There are a lot of misconceptions about sponsorship in 12-step programs. There will be brochures that outline a lot of the common questions posed by newcomers. There is a period of adjustment as you learn the intricacies of the steps, traditions, and rituals of meetings.
It is advisable to get a sponsor as soon as possible. The sooner you have a lifeline the better. Having a guide during your very early recovery is going to take a lot of the guesswork out of it, and give you something to focus on.
WHAT IS A SPONSOR
A sponsor is a person with at least a year of clean and sober time. They have worked through the steps and are working with other alcoholics or addicts.
In the beginning your sponsor is not your friend. They guide you through the early days, introduce you to the 12-step program, go through the Big Book with you, discuss the book and the steps and give you assignments to complete.
A sponsor is a fellow alcoholic or addict who has successfully worked the steps and stayed clean and sober over a period of time. They have a life that follows the principles of the program and are enjoying the life they have built in their recovery.
They will work with you one-on-one. No question is too stupid when it comes to recovery. Ask your sponsor anything.
Your sponsor should also have a sponsor that they have a good working relationship with. This ensures a greater level of accountability and extra support.
Usually, your sponsor will tell you to call them daily (in the beginning) to get used to reaching out, this is especially important when you are in danger of relapse. Some are available 24 hours; others will set guidelines for how late you can call. Respect your sponsor’s boundaries.
Your sponsor will encourage you to be accountable for your actions and lack thereof. You will begin to learn responsibility as soon as you begin working together.
Your sponsor will be your mentor and guide to 12-step recovery.
WHAT A SPONSOR IS NOT
A sponsor is not a therapist. They are not a medical professional. They do not work with or cure your mental health issues.
Therefore, a sponsor should not be telling you to stop any medications or go against any medical advice you have been given to manage a medical or mental health diagnosis.
There is a reason why you are encouraged to get a same-sex sponsor. Having a romantic relationship with your sponsor is against the premise of AA/NA.
A sponsor who attempts a romantic relationship with you is taking advantage of you when you are extremely vulnerable. This illustrates a total lack of integrity. If they are acting in this manner, you need to steer clear.
Your sponsor is also not qualified to give you financial, educational, legal, employment, or relationship advice on a professional level (unless they have professional qualifications in that area). They can only share their experience with sobriety and what has worked for them under the guise of the 12-step program.
A sponsor is also not your personal interventionist. In times of crisis, they can offer support, strength, and hope, but cannot stop you from picking up a substance. They are not hand-holders or rescuers.
HOW TO GET A SPONSOR
At the beginning of meetings, the chairperson will ask if there are any newcomers. Raise your hand. This lets potential sponsors and members know you are there, and a chat after the meeting will likely ensue.
Often the chairperson will ask the room “who is looking for a sponsor” or “who is available to be a sponsor”. Again with the hand-raising thing.
If you truly cannot work with the sponsor you have, get a new one. If your philosophies, core values, beliefs, and opinions are very different, it will not be beneficial to you or your recovery.
It is better to find the right person for you. You will have a long and close relationship as months and years go by.
Sometimes you can ask someone to be your sponsor and they will say no. This is normal, it may not be a good fit, or they already have commitments elsewhere. Ask someone else, or ask for recommendations
It is a good idea to spend some time before or after a meeting talking to a potential sponsor. Talk about recovery, ask some questions, and listen to their story.
If they have what you want, then go ahead and ask to work with them.
WHAT YOU WILL DO
In a nutshell, you will do whatever you are told to do (within reason). Learning to follow directions is a key piece of advice. It’s part of being willing and open to making healthy changes in your life (The first of which is dropping the bottle!)
You will get phone numbers and start calling on a daily basis to overcome the ‘1,000 lb. phone’ phenomenon. (What is it with your absolute aversion to calling a sober person?}
The first 164 pages of the Big Book have remained largely unchanged from the original that was published in 1939. The rest of the book has stories of recovery. These stories change somewhat from edition to edition.
Big Books may be given to new members, or available for around $10 at meetings. You can also order them from Head Office, based in New York.
You will read the first 164 pages and then sit down with your sponsor. Your sponsor will go through pertinent passages and pages of the book for the step you are working on.
Making sure you have an understanding of what is being suggested, listening to your sponsor’s story, and finding the solution is part of working with a sponsor.
