When people enter recovery from addiction, they will be faced with many challenges. Rebuilding their life usually requires a lot of effort and determination. It can be hard for the newly sober to do all this work alone. Another person who is able to offer support and good advice can be highly beneficial. The path to sobriety is well-trodden. There are always people further along the path, and these individuals are in a good position to offer guidance. Those who belong to a 12 Step group will be able to get such support by choosing a sponsor.
Twelve Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are built upon the principle of sponsorship. The birth of this program can be traced back to the act of one alcoholic trying to assist another, which is best represented by the famous meeting between Bill W. and Dr. Bob. The wonderful thing about sponsorship is that it benefits both parties. It is a way for the sponsee to gain from the knowledge of a more experienced member, and it gives the sponsor the opportunity to give something back. As they say in the meeting, in order to keep it, you have to give it away.
These are some of the significant benefits to having a sponsor:
* The sponsor is a resource of information about life in sobriety and the 12 Step program, and they will help the sponsee begin work on the steps.
* They should be a good role model who can inspire the sponsee
* They will be there to offer support to the sponsee when times get hard. Most sponsors give permission for the sponsee to contact them at any time of the day or night in an emergency.
* A sponsor can be a great friend.
* One of the most important roles of the sponsor is to offer honest feedback.
* This is someone who will be able to spot the signs that the sponsee is going off-track and at risk of relapse.
* The sponsor offers encouragement and tells the sponsee when they have done a good job. It can be hard for newly sober people to gauge their progress. Sometimes, they will be too hard on themselves.
Having a sponsor can be highly beneficial to people in recovery but sometimes things can go wrong. These are the most common risks involved with sponsorship:
* The sponsor relapses back to their addiction. The sponsee can be devastated by this event, and it could possibly put their recovery in jeopardy. Even when people have been sober for many years, they can still relapse. Even when that person externally appears to have a strong sobriety. The sponsee may feel very let down and disillusioned. It could bring into question all that the sponsor has told them about the program they endorsed.
* Sponsors may have a great deal more experience in sobriety than a newcomer, but they will still be fallible. They are as liable to give bad advice as anyone else. It is not advisable to take medical advice from a sponsor unless they are qualified to give it. It is good that the sponsee respects their sponsor, but it is not wise to just accept everything they say as gospel.
* The relationship between a sponsor and a sponsee can be very intense. Sometimes, sexual and romantic feelings can arise. When the sponsor is helping a newcomer, they will be in a position of power, and the sponsee will be highly vulnerable. If the sponsor was to begin any type of sexual relationships at this stage, it would be a form of exploitation. This is sometimes referred to as thirteenth-stepping. Even if the sponsee has been sober for a long time, it can still be a bad idea for this type of relationship to develop.
* Sponsors will usually get to hear a great deal of personal information from their sponsee. In many instances, they will be the one to hear this sponsee’s moral inventory. They will get to hear things that this individual has never admitted to anyone else. It would be possible for the sponsor to use this personal information for personal gain. They could also pass details of the moral inventory onto other people through malice or by a slip of the tongue.
* There are a minority of sponsors who use this type of relationship as a type power trip. They may attempt to take over the sponsee’s life and try to boss them around. Those individuals who are new to recovery may be willing to submit to this manipulation because of their vulnerability.
* There are people in Alcoholics Anonymous who might be able to say the right things, but do not have a strong recovery. When they take responsibility for the sponsee it is like the blind trying to lead the blind.
These are steps that people can take to avoid the common pitfalls of sponsorship:
* Make a point of carefully choosing a sponsor.
* Heterosexuals are advised to choose a sponsor of the same sex, and homosexuals are best choosing a sponsor of the opposite sex. This will reduce the risk of any complicated sexual or romantic feelings developing.
* Respecting the opinion of a sponsor is one thing, but it is not a good idea to follow their advice blindly. Sometimes it is best to seek a professional opinion or just a second opinion. Becoming a sponsee does not put that person under any obligation to the sponsor.
* It is important to have realistic expectations for a sponsor. This person is fallible, and they are likely to make mistakes. Just because somebody has a strong recovery today does not mean that they will continue to do so in the future. People can lose their way and end up back in the midst of the addiction.
* Just because a sponsor relapses does not invalidate everything they have said. It also does not mean that the program they exposed is at fault. It usually means that this individual stopped doing the right things that were keeping them sober.
Many of the problems associated with sponsorship may be avoided if people choose wisely. These are some of the most important things to look for in a sponsor:
* It is best to choose a sponsor that walks the walk rather than talking the talk. This individual will have experience of working the steps and will have made the program part of their life.
* If people experience any negative gut reactions in regards to people in AA, they should trust their instincts. If instinct is telling them that there is something wrong with an individual, they should not then go and ask that person to be their sponsor. There may not be a logical explanation for where such instinctive reactions come from, but people ignore them at their peril.
* The sponsor needs to be an individual who is 100 percent trustworthy. They are likely going to get to hear plenty of personal information. Without complete trust, the relationship will not work.
* The sponsor needs to be a person who is strong in their own recovery. If they are currently having many problems in life then it is probably not a good time for them to be sponsoring other people.
* There are some members in AA who have a flock of sponsees. This can be a good sign. It usually means that they have something of value to offer. There can be drawbacks to having this type of celebrity sponsor. If people are new to recovery, they may need a great deal of support. The sponsor who already has their hands full might not be in a position to offer such support.
* If the sponsor has a busy life or spends a lot of time away from home, they might not be the best candidate to choose as a sponsor.