About Being A Sponsor

There’s little doubt that having a sponsor greatly improves the chances someone will stick with the 12 steps and maintain their recovery. Even the longtime sober will keep an informal sponsor relationship – because they know the value of having a direct contact who knows and understands them. So what makes a good sponsor?

It’s actually easier to start with what a sponsor isn’t – a sponsor isn’t a father or mother; isn’t a therapist or doctor; isn’t a financial adviser and shouldn’t run our lives. Too often, someone dependent on booze is looking for any lifeboat in a storm. Dependency is what they know and it’s sometimes an easy out to try to become dependent on someone else.

A good sponsor won’t allow this. Help, yes. Run your life? No.

That said, what are some of the other characteristics that make for the best sponsors? Well, it’s assumed they’ve “been there, done that” and have worked the steps successfully. One of the key factors that attracts us to a sponsor is they have what we want. Another is a sense of trust.

The sponsor/sponsored relationship is a powerful one. It’s not exactly a friendship, but much more intimate than an acquaintance. At times, it seems like a counselor, but I think mentor is a better model. Sponsors have to stay focused on the purpose at hand – making progress through the steps – and avoid being a “pal” or a “comforter.” This doesn’t give permission to be a drill sergeant or a jerk, but mentoring means you have a larger viewpoint and know where the process is supposed to lead.

Some traps

  • Personality conflicts. Try as we might, it is a fact that some personalities clash. There ought to be some serious conversations before you sponsor anyone. The ability to engage on a personal level and remain comfortable and confident is essential.
  • Too busy. Sometimes, good sponsors take on too many people. Their own lives suffer because their large hearts want to do as much as possible. But this means someone is going to be shortchanged.
  • Different gender. Trying to sponsor someone of the opposite sex adds a different and difficult dimension. It should be avoided, not only because of the underlying male/female interaction, but because it’s much harder to get “into the head” of someone of the opposite sex.
  • Trying to replace meeting attendance with sponsorship. This can work from both ends. Avoid too many phone calls and “meet-ups” that replace group meetings. Don’t make recovery into a one-on-one process.
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