The idea of sponsorship during recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction started with the original founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), when Bill Wilson had a powerful urge to drink and thought to himself, “You need another alcoholic to talk to.” He then found Dr. Bob Smith, who formed with Wilson AA and the 12-step program upon which it is based.
Sponsorship wasn’t the formal term originally used when Alcoholics Anonymous was first formed, but it quickly found its way into the addiction treatment lexicon. Since then, newcomers to programs such as AA have found solace in their more experienced brothers and sisters.
Whether you are just entering addiction treatment or well into your sobriety, sponsorship will be an important aspect of maintaining a long-term recovery. Depending on what stage of recovery you are in, you may find yourself either being asked to be someone’s sponsor or trying to find a suitable one for yourself.
Being a Good Sponsor
Part of the overall process of addiction treatment for many people is being a sponsor themselves. So what goes into actually being a good sponsor? Here are some factors to consider:
- Be patient: Many times, newcomers don’t fully understand the scope of work involved in the 12 steps, and may find themselves getting impatient. I know I sure did when I was in a support program myself (Debtors Anonymous). My sponsor, though, was methodical and patient when explaining what the steps involved, and gave me much more reasonable expectations.
- Be available: Being a sponsor means being able to be reached by your sponsees throughout the day, as well as at odd and random hours. Recovery isn’t easy, nor is it predictable or timely. Make sure your sponsee has all of your contact information, and respond to them when you can. If you can’t take their call or email right then, get back to them as soon as possible.
- Be knowledgeable: Make sure you keep current with all of the literature relevant to your recovery group in order to give your sponsee a more well-rounded picture of what’s going on in the world of recovery.
- Have a sponsor: Just because you are a sponsor doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep yours. Sponsors are human like anyone else, and need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to talk to. By having a sponsor to help you maintain your focus and keep you grounded, you can do the same for your sponsee.
Being a good sponsor is a challenge, but it also can help you in your own recovery. By helping others go through the steps of recovery, you can help fortify the steps and their meanings in your own life and your own recovery.
Finding a Good Sponsor
A sponsor is someone who is more experienced than you are in your journey along the path to recovery and sobriety, but a good sponsor is someone with more to offer than just experience. A good sponsor will have patience to listen to you, time to invest in you, and wisdom to impart to you at all stages of your addiction treatment and recovery.
Since finding a sponsor during addiction treatment is typically very informal, there is no one set way to find a good sponsor. However, there are some things you can do to find a good sponsor who works well with you:
- Talk to other people and ask them who they think might be a good sponsor for you. If they’ve been in your particular support group long enough, you’ll likely get some good recommendations.
- Listen to how other, more experienced members speak about their experiences during meetings, how they share, and how they react to others and see if what they have to say and how they react clicks with you.
- Pay attention to how more experienced members compose themselves during meetings. Do they seem attentive? Do they interact with other members as one would expect them to?
- Talk to more experienced members of your group to see if they’re willing to sponsor you. Don’t be offended if they say no – they may not have enough time or have too many sponsees already.
With these tips and some discussion, you should be able to find a sponsor who clicks with you. Remember though, that having a sponsor is also like having a partner and a guide, rather than a full-blown teacher. You can’t rely on them to do everything or give you all the answers. All they can really do is listen and guide you as best they can.
As always, good luck in your recovery, whether you’re a sponsor or a sponsee.
Contributed by Brian Rubin.