One of most powerful tools to help people stay sober in AA is the sponsor. This individual is there to offer guidance and support to a sponsee. The sponsor is not only a person to guide the member through the AA program, but to also be there to listen. Being able to rely on a sympathetic ear can be particularly important when the individual feels on the verge of relapse. Choosing the right sponsor is important, because otherwise the relationship could prove to be disastrous.
Sponsorship has been an important element from AA right from the beginning. The founding members realized that that the thing that was keeping them sober was helping other people. In fact the organization originated from one alcoholic reaching out to help another. At the time Bill Wilson was struggling to stay sober on his own. He was on the verge of relapse when he got the idea of helping another alcoholic. He rang around the local hospitals looking for suitable candidates and found Dr Bob – their meeting is considered to be the birth of AA.
The focus in AA meetings is on members supporting each other. Simply belonging to such a group can be enough to help the member to stay free of addiction, but many find they benefit from a one-to-one relationship with a sponsor. It can be easier to share things with a trusted individual, rather than with a whole group of people. This is why the tradition of sponsorship remains strong within this twelve step group. This type of service in recovery benefits both parties because such work keeps the sponsor strong and committed to sobriety.
The AA sponsor fulfills a number of useful functions including:
* This is an individual who will usually have more experience in the program than the sponsee. This means that they will be able to share their wisdom and experience.
* Most sponsors will tell their sponsee to contact them at any time of the day or night if it is an emergency. The urge to relapse can come at any time, and having somebody to contact can make all the difference.
* A sponsor can just be a good friend. One of the things that people worry about when they first enter recovery is that they will never be able to form meaningful relationships without their chemical crutch. What they learn is that friendships in sobriety can be stronger than anything they have ever experienced previously. One of their most important relationships may be with their sponsor.
* This is an individual who will offer encouragement and provide praise for achievements.
* A sponsor should be able to provide honest feedback.
* A more experienced person in recovery will be able to spot the warning signs of an approaching relapse. They may be able to guide the sponsee back to safety.
* This is someone who can be a good role model for their sponsee
* It is often the job of the sponsor to help the sponsee work their way through the 12 steps
There are no hard and fast rules for choosing a sponsor, but the following suggestions may help:
* It is advisable that the sponsor should have more experience in the program than the sponsee. This way they will be qualified to offer information and guidance.
* This is an individual who should be secure in their own sobriety. Choosing a sponsor with a shaky recovery can be detrimental to both participants in the relationship. The advice in AA is always to stick with the winners.
* In AA they usually recommend that heterosexuals don’t choose sponsors of the opposite sex; the opposite rule applies to homosexuals. The reason for this advice is the worry that sexual attraction might interfere with the therapeutic relationship of the relationship.
* It is advisable that the sponsor has first-hand experience with the 12 step program and what is called working the steps. Some members only show up to the meetings and may only pay lip service to the program. If the sponsee is serious about working the program they will need somebody experienced with this.
* Some AA members have many sponsees. The fact that they are so popular probably means that they have a good message, but it can also mean that they are spreading themselves thin. It is probably preferable to choose a sponsor who will be able to devote enough time to the sponsee.
* The sponsor needs to be somebody who is completely trustworthy. A lot of confidential information gets exchanged in this type of relationship. An unscrupulous sponsor could try to benefit from this disclosure.
* It is important to trust instincts when choosing an AA sponsor. The way intuition works is poorly understood, but it can be perilous to ignore such feelings. Many people who go against this inner voice later regret it.
Sponsorship can be hugely beneficial to both parties, but sometimes things do go wrong. The most common pitfalls to watch out for include:
* Some sponsors can be overbearing and will try to manage every aspect of the sponsee’s life. They may be doing this out of a genuine desire to help, or it could have more to do a type of hunger for power. Escaping addiction is all about finding freedom, so allowing a sponsor to have too much influence is unwise.
* If a sponsor relapses it can be devastating for the sponsee, and it may even put their own sobriety at risk. This is why it is recommended that members of AA always look for people with a strong foundation in recovery – even then there are no guarantees.
* Occasionally sexual feelings can crop up in this type of relationship. Thirteenth stepping is when sponsors, or other senior members, take advantage of newer members in order to gain sexual favors. These predators do exist in AA and need to be avoided.
* The sponsor is usually provided with a lot of personal information about the sponsee. It is usual to share the step 5 moral inventory with the sponsor. This can contain a lot of embarrassing information, as well as things that may even have legal implications. Giving such information to an untrustworthy sponsor could later prove disastrous.
* Sponsors are just people and they are as liable of giving bad advice as anyone else. This is why it is crucial to not accept their opinion as infallible – this is particularly important when it comes to medical advice. There is no obligation to accept the advice offered by the sponsor.
* Sometimes the sponsor can be overly critical of their sponsee. This can damage confidence and self-esteem.