Recovery Sponsorship and its Benefits
What is a recovery sponsor? If you’ve ever wondered about sponsorship and what it actually entails, you’re not alone. The concept of having a sponsor is so prevalent in the world of recovery, and it’s something that those in the AA fellowship strongly adhere to.
In this article, we’ll dive into what a sponsor is and what the sponsor-sponsee relationship looks like. We’ll clarify what a sponsor can and cannot do, and the many benefits of having a sponsor in your corner.
Even if you don't currently attend Alcoholics Anonymous recovery meetings but you’re interested in this concept, read on. There are many alternatives to sponsors that you can explore.
What is an addiction recovery AA sponsor?
An AA sponsor is someone who has been through the 12 steps of recovery as part of the 12-step programme and acts as a guide or mentor to someone else in alcohol recovery.
A sponsor has completed each of the 12 steps in its entirety and has applied the principles of the programme to their life to remain sober.
When you have a sponsor, they essentially provide you with support and guidance as you navigate through the 12-step process.
An AA sponsor is your sounding board, confidant, and anchor as you move through the many challenges that recovery holds. They may also accompany you to AA meetings in the early days of sobriety.
The concept of a recovery sponsor was developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous – Bill W. and Dr. Bob. As the story goes, Bill W. was early in his recovery from alcohol use, and found himself struggling with cravings. In this moment, he was struck with the idea that he could help someone else, while also helping himself get through his urge to drink. Soon thereafter, he met Dr. Bob, who was also early in recovery.
The two men went on to support each other in the unique struggles and challenges faced by those in recovery from alcoholism. They realised that helping others in recovery was an integral part of their own healing journey.
In the decades since, the concept of a recovery sponsor in 12-step has become more formalised. The 12th step itself is about passing on the message of recovery and helping others experience healing from their addiction. It is now recommended that you have a sponsor regardless of the 12th Step fellowship you attend. The notion of a sponsor extends to all fellowships, including NA, CA, ACOA and SLAA.
The sponsor-sponsee relationship
You may now have a better idea of what a recovery sponsor is. However, you may be wondering what this looks like in terms of having a sponsor of your own.
Ideally, you should seek out a sponsor as soon as you begin a 12-step programme of recovery.
Some of the dynamics within the sponsor-sponsee relationship:
1. An accountability partner
Your sponsor is there to provide you with accountability. Early recovery is a deeply challenging and complicated time. You may struggle with truly knowing what's best for you, and may find yourself having trouble making decisions. It may be hard for you to maintain your commitments and keep yourself on track.
When you have a sponsor, they help take this pressure off of you. They help you stay on track, whether it's with your appointments or with your meetings. Your sponsor may have you check in with them once a day, or they may tell you to make at least one meeting daily. Your sponsor will help to keep you accountable during a time where it feels most difficult to do so.
2. A sounding board
Your sponsor is always there to act as your sounding board. When you feel overwhelmed or have a lot going on, your sponsor will always be there to listen. Many people in recovery feel like a burden for sharing their thoughts and feelings with their loved ones. (Even though the people who love you will not view you as a burden!)
However, a sponsor is there to listen to you at any time of the day. Their objective is to be there for you and to help you through whatever it is you're going through as it relates to your recovery. You can bounce ideas off of them, or tell them about the inner struggles you've been facing. A recovery sponsor can help you regain some clarity and groundedness. You’ll feel a weight off yourself simply by sharing with them what troubles you.
3. A forever support system
Your sponsor will support your ongoing recovery, always. Recovery can be an incredibly isolating experience when you feel like no one understands you. You may feel like the struggles you're facing are unique. Having a sponsor means having someone to support you along every step of the recovery journey.
As you begin to grow, change, and enter new levels of healing, your sponsor will be right alongside you to guide you through any discomfort. Your recovery sponsor is there to help you know that everything you're going through is completely normal. They provide you with validation and reassurance and can help you feel so much less isolated in your recovery. When you have a sponsor in recovery, the journey is one that you will never have to face alone.
What a recovery sponsor can and can’t help with
Although there are many things a recovery sponsor can help with, there are also some things that fall outside the scope of what a recovery sponsor is meant to do. Gaining clarity on what a recovery sponsor can and can't help with is important when understanding the role a sponsor plays in your life.
What a recovery sponsor can’t help with:
- Advice on relationships, medication, mental health
- Getting you sober
- Providing you with therapy
Your sponsor isn't meant to give you direction in areas such as relationships, business medication and mental health. Your sponsor is someone just like you, yet they’ve worked through the 12 steps and maintained their sobriety. This doesn't mean that they are qualified to offer advice in other areas. They may however share their own experience in such matters, and many do.
Generally, a recovery sponsor’s job isn't to advise you. It’s to allow you to explore recovery, while providing you with mentorship and guidance using each of the 12 steps as a foundation for your journey.
In the same vein, your recovery sponsor is not responsible for providing you with therapy. They aren't a trained psychologist, psychiatrist, or counsellor. Even if they are, their role as your sponsor is not within the scope of their work as a therapist.
Additionally, your sponsor is not responsible for getting you sober or keeping you sober. You likely know by now that this responsibility falls on no one but you. You are always ultimately responsible for the outcomes in your life, and that includes gaining and maintaining your sobriety.
