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How to Get the Most Out of Your 12 Step Sponsor


One of the keys to getting the most out of a 12 Step programme like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous is to get a sponsor. This individual is able to guide the sponsee through the process of building their recovery. It is important to choose the right type of sponsor though because choosing the wrong person could prove to be a liability rather than an asset.

What is a Sponsor?

When non-12 step people hear the word ‘sponsor’, they may think this is an individual providing some type of financial support. This is not what is meant by sponsor in this situation. In groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, the sponsor is another person in the program who has a bit more experience than the sponsee. The fact that this person has been sober longer should mean that they would be able in a good position to help.

The Functions of the Sponsor

The sponsor in the 12 Step program can provide many different functions including:

  • offering support and encouragement
  • the sponsee can turn to in times of trouble
  • helping the individual who is on the verge or relapse
  • helping the sponsee learn more about the 12 step program
  • helping the sponsee complete the steps
  • the sponsor can act as a confidant
  • providing free advice
  • providing physical assistance
  • encouraging the person to get to meetings even when they don’t want to
  • spotting the danger signs that the sponsee is heading in the wrong direction
  • being a friend.

The 12-step sponsor is not there to:

  • give medical advice unless they are trained to do so
  • be a romantic partner
  • take control of the sponsee’s life
  • act as a moneylender
  • find the sponsee a job
  • tell the sponsee what to believe
  • interfere with the person’s right to self-determination
  • be the fountain of all wisdom
  • be abusive.

The Benefits of Having a Sponsor

The whole basis of the fellowship is one person supporting another – it started when Bill W. offered support to Dr. Bob. Having a sponsor can be an important tool in the 12-step programme for a number of reasons, including:

 

  • the individual having someone to turn to when things go wrong
  • the meetings can be a great help but sometimes people will need one-to-one support
  • it is much easier to work through the steps with the help of a sponsor
  • this person can offer a feedback function – they can provide some insight into how the sponsee is doing in recovery
  • the sponsor will know more about the 12 step programme, so they will be able to encourage the sponsee to get more out of it
  • the sponsor can really get to know the sponsee, so they will be in a better position to offer guidance
  • many sponsors will encourage their sponsee to contact them at any time of the day or night if there is an emergency
  • this person can act as a good role model for the sponsee.

How to Get the Most Out of a Sponsor

Just getting a sponsor is not going to be enough to ensure that the individual will be getting the most out of the programme. In fact, choosing the wrong person to be a sponsor could cause more harm than good. It is therefore important that people think carefully whom they choose. It should be someone who has a strong recovery, and has the time and willingness to help the sponsee. It is also usually best to choose someone of the same sex (except in the case of homosexuals where it may be better to choose the opposite sex) – the point of this is to reduce the risk of romantic/sexual feelings damaging the relationships.

Here are a few ideas for how a sponsee can get the most out of their sponsor.

  • It is important to choose a sponsor that is going to be available and easy to reach in times of trouble.
  • Some sponsors have many sponsees, and it may be best to avoid these megastars, as they may be too busy to offer personalised attention.
  • It is not a good idea to choose a sponsor who is obviously having problems with their own recovery.
  • If people are in early recovery, it is important that they contact their sponsor every day. Even people who have been sober for many years will still speak to their sponsor on a daily basis.
  • This needs to be the first person that the individual will call in times of trouble related to recovery.
  • A sponsor will not be much use if the individual is unwilling to be honest with this person – remember that rigorous honesty is a key element of recovery.
  • It is best to choose a sponsor who has already completed the steps and continues to practice them.
  • The sponsee should be willing to at least consider the advice of the sponsor – it is probably not a good idea to just reject things outright.
  • It is important to keep in mind that the sponsor is a fallible human being and they are likely to be wrong about things – at least occasionally.
  • It is not a healthy attitude to just blindly follow the instructions of the sponsor.
  • If the sponsee feels that the sponsor is not meeting his or her needs, it may be best to choose somebody else.
  • It is important to have realistic expectations for a sponsor. This person is not there to fix the sponsee – they are only there to help.
  • Try to at least occasionally go to the same meetings as the sponsor.

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