Sponsorship can be an important part of the recovery process, either independently or after an inpatient rehabilitation experience. In fact, almost everyone, from therapists to Hollywood blockbusters, emphasizes the importance of a sponsor, painting this special person as an indispensable part of recovery from drugs and alcohol. But what exactly is an AA sponsor, and how does he or she affect sobriety?
Pop culture paints sponsorship as a mysterious and troubled relationship between a recovering addict and an unstable mentor that may have romantic or dysfunctional undertones, like Dexter’s whirlwind affair with his sponsor Lila in Showtime’s Dexter. In these contexts, sponsors often exist as a plot device and little else, supporting – or harming, as the case may be – a character’s recovery for brief periods of time. However, these kinds of depictions often miss the mark entirely. Don’t let their public portrayal cloud your judgment in how effective a sponsor can be in your sobriety. In reality, the sponsor-sponsee relationship is a serious commitment that helps define the 12-Step process and facilitates long-term sobriety.
The idea of sponsorship is considered a central tenet of Alcoholics Anonymous. Originating in the earliest days of AA, sponsorship evolved out of founder Bill Wilson’s realization that sobriety often necessitates outside assistance. After only a few months of sobriety, Bill found himself struggling to avoid cravings, and, out of a need for companionship in his journey, he partnered with Dr. Bob Smith. Together, the two men developed a camaraderie that led to the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps.
Today, sponsorship is a beloved part of the AA model, offering a strong support system based on one common goal: staying sober.
In AA, a sponsor is an individual appointed to oversee and support a newcomer to the 12-Step process. After deciding to commit to an AA recovery program, new members choose a senior member who is farther along in the Steps to provide guidance and mentorship.
An effective AA sponsor:
Not all members will make good sponsors, and not all sponsors will be right for all members. The sponsorship process is often exceptionally individualized and is based on both sponsor attitude and unique new member needs.
Choosing an AA sponsor isn’t always easy, but the right choice can strongly influence sobriety. The wrong sponsor can fail to offer support when you need it most, pay attention to your concerns, or help you commit to the steps, increasing the likelihood of relapse. A good sponsor, on the other hand, will do the opposite, standing by you when times are tough, dedicating time to helping you commit to the process, and supporting you day and night when temptation strikes.
When choosing a sponsor, it’s important to keep in mind what kind of person you are and how you best respond to feedback. If you can accept harsh criticism without taking it personally, a no-nonsense sponsor may be the best choice to keep you on track. However, if you prefer a more nurturing relationship, a warmer, more caring sponsor may be a better fit.
In addition, there are several other components new AA members should keep in mind.
While not an official rule, AA members are generally strongly encouraged to choose a sponsor of the same gender. This can serve multiple purposes, including the elimination of romantic interest for many individuals and the benefit of a more relatable perspective. For example, a single mother struggling with addiction may find better support from someone who knows how to weigh the demands of work and motherhood with recovery.
The Steps are a key part of recovery in AA, setting 12-Step programs apart from other treatment options. In order to ensure a successful process, experience in the Steps is essential. A good sponsor should, first, have worked the steps themselves and be able to able to share their experience with each Step to personally to provide the best foundation for success.
A good sponsor’s best teaching tool is his own sponsor. The lessons, concepts, and experiences provided through sponsorship can provide a base of knowledge for the future, helping newcomers to transition into strong, effective sponsors for the next generation of AA members.
Honesty is important in recovery. When times get tough, your sponsor should be your anchor, offering truthful feedback on your situation. There are no advantages to dishonesty and lies when times are tough, so the ability to provide a realistic viewpoint in both good situations and bad can be an advantage on the road to lasting sobriety. A sponsor should be able to encourage the sponsee as well as call them out on behavior and lies. The regular contact with their sponsee is necessary for accountability and an honest relationship is the cornerstone of the relationship maintaining through good times and bad.
Some people in AA enjoy the community but don’t take a strong interest in the Steps. While this is fine – AA serves to support a wide range of individuals – the best sponsors are those who are truly dedicated to the program. They should have a strong understanding and appreciation for the success the AA program can bring, including working steps and the encouragement to attend meetings.
Alcoholics Anonymous and its many substance-specific deviations have long provided an enduring outpatient resource for those committed to sobriety. The right sponsor choice can can be extremely important in facilitating effective recovery, providing a support system who understands both where you’ve been and where you’re going.
If you or someone you love is facing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, the program you choose can make all the difference. As an inpatient detox and rehabilitation center, New Light Medical is here for those seeking addiction treatment. Many addiction programs, such as ours, appreciate the role the 12-steps can play in recovery and prepare patients for the early steps of the program. Contact us today to learn more about how our doctors, nurses, and counselors can provide dedicated guidance throughout your recovery.