A sponsor can help you understand and complete your recovery if you’re careful with the sponsor-sponsee relationship.

Many conversations in alcoholism and drug addiction circles mention a “sponsor.” Do you have a sponsor yet? Who will you choose as your sponsor? But if you’re new to alcohol or drug addiction recovery, your first question might be, What’s a sponsor in the first place?

A sponsor is a senior member in AA or NA who can provide one-on-one support to a less-experienced group member. It’s important that a sponsor has been in recovery for at least a year. After all, it’d be hard to help someone through the Twelve-Step program if you hadn’t completed it yourself.

What a Sponsor Does

Think of a different word to frame recovery sponsorship: guide. A sponsor guides his or her sponsee through the start of alcohol or addiction recovery. At the very start, you might know nothing save for where the peer support group meets each week. It’s up to your sponsor to fill in your recovery details.

Your sponsor can help you understand your recovery, shoulder your experience and challenge your commitment. Let’s look at each part.

Understanding Recovery

Remember how a sponsor should be farther along in recovery? That’s so they can answer any questions you might have. Which step is the hardest? Ask your sponsor. How do I get more out of meetings? Ask your sponsor. They’ll help you understand all these things. You don’t have to grope in the dark.

Shouldering Experience

You might’ve done things in your addiction that you can’t quite tell anyone. Not your friends or family, and not the members of your peer support group. The group setting might not feel right for you.

That’s why your sponsor can be your confidant. They’ve probably done the same sorts of things. They likely understand how badly you have to speak and how badly speaking scares you. You can confide in your sponsor, or explain the things you’d mentioned in meetings. If your sponsor can help you get things off your chest, you’ll carry less weight in your recovery.

Challenging Commitment

A sponsor’s help isn’t all hugs and head-pats. Recovery from alcohol abuse and addiction will include some hard knocks. When you invite a sponsor into your recovery, they’ll hold you accountable to its standards.

Accountability doesn’t always feel pleasant, but it can direct your progress. When a sponsor points out where you might be slipping or not giving all your effort, they act as a sort of guide rail. You’ll bump up against them if you slide off course.

What Sponsors Don’t Do

The sponsor-sponsee relationship sounds great, because at its best, it can be. But there are crucial guidelines if you choose to undertake recovery with a sponsor.

For starters, someone you’re already close to or feeling romantic feelings for probably won’t make a great sponsor. Close bonds can fog up the honest clarity that sponsors need to give to you. You can’t quite hold someone accountable if you can’t bring yourself to upset them, or if your romantic relationship with them would suffer for it. Choose a sponsor you trust, but not someone too close to speak frankly.

Just as there are specific things your sponsor will do, there are specific things they won’t do. Don’t expect your sponsor to heal your mind or serve your whims.

A Sponsor isn’t a Therapist

Don’t confuse your sponsor with a professional addiction counselor or therapist. Remember, they themselves are also in recovery, and so you can’t expect them to heal you. Fixing someone else is too much weight on someone already pursuing daily recovery.

If your sponsor does overstep and direct too much of your recovery, that can also upset the relationship. A sponsor is a guide, remember? Guidance doesn’t mean imposing their own personal views. (…)

A Sponsor isn’t a Servant

Yes, you can ask your sponsor questions. Yes, you can confide in your sponsor. But your sponsor doesn’t answer to you or cater to you. Think of their personal boundaries – they’ve got a life to lead, too. If you both agree to talk on the phone a certain time of the week, keep to the time they’ve agreed on. Don’t expect to call your sponsor at any time to unload your problems.

The Twelve-Step recovery programs from both AA and NA designed the sponsor-sponsee structure to help you find the balance of guidance without the pitfall of dependence. Again, always remember that your sponsor already carries their own recovery. Serving yours would ask too much.

So What Now?

Maybe you’d want to choose a sponsor for your alcohol or addiction recovery. Recent research suggests that addiction sponsorship can improve recovery rates over time, so at least you should consider it. How would you choose someone?

Think of a recovery peer who has done a good job of their own recovery. Could you learn something helpful from them? Think about their recovery, but also about their approach. Do they have different backgrounds or beliefs that could offer a balancing perspective to you? Consider compatibility, which will best support your recovery goals. Your sponsor doesn’t have to be the same as you to give you reliable recovery input.

If you admire their progress and trust their opinions, go ahead and reach out to them. Ask if they would sponsor you. Will it be a little vulnerable? Sure, but whoever you choose might also feel honored . And if they take you on, you might get a strong new ally in your recovery. That’s worth the discomfort.

The first step in finding a sponsor is attending an addiction recovery peer group. Choose one for yourself at In the Rooms, where online community gives the personal support you’ll need for your lifelong recovery.

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1 Comment

  1. Just sitting here in a bar, reading how to pick a sponsor. I’m drinking a ice T, was approached & asked if I was serious on my recovery, why I was their…. I SAID challenge accepted… I bought us a shot, mine H2O with drips of cran-apple & said see ya tommarow… stay strong… LOVE & LUCK ALL….

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