Whether you are a newcomer who is hesitant about “bothering” anyone, or a member who has been around for some time trying to go it alone, sponsorship is yours for the asking.
Alcoholics Anonymous began with sponsorship. When Bill W., only a few months sober, was stricken with a powerful urge to drink, this thought came to him: “You need another alcoholic to talk to. You need another alcoholic just as much as he needs you!”
Your sponsor shouldn’t be a novice. They should be actively involved with the 12-step program and have at least one year of sobriety, and preferably two or more years of abstinence under their belt. An experienced sponsor will have worked all 12 steps and be familiar with program literature like the Big Book and “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.” They will have a solid understanding of how a sponsor functions because they have a sponsor themselves. A good sponsor should “walk the talk” and lead by example.
Choose a Person You Can Trust
Because your sponsor is someone with whom you’ll be sharing secrets, fears and insecurities, trust is a critical component of the relationship. The person you select to be your sponsor should respect and maintain your confidentiality, as you should theirs. Early recovery can also be a vulnerable time, so it’s essential that your relationship be a safe space, where you can speak freely without fear of judgment, betrayal or reprisal. Observe how a potential sponsor treats and speaks of others and trust your instincts.
Make Sure They Are Available
Frequent, regular contact is important when building a bond with your sponsor, so make sure your sponsor has the time to commit to the relationship. That said, sponsorship is highly individualized so the time involved can vary significantly depending on your needs. For those who are new to recovery, it can be beneficial to have a sponsor who is available most of the time for questions and support, since cravings and temptation can crop up at any moment. While 24/7 availability may not be feasible, at the very least, your sponsor should have enough time to help you work the steps, take your phone calls and regularly attend meetings with you. Discuss your expectations in advance to make sure you are both on the same page. Be wary of selecting someone who is sponsoring numerous other people because they might not have enough time to provide the attention you need.
Different Is OK
Seeking a sponsor similar to yourself may be comforting, but it’s not a requirement. In fact, choosing someone with a different background is often better because, as AA’s pamphlet on sponsorship points out, it forces you and your sponsor to focus on the most important area you have in common — addiction and recovery. A sponsor with different life experiences might also be better at challenging your assumptions and providing honest feedback. That being said, A.A. experience does suggest that it is best for men to sponsor men, women to sponsor women. This custom usually helps our members stay focused on the A.A. program.
Debbie Downer, the fictional “Saturday Night Live” character who always found the doom and gloom in any situation, wouldn’t have made a very good sponsor. Likewise, a pessimistic sponsor probably won’t be able to add much to your recovery and might even harm it. Just as science has shown that positive thinking can improve heart health, a happy attitude can go a long way in helping someone recover from addiction.
At the end of the day, selecting a sponsor is a personal choice, and what works for one person, might not work for another. Whereas one person might benefit from a more structured approach with reading assignments and frequent check-ins, another might respond better to a more casual approach akin to a sympathetic and understanding friendship. Figuring out the approach that works best for you will help you form a rewarding relationship with the right guide to keep you on the path to sobriety.