Sponsorship: We’re In It Together
By Barry Doughty, ICADC, Clinical Therapist for Oxford Treatment Center
Part of an effective recovery strategy is being part of a larger community of people who are going through what you’re going through. As part of groups like AA or NA, sponsorship is a key tenet of the 12-step program. Our guide will help you learn about 12-step sponsorship, the benefits of having a sponsor, and how to find a sponsor.
What Is a Sponsor?
In 12-Step communities, a sponsor is a person who has made progress in the program and can share their experiences with other members of the recovery community. Sponsors work with their sponsees to go through the 12 steps, provide guidance and feedback, and be a lifeline for their sponsees.
Having a sponsor is having a sounding board. Reality still gets distorted no matter how long we’ve been clean. That’s how the disease of addiction works. It’s always trying to trip us and get us away from the very thing that saves our lives — the meetings, the step work, volunteer work, etc. We need someone else who can help us so that we don’t limit ourselves to our own thoughts.
A sponsor is a guide through the steps. You need their experience working the steps. Through working the steps with your sponsor, you start practicing the principles embedded in the program: honesty, openness, willingness, surrender, faith, hope, trust, integrity, courage, etc.
The Benefits of Having a Sponsor
Sponsorship is a lifeline. A sponsor can throw you a life ring when you’re about to drown — and help pull you up if you do go under.
Sponsorship helps us to experience the full array of what the program and recovery community has to offer. Without a sponsor, we limit ourselves and miss out on the rewards that come from going “all-in” on our recovery. Pursue your recovery with the same focus you once used to pursue your active addiction. You’ll find recovery works the same way: Once you taste a little bit, you’ll want more and more.
How Does the Sponsor Relationship Develop?
For most people in recovery, sponsorship is the first relational contact with another human being. When you live with addiction for so long, and you’re the center of your own universe, it’s hard to know how to relate to other people.
My first sponsor told me to call him every day. I would call and say, “Hey…” and there would be silence on the phone. He would do the talking. He said call me tomorrow, and I would call and the same thing would happen. But over time it grew, and I began getting comfortable talking to him about things. Having a sponsor teaches you how to build and retain relationships with other human beings.
How to Get a Sponsor
Once you start going to meetings, what you’re looking for in a sponsor is someone who is there on a regular basis, someone whose actions match their words, and someone who is carrying the message of recovery. Look for someone who is solution based — not living in the problem, but seeking the solution. Then approach that person and ask them. Until you find that person, it’s the group’s responsibility to sponsor newcomers.
You may feel uncomfortable approaching someone to be your sponsor, but rest assured that almost everyone in the room has been in your shoes before.
What if the Sponsor I Choose Says No?
The number one reason people new to recovery don’t get a sponsor is the fear of rejection. I was terrified to get my first sponsor, and I didn’t get one until I was forced to. When I finally got the courage to ask someone if he would be my sponsor, the man said, “It would be an honor to sponsor you.” It was exactly the opposite of what my disease was telling me.
The other two reasons someone won’t get a sponsor is because of our ego and our pride — both of which will kill us. You think you’re smarter than everybody else and no one could possibly help you. Just about the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do is to ask another man for help. But it is vital, and it is what will save us.
Even if the first person you approach isn’t in a place where he or she is ready to be a sponsor, don’t take it as rejection. Their life is may be so full and they don’t have a lot of time and they’re ensuring that they don’t do you a disservice by not giving you the time and energy that you need. Just remember: your recovery network is not just one person and you can ask around until you find the right person to sponsor you.
What if My Sponsor Relapses?
If your sponsor relapses, the most important thing you can do is get to meetings, work your program, and find another sponsor. Having to start over with another sponsor is not convenient. But neither is losing your life to addiction — and that’s what’s at stake.
My second sponsor died at the age of 47 of a heart attack. He died clean, two weeks after earning his 29-year medallion. But I knew that I had to get another one. It wasn’t even a question. I had to do that immediately, because I’m responsible for my recovery.
Download AA’s brochure “Questions & Answers on Sponsorship” (PDF)
Addiction Help in Etta, MS
Whether you or someone you love is still in the grips of active addiction or if you need additional resources for addiction recovery maintenance, Oxford Treatment Center can help. At our inpatient rehab in Etta, MS we have a wide range of evidence-based tools to help people get on the road to recovery, as well as resources to help support those in the recovery community.
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