinking” or let you know if you are “walking the walk” of recovery.
- A sponsor can support you in resisting the temptation to return to alcohol or other drug use.
What doesn’t a sponsor do?
- It is not a sponsor’s role or responsibility to keep you in recovery or to keep you sober.
- A sponsor is not the same as a counselor or therapist. Sponsors are not trained to counsel you in this way.
- The relationship between you and your sponsor should not become a dependent one. You need to rely on your Higher Power, the fellowship of AA, and others in your support network. Your sponsor’s job is to hold you accountable in building that network of support.
- A sponsor should not take advantage of or exploit you in anyway.
How should you choose a sponsor?
Choosing the right sponsor takes more than luck. Keep the following criteria in mind. When looking for a sponsor, choose someone who
- is your same gender
- has at least one year of continuous recovery
- is available to meet in person and talk on the phone
- has their own sponsor
- works the Steps
- is admirable in your eyes
- emphasizes the spiritual aspect of the program
Keep in mind that it takes some time to develop the relationship between you and your sponsor. Be selective in who you ask. Having the right companion to guide you makes all the difference. If the task of finding a sponsor seems daunting, you may want to consider trying out a new sponsor on a temporary basis at first. That way you can get to know each other better before deciding whether it is a fit for both of you.
It may help to talk with others in your Twelve Step group about their sponsors. Others in recovery can share their sponsor experiences and offer guidance and recommendations. Once you have found someone you would like to consider as your sponsor, you will want to “interview” this person to see if your personalities are a good fit. It’s important to realize that sponsorship must work both for you and your potential sponsor.
Following are some questions to ask your potential sponsor:
- What has your experience been like as a sponsor?
- What are the important things you think you should do as a sponsor?
- What should you not do?
- What are you doing to actively work your Twelve Step program?
- Can you describe your own spiritual experience in the program?
- What would be your expectations or requirements of me as your sponsee?
In addition, feel free to ask any other questions that you think will help you get to know this person better. It is important to take your time in finding a sponsor; this is an important step in your recovery. In the meantime, be sure to find a “temporary” sponsor so you have that support in the interim.
Remember, if the person you are interviewing says no, it is most likely about that person (his or her schedule, workload, or commitment to other sponsees), and it’s not about you personally. Good sponsors take this role very seriously, and it may be that they need to take care of themselves by not taking on additional sponsees. Though this answer can be difficult, don’t let it stop you from finding a sponsor. Take action to meet someone else.
Recovery Action Step
Go to a Twelve Step meeting and look for someone to be your sponsor (if you don’t have one already). Ask that person for a phone number and meet with him or her. This will be your first step in finding a sponsor who will be a good fit for you.
Common questions about sponsorship
Is it okay to change sponsors?
It is fine to change sponsors, if you feel it is needed, but first be careful to exam- ine your reasons. Be sure that you aren’t changing sponsors because your current sponsor is challenging you in positive ways and you don’t like it.
Before making a change, do a personal inventory of the reasons why you want to change versus the reasons why you should stay with this sponsor. Reflect on this inventory for a while. Talk with others in your support network. Then, based on this thorough reflection, make a decision, but make a decision that will be best in helping you maintain sobriety.
Is it okay to have more than one sponsor?
There is no hard and fast rule that a person should only have one sponsor, but in general it is good to stick with one. If you have two, it will be tempting to always turn to the sponsor who is making it easiest on you.
In some cases, people who have had a long-term relationship with a sponsor who no longer lives in the area or is less available will continue that relationship while finding someone else more local or more available. If this is the case, you again need to look at the reasons why you are turning to a second person and make sure those reasons will support your sobriety.
Is it okay to have a sponsor who is not local?
In general, it is best to have a sponsor who is local. It is important to be able to physically meet with your sponsor. It is difficult to fully communicate all that needs to be said when you are not face-to-face, particularly when you are getting help working the Steps.
What if you need to change sponsors? How should you do that?
The reasons people have for changing their sponsors are varied. These may include a difference in personality, lack of availability, some unhealthy behavior such as being possessive or controlling, or a lack of trust, sometimes brought about by something this person did.
Whatever your reasons for wishing to change your sponsor, as in all aspects of working a Twelve Step program, honesty is best. You owe it to your sponsor for the time he or she has invested in you to be honest and explain your reasons for changing. Simply not contacting your sponsor is one way to end the relation- ship, but it isn’t the most honest way.