In the ‘old days’ the steps were done in one evening. Over the years it seems that each sponsor has their own way of doing it. There are worksheets and study guides galore for each step. Your sponsor will have a preference.
It is up to your sponsor (and your commitment and effort) how fast you go through the steps. You could do one a month over 12 months, or you could do three in a week, and spend a month working on another.
You and your sponsor will figure it out as you go along. Everyone has their own way of learning; it is ok if you are slower, need to listen rather than read, like to write over speaking. However, if you rush through the step work you will miss a lot of the benefits.
You will meet regularly to go over the work you have done.
CONFIDENTIALITY AND TRUST
You will be discussing very personal details with your sponsor. Nothing in your life will be out of bounds. Make sure you are working with someone whom you trust.
If your sponsor intimidates you it will be difficult to open up. You will hide bits and pieces of your story, or your inner feelings. You will be so busy trying to rush through the steps that you will miss some of the benefits that unloading years of angst can produce.
If you don’t respect your sponsor or they are acting in a manner that lacks integrity, you will not want to share with them.
If your sponsor is hard to get hold of all of the time, your calls go to voicemail, and emails or texts get no response, then you should find another sponsor.
Sponsors have lives too. They also have their recovery to work on. There are times when they won’t be available. That is why you have a list of numbers. If you are struggling not to pick up a drink, call the next person on your list.
If you are not completely honest as you go through your recovery, it will bite you in the ass, the only person you are hurting by withholding information is you.
Confiding in someone, spilling dark hidden fears, and admitting to bad behavior is not for the faint of heart. You must have courage.
When you are new to recovery you have no idea what to do or how to act. A sponsor will guide you through the early days, work the steps with you, and be an ear when life gets overwhelming.
Many of the things you learn from your sponsor you will pass on to your own sponsee in time.
Your early days of recovery have been guided by a set of principles and traditions that have been around for 80 years. You have learned how to deal with cravings and urges, emotion, self-awareness, doing the next right thing, gratitude, and how to look after yourself physically and spiritually.
You have been shown a new way to live and how to have a happy fulfilling daily reprieve from your substance of choice.
When you begin working with your own sponsee, you will have completed the circle. All of your recovery has been a teaching moment up until the point you hand your new sponsee a Big Book and tell them to read the first 164 pages.
TYPES OF SPONSORS
Your sponsor is a peer. An equal who is sharing the formula that they used to get and stay clean and sober.
In the beginning, you will be nervous. As you work through the steps and get used to calling and talking with your sponsor, if you are similar, you will most likely become good friends.
There are sponsors who are extremely easygoing. They could be unreliable, hard to get a hold of, quick to get through the steps, and not able to answer your questions or spend the time explaining. This is a person who you might want to avoid. Early recovery requires hard work and consistency.
The other side of the coin is the AA Nazi. This person will live, breathe and sleep all things 12-step. Any deviation from the accepted program will be met with great disdain and reprimand. There will be judgment. Unless you like working this way, this is a good way to turn newcomers off AA/NA.
Middle of the road is a sponsor who has a firm grasp on their recovery, knows the program, and is willing to work with you, not against you. This person will not make you feel small or stupid. They will work hard to help you understand what you should be focusing on.
Walking into a room where you don’t know anyone is frightening. But you have walked into that room for a reason. You have a problem with a substance. You are ready to dip a toe into what quitting might look like.
It is a proven fact that addicts do better when they have mentorship or are in groups. Support is paramount to getting through the uncertainty, cravings and urges, upsets, and barriers to your successful recovery.
Having a guide, and being able to start working on your issues straight away is important. The more self-awareness you have the easier life will become. The small changes really add up to BIG progress.
Non-12-step groups have their own versions of mentors and support networks. Wherever you end up, take advantage of the help offered.
12-Step sponsorship might not be for you. That is ok. There are several other well-known groups and meetings for you to try.
Since you have not been able to stop using on your own, follow directions when you get a sponsor. Things will become clearer as you work through the program.
You don’t just do the steps once. You do them on a daily basis. You work them over and over again. And you share them with newcomers.
Your experience, strength and hope will help you remain clean and sober for today.
- Alcoholics Anonymous: https://www.aa.org/
- Narcotics Anonymous: https://na.org/
- SoberNation list of 12-Step groups: https://sobernation.com/list-of-12-step-programs