What a recovery sponsor can help with:
- Sharing their experience
- Give guidance on developing emotional sobriety
- Providing accountability
- Taking you through the recovery programme
- Supporting your ongoing recovery
- Providing inspiration
- Making suggestions around strengthening your recovery, such as service commitments, sharing your story and helping others
A recovery sponsor’s presence in your life can help keep you on track when you feel yourself falling off. A sponsor can serve as a constant source of inspiration for what's possible for you in your own life, as you journey through recovery. They can show you the way, aid in your growth and development, and provide practical guidance on living sober.
Your sponsor can give you the tools you need to move through recovery as recommended by the 12-step programme. They can show you how to work through the basic text, and facilitate taking you through each of the steps.
The benefits of an addiction recovery sponsor
There are many benefits to having an addiction recovery sponsor. The main one is that you are not attempting recovery on your own. The Big Book of AA, which all other 12 step fellowships base their basic text on, talks about embracing a new way of life that is sought through the process of the steps.
Whilst the basic text doesn't refer to a sponsor as such, it does suggest finding someone who you can be completely honest with, yet will be unaffected by your truth. This, which is suggested in the 5th step of Alcoholics Anonymous, together with the 12 Steps of helping others and carrying the message of recovery, is where the idea of a sponsor was formulated.
The benefits of an AA sponsor include:
- Having a person to take you through the basic text and explain the recovery process
- Someone who you can identify with
- Having someone you can be completely honest with
- Going through the 12-step process to facilitate a spiritual awakening or personality change sufficient to overcome alcoholism/addiction
- Being able to pick up the phone and discuss anything that is troubling you
- Having someone to be accountable to
- Being guided in matters of service, sponsorship and recovery
A sponsor isn't meant to be your best friend, although this does sometimes happen. They are there to provide spiritual guidance as per the steps of recovery and guide you in all areas related to recovery.
How to ask someone to be your recovery sponsor
The idea of asking someone to be your sponsor can feel incredibly daunting.
Especially if you have your eye on someone you've never spoken to before, you may feel uncomfortable approaching them and asking them to essentially guide you through recovery.
If you’re considering asking someone who you truly admire, you may fear being rejected and burdened by the thought that they will say no to you.
Rest assured that these feelings of discomfort are incredibly normal.
To help ease your fears about asking someone to be your sponsor, consider if you were in their shoes. Imagine how it would feel to have someone approach you and ask you to be their sponsor.
Surely, part of you would feel honoured that they've asked you. Part of you would probably be proud of yourself for how far you must have come in order for someone else to ask you to help them.
The person that you want to ask would likely feel this way, too. Most people with a solid recovery programme and the time to help, would love to help you. They know how challenging recovery can be, and they want to be able to help others go through the recovery process.
How to actually ask them:
To ask someone to be your sponsor, all you have to do is, well, ask! You can ask them before or after a meeting. If that feels uncomfortable, you can get their phone number and ask them through text or over a call. You can also ask them if they'd like to meet for coffee, and there, let them know that you're looking for a sponsor. You can also let them know why you chose them specifically.
If someone does decline to be your sponsor, try your best to not take it personally. There are many people who would love to help you, but may simply not have the time at that time. It is better to have someone declines being your sponsor who can't dedicate time to you, than have someone agree to be your sponsor who is then unavailable for you.
What qualities to look for in a recovery sponsor
When deciding who to ask to be your sponsor, it’s important to look for someone with qualities you admire. This can look like someone who is transparent and vulnerable or someone who is authentic and true to themselves.
It can look like someone who is ambitious in their recovery and constantly pursuing new goals.
It can look like someone who is empathetic, kind, and compassionate.
You’ll also want to find someone who has a sponsor themselves. You’ll want to make sure they’re someone committed to their own recovery, and have a great understanding of each of the 12 steps.
Ultimately, keep in mind that your sponsor does not have to have the same beliefs as you, or even a similar lifestyle as you. The most important thing is that they’ve worked the 12 steps, and can help guide you through them, too.
12-step recovery guide to NA & AA sponsorship - The suggested requirements
Aside from choosing someone you admire and resonate with, there are also suggested requirements to keep in mind when selecting a sponsor.
A sponsor is someone who has:
- Been through the complete 12-step process in its entirety
- Applied the principles of the programme to their life
- Made amends wherever possible
- Maintained sobriety
- Experience and knowledge of the basic text
- The ability to show you how to work through the basic text
- The ability to facilitate taking you through the steps
That being said, what if you’re interested in having a sponsor, but you aren’t in AA, NA or CA?
Alternatives to a recovery sponsor
If you’re interested in having a sponsor but don’t resonate with AA, there are plenty of other options for you
The world of recovery offers many options for peer support.
Other recovery programmes outside of AA offer a similar sponsor process but use a different language, such as using the term mentor instead of sponsor. Additional options you can explore are looking for peer mentors or peer support workers. SMART Recovery have trained facilitators who guide you through the SMART Recovery programme during group meetings.
Regardless of what you call it, having support in recovery truly makes a world of difference. You can learn so much from someone who has been where you are right now. You can feel less isolated in your struggles. Through them, you can see for yourself that recovery is possible.
- Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/
- Twelve-step program. (2022, October 5). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve-step_program
- The SMART Recovery programme https://smartrecovery.org.uk/smart-recovery-programme/