Even if the reasons you want to change sponsors are negative, it is still important to be honest in a respectful way. You are not doing your sponsor a favor by avoiding this discussion, and you are not learning how to handle these types of situations.
To help ease the situation a little, be sure to thank your sponsor for all that she or he has done. In addition, it is best to make this break by meeting with your sponsor privately. Don’t have this conversation in the presence of others.
Is it imposing on someone to ask him or her to be your sponsor?
When you ask someone to be your sponsor, you are actually helping him or her grow in recovery as well. One of the most important ways people grow in recovery is by working a Twelfth Step of service and giving back by being a sponsor.
There is also nothing more fulfilling than realizing that your own personal recovery experiences can be of help to someone else. You are actually allowing your sponsor to realize how important staying sober is, because it allows him or her to be a positive role model to others.
Why can’t you sponsor yourself?
It is important to realize that you don’t always see your life situation or yourself as clearly as others do. Allowing someone outside yourself to share his or her experiences and knowledge helps you gain insights that you may never realize on your own. It also is important to have this accountability. Often when using, you were using in secret and in isolation. Being accountable to a sponsor helps pre- vent this tendency toward secrecy and isolation.
What if your sponsor returns to chemical use?
If your sponsor returns to active chemical use, you should get a new sponsor right away. A sponsor only works if he or she is working an active recovery program of complete abstinence.
It can be a very painful experience to see someone you depend on for support return to use. Increasing your attendance at Twelve Step meetings and increasing your commitment to work your program may be helpful during this time. It is also important to realize that your success in this program is not dependent upon the success of your sponsor. You are working your own recovery program.
It can be a good reminder that all of us are only one drink or drug away from addiction, and we need to be vigilant in our recovery.
Do you have to do your Fifth Step with your sponsor?
Generally, it is a good idea to include your sponsor in your Fifth Step. This provides a good opportunity for him or her to really get to know and understand you. It will also help this person guide and support you. You should remember, however, that while the foundation of a sponsorship relationship is confidence and trust, there is no legal foundation or requirement of privacy. If you share things in your Fifth Step that might be very damaging to you, your family, or your career, you may want to consider sharing with someone other than your sponsor.
You can also consider doing a Fifth Step with a clergy member. Many of today’s clergy are very familiar with AA and the Fifth Step process. If they are not, you will likely find them very open to learning.
What if you’re in a crisis, and you can’t reach your sponsor?
If you are in a crisis, don’t wait to hear back from your sponsor. Take action and call someone else you know in the program. In your wallet, tuck a list of people you could call in an emergency. Although a sponsorship relationship can be a special one, there is nothing magical about it. Others in the program can help you too.
What if you find out that your sponsor is sharing your private, personal stories with others?
If you find out your sponsor is not keeping private things private, you should confront him or her. It will be up to you to decide if the relationship can be mended. If not, move on to a new sponsor.
The most important value in a sponsorship relationship is trust. Trust cannot be maintained without confidentiality. If your sponsor admits to telling others your private matters and tries to make amends, you will need to decide whether you can return to a level of trust.
What if you don’t agree with your sponsor?
You will not always agree with your sponsor, but it is important to thoroughly evaluate the disagreement. Is your disagreement is the result of your sponsor confronting you about something that is true but that you don’t want to admit? If so, it would be wise to be more open to hearing what your sponsor has to say.
If you still feel there is a disagreement, go to Twelve Step literature to see if anything has been said about the subject. If it is an issue that is addressed in the program, base your decision on what the program advises.
Sometimes a sponsor can make the mistake of thinking that what he or she has experienced and thought is what you are experiencing and thinking. If this is the case, it may be helpful to talk this through and explain how your recovery experience is different.
If you experience a number of disagreements that don’t fall into any of the previously mentioned categories, you may want to consider finding a new sponsor.
When can you begin to sponsor others?
You are probably ready to sponsor someone when you have done all of the following:
- You have a solid foundation in your program, which usually means a minimum of one year of continuous recovery.
- You have a sponsor.
- You have worked at least the first five Steps.
- You have read your fellowship’s basic texts and other major conference approved literature (for example, the Big Book and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions).
- You attend meetings regularly.
- You are working the Steps.