The word sponsor derives from the Latin word spondere which means to make a promise. In Alcoholics Anonymous it has come to refer to a situation where one person takes on some responsibility for taking care of another individual. The sponsor provides a number of functions to a sponsee including:
* Helping the sponsee work their way through the steps. The sponsor should have a good deal of experience with working the program.
* The sponsor offers one-to-one assistance.
* They act as a resource for information about the program. Sponsees who are newly sober tend to have many questions and a sponsor can prove to be a fountain of knowledge.
* The sponsor should be able to spot the warning signs of an approaching relapse or dry drunk syndrome. This means that they will be able to steer the sponsee away from such pitfalls before it is too late.
* The sponsor who has a strong recovery will be able to act as a role model for the sponsee – they can also be inspirational people.
* The sponsor sometimes acts like a best friend. The sponsee will feel able to tell this person anything without the fear of being judged.
* Sometimes the individual will need somebody to tell them some unpleasant truths. It is the sponsor’s job to do this, and they provide honest feedback when needed.
* They are there to listen and act as a sounding board. They can give advice when it is appropriate to do so.
* They provide a shoulder to cry on or an opportunity to vent.
* The sponsor is a friendly face at the meetings – someone that the individual will feel they have a closer connection to.
* There are some personal details that the individual may not wish to share in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. They may feel more comfortable sharing such information with a sponsor in private.
* Some sponsors will be willing to offer support at any time of the day or night – they try to be always there for their sponsee.
There are some good reasons for why an individual may wish to change sponsors including:
* They are moving to a new location, and it may no longer be practical for them to remain with their current sponsor.
* If the current sponsor is too busy then this can be a good reason to change. This is particularly important for a newly sober individual who feels they need plenty of support.
* The situation of the sponsor may change so that they are no longer able to keep this commitment. For example, they could become ill or have increased work or family commitments.
* If this person appears to be having problems with their own sobriety then this can be a good reason to abandon ship. If a sponsor relapses it can have a devastating impact on their sponsees.
* Sometimes a sexual attraction can develop between these two individuals. The best way to deal with this may be for them to end the sponsorship relationship.
* If a sponsee finds that they are unable to trust this other person then that too is a good reason to change.
* If the sponsee is serious about the steps they may struggle with a sponsor who does not take this part of the program seriously enough. Just because somebody has been sober for a long time does not always mean that they are successfully working the steps.
* Occasionally a sponsor can be excessively bossy and controlling. There is no need for a sponsee to put up with this type of behavior and they should look for help elsewhere.
* If a sponsee is too demanding a sponsor may feel unable to continue with the relationship.
* People in Alcoholics Anonymous are not always what they seem. A member who appears to have a strong recovery may be hiding their true agenda, and this becomes apparent when they become a sponsor.
* If the sponsor tries to 13th Step the sponsee then this is good reason to end the relationships immediately. 13th stepping is where a long term member of AA tries to gain sexual favors from a newcomer.
As well as there being reasonable motives for changing sponsors there are also some that are not so reasonable including:
* Wanting to have a more popular sponsor.
* Choosing a new sponsor because they are more attractive.
* Changing sponsors in the hope of getting financial or employment help from this other individual.
* Leaving their current sponsor because they don’t like being challenged in any way.
* Changing for the sake of change is not a good reason. It can take a bit of time to develop a good relationship with a sponsor and regularly changing their sponsor may mean never enjoying such a relationship.
* Some people want to find a new sponsor because they’ve had a minor argument with their current one. It is usually best to work these things out, or the individual will develop the habit of always running away.
* Some people will have expectations of sponsors that are unrealistically high. This means that they will be searching for a relationship that doesn’t exist.
Members of Alcoholics Anonymous will jokingly talk about how they fired their sponsor. In reality there is no firing involved because this is a voluntary relationship between two people. The sponsor offers their time and experience for free. Ending a relationship with a sponsor (or sponsee) should be done respectfully and tactfully by:
* Thanking the sponsor for their help.
* It is not a good idea to criticize the sponsor or try to blame them for the ending of the relationship.
* There is no need to provide elaborate explanations to the sponsor.
* It is not recommended that people try to make up excuses. Such dishonest often backfires even when it is done with good intentions.
* It is best to end the relationship on good terms.
* It is not polite to end the relationship with the sponsor by email or text. The respectful and sober way of doing things is face to face.
If people feel they have chosen badly the last time they will need to be more careful when choosing a sponsor this time – frequent changes is not a good idea. When looking for a new sponsor the things to consider include:
* It is best to not rush into choosing a new sponsor. It is advisable to find out a bit more about the first of all.
* If the sponsee is serious about working the steps they need to choose a sponsor who will be able to help them with this. Not all of those who stay sober and go to meetings will be diligently following the steps.
* It is recommended that homosexuals choose sponsors of the opposite sex and heterosexuals stick to the same sex. The reason for this is to lessen the chances of any type of sexual feelings developing to harm the relationship.
* It is a good idea for a potential sponsor and sponsee to go out for a coffee together to see how well they fit. People can behave differently once they are away from the meetings.
* People should trust their instincts. If they have a bad feeling about someone they should not then ask that person to be their sponsor.
* A sponsor should be 100% trustworthy because of the nature of the relationship.
* It is best not to choose a sponsor who is too popular because this individual may not have much time to devote to a new sponsee.
* The sponsor should be firmly established in their own sobriety. It is a bad idea to choose somebody who seems to be struggling – even if they have been physically sober for many years.
* Avoid choosing somebody who is overly critical or negative about life in recovery.