If you are in a 12-step recovery program, finding a sponsor is one of the most important things you can do for your sobriety. The sponsor-sponsee relationship is foundational in the roots of Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, as a one-on-one relationship that promotes the overall goals of the program. As Alcoholics Anonymous states: “An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety….”
It is generally the responsibility of the sponsee to choose a sponsor. Choosing the right sponsor for you can be integral to your success in sobriety, so it’s a decision that requires care and forethought. This is meant to be a relationship between equals; the sponsor can benefit from the relationship as much as the sponsee. To help you find that ideal match, there are some guiding principles to keep in mind.
Don’t select a sponsor you are attracted to.
The relationship between sponsee and sponsor can be disrupted if it’s fraught with sexual tension. Choose a sponsor the same gender as you are; if you are attracted to the same sex, an opposite-sex sponsor would be appropriate in that case.
2. Find someone with a solid foundation in the program, and in sobriety.
Ideally, you want a sponsor who can increase your knowledge of the recovery program’s goals, and who can lend his expertise and experiences to serve as a guide through your sobriety. Some organizations suggest that people should be sober for at least a year before becoming sponsors. In addition to a substantial legacy of sobriety, prospective sponsors should be actively involved in the program you are in. Keep an eye out for someone who volunteers in different roles during meetings, who speaks with authority about the tenets of the program or has demonstrated experience in working through the 12 steps. That person may make a great sponsor for you. The sponsor serves as a valuable resource on what the recovery program is all about and should be able to answer any questions you have (or find someone who has the answers). He can also be your conduit into the program by suggesting reading material and introducing you to other group members. The goal is for you to feel accepted and welcomed in the group so that you can be a full participant in its recovery objectives.
3. Make sure your schedules and goals align.
A sponsor-sponsee relationship doesn’t thrive if it’s sporadic. You and your sponsor need to meet regularly and find agreed-upon times and methods to connect. This may require flexibility on both your parts in order to find what works best for your relationship. If your prospective sponsor’s calendar is too busy, or he can’t accommodate your schedule, it may be best to keep looking for someone else. If a sponsor feels overloaded, they may not be as patient as you’d desire or able to give you the attention you deserve.
4. Your sponsor should encourage you to be honest—and be honest with you in return.
The only way the sponsor-sponsee relationship benefits you is for both parties to be completely honest with each other. You should respect your sponsor enough to be vulnerable and open with him about your struggles or challenges. Conversely, your sponsor should be able to share his experiences with you, and ask you the tough questions about your sobriety if necessary. Your sponsor should also not be uncomfortable if you have questions about the program or recovery in general. Naturally, this requires a great deal of trust as well as the assumption of confidentiality between the two of you.
5. Look for someone who is a good listener.
Strong listening skills are valuable in any relationship, and the relationship with your sponsor is no different. Your sponsor should be as good at listening to your problems as he is talking about the program. You don’t want someone who talks for the sake of talking, or who just wants to impose his own beliefs on you, without regard to how that would affect you. When you approach someone in your group about potentially sponsoring you, note how carefully he listens to your questions, and what kind of questions he asks you in return.
6. Your sponsor shouldn’t want to be your therapist.
Like you, your sponsor is on the road of recovery—he is your peer, your cohort. He is not, however, supposed to act like a professional therapist or medical doctor. If you are seeking any kind of professional help, your sponsor can help direct you to the proper resources, but should never take on that role himself.
7. Look for someone who is happy being sober.
A sponsor can be a kind of mentor, in that he can be a model for the goals you want to attain in sobriety. Ultimately, you probably want to lead a rich, fulfilling and happy life, so look for a sponsor whose joy and purpose in life is evident. After all, scientific research has found that happiness is contagious.
If you have questions about the recovery process, including how to develop a relationship with a sponsor, contact Casa Palmera, where our expert staff can assist you in meeting your sobriety goals.