In 12-step programs, the sponsor plays a vital role in a member’s recovery. A sponsor is a seasoned member of the group who has completed the 12 steps with the help of his own sponsor. He is now ready to take on the responsibility of guiding newcomers through the process. Sponsorship is both a service to the community and an expression of the sponsor’s dedication to a drug-free life. Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous and Dual Recovery Anonymous rely on sponsors to build their membership and carry the principles of the 12 steps to others.
What Does a Sponsor Do?
Sponsorship is not mandatory in 12-step programs, but it is considered to be an important part of the recovery process. The role of the sponsor is defined in a nutshell in the 12th and final step of Alcoholics Anonymous:
“Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
A sponsor acts as your guide when you enter a recovery program. New members meet regularly with their sponsors, either in person, on the phone or online, to learn about the 12 steps. A sponsor might sit with you as you read through each step together, or ask you to complete exercises from a 12-step workbook. The role of a sponsor can vary from one individual to another, but most sponsors will support their sponsees in the following ways:
- By encouraging them to attend meetings
- By attending meetings with them
- By asking them to call on a regular basis to “check in”
- By helping them work through the 12 steps
- By introducing them to 12-step culture and literature
- By providing emotional support in high-risk situations
- By acting as a sober role model
Sponsors differ greatly in their styles and approaches to this role. Some of them take on the role of a friend or brother, while others behave like teachers or authority figures. Some sponsors are trustworthy and highly respected in the community, while others don’t fulfill their role as effectively. Within the 12-step community, it’s understood that sponsors and their sponsees don’t always get along or see eye-to-eye. If the relationship doesn’t work for you, you are free to choose another sponsor.
Where Can I Find a Sponsor?
A 12-step meeting is the best place to find a sponsor. If you’re new to the group, ask others about members who might be open to working with a newcomer. Look for a meeting that’s tailored to the needs of new members. These meetings will often open with a call for members who need sponsors to identify themselves.
It’s not always necessary to find a sponsor right away. In fact, it’s probably best to spend some time going to meetings and getting to know people first. Look for experienced members who have traits that you’d like to have, like self-confidence, serenity or inner strength. Talk with these members to find out who their sponsors are, or to ask them if they’re open to becoming a sponsor.
Being a sponsor is a big commitment, and people who are committed to a 12-step program don’t take the responsibility lightly. If you ask someone to be your sponsor and he turns you down, don’t take it personally. He may be too busy or too involved with other sponsees. On the other hand, he might agree to be your temporary sponsor until you can find someone permanent. A temporary sponsor will introduce you to the protocols and expectations of 12-step recovery and may help you find a more long-lasting arrangement with the right member.
What Should I Look for in a Sponsor?
A sponsor doesn’t have to share your personal interests, your opinions or your political beliefs. He may represent a different religious group, race or socioeconomic class. The most important trait to look for is a dedication to sobriety. Your sponsor should emulate the life you want to have as a recovering addict or alcoholic. A few of the traits that distinguish a good sponsor are:
- Peace of mind
- Humility about their sobriety
- Gratitude for what they have
- Acceptance and tolerance
Some sponsors have great jobs, drive expensive cars and live in beautiful homes. Others live on part-time incomes, take public transportation and live in studio apartments. However, all of these individuals define success in terms of their sobriety and their service to others, not in terms of their material wealth.
The recovery program at Muir Wood integrates the principles of the 12 steps to provide optimal care for our teenage clients. We encourage our teens to participate in 12-step meetings and to continue with this fellowship in the community after they graduate. Call us for more information about our individualized, gender-specific treatment plans for boys.