Menu Close

Becoming the Best Sponsor You Can Be

The acceptance of an opportunity to take the A.A. plan to a sufferer of alcoholism entails very real and critically important responsibilities. Every member, undertaking the sponsorship of a fellow alcoholic, must remember that he is offering what is frequently the last chance of rehabilitation, sanity, or maybe life itself.” ~ Clarence S., the original A.A. Sponsorship Pamphlet (1944) The majority of addiction rehabilitation treatment programs in use today owe a great deal to the original concepts first developed by the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship. Even with modifications to fit the specific goals of a particular facility, that influence is still evidenced by the fact that most facilities proudly advertise that they offer a program based upon the Twelve Steps. The last of the Twelve Steps requires the recovering person to “carry the message” to others, and that, in a nutshell, is the essence of what being a sponsor is all about. When a person is in successful recovery, the best way to maintain their sobriety and show gratitude for everything they have gained or regained is to help others do the same. Because of the awesome – and joyous – responsibility of helping someone realize the restored joy and serenity that comes with a life that is no longer made unmanageable by addiction, deciding to become a sponsor is not an undertaking for those who are not willing to give it their all. To that end, here are some helpful guidelines that can help you become a supportive and successful sponsor for a suffering individual new to the journey of recovery.

  • Be Available – A person new to recovery will invariably feel lost, just as if they were adrift at sea. In a very real way, you as their sponsor will act as their “life preserver” that can help them stay afloat when they can’t do it all by themselves.

People in recovery are always advised to call their sponsor whenever they feel tempted. This means that you can get “the call” at any time of the day or night, and it may not always be particularly convenient for you. That doesn’t matter. A desperate phone call from a person you are sponsoring is a life-or-death matter, just as it was when you were in their place. Sometimes, just hearing your voice over the phone will be sufficient, and sometimes, you can agree to meet them at the next meeting. Other times, you will need to drop will you are doing to go sit with your charge and let them gain strength from your presence and support.

  • Only Sponsor People of Your Own Sex/Orientation – Individuals new to recovery are often very emotionally fragile, and it is very easy for them to project or misinterpret signals and feelings for the person closest to them in recovery – their sponsor.

Although being a sponsor means that you should be an “understanding, sympathetic friend”, it is not about forming an intimate relationship with someone else. It is about helping that other person get better. It is best to remove the sexual or romantic possibilities from this dynamic altogether.

  • Make Sure You Have Worked AND Are Still Working the 12 Steps Yourself – Because your job as a sponsor is to coach your charge as they work through each of the Steps, you need to have the experience of having already worked them. Only in this way can you effectively relate to and with your sponsee as they face each challenge and difficulty.

This also means that you need to be an example. When the person you are sponsoring sees you applying the principles of recovery to all aspects of your life, they will be better able to grasp the totality of the message.

  • Be Active in Your Twelfth Step and Service Work – Set the example for your charge by being of service to your group and to others. Carry the message of recovery to others by your words, your attitude, your behaviors, and your willingness to help.

When your sponsee sees you volunteering in different ways – passing out literature, answering phones, cleaning up after meetings, etc., they will be inspired to do the same. And, by serving others, they will have a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth.

  • Be Brutally Honest, in A Caring Manner – Because people with addictions have invariably lived a life of denial, deception, and deflection, they are ill-served by anything less than the complete truth. You are to be the reliable source of information about recovery that your charge can fully depend upon.

Because you have been where they are, they need to know that you understand everything they are going through and everything that they feel. And because of that, they need to further understand that the same dissembling they used elsewhere won’t work on you. You will neither accept nor relate anything that is not true. When you are straightforward with your charge, you give them the vital information that they need to succeed. When you hold them accountable for their actions and inactions, you help them see the truth about themselves. Even when it is uncomfortable, being able to know and act upon real facts, rather than the distorted emotions fueled by addiction gives a person in recovery their best chance at success.

  • Be Their Connection to the Fellowship around Them – Addiction is a lonely disease, and someone who is new to recovery will often be so reticent to interact with others that they miss out on the strength that they can gain by sharing and interacting with others who are and have been where they are.

One of your most important and empowering responsibilities as a good sponsor is to help facilitate social interaction and networking between your sponsee and the larger community of recovering addicts. Introduce them around and help them integrate into the group. They need to know that they are never alone in recovery.

  • Don’t Forget to Be Happy – In the eyes of the person you are sponsoring, you are the shining paragon of everything that is good about recovery. The message that you want your charge to receive is that of a life that is vastly better because of sobriety. The newly-recovered individual needs to know that a clean and sober life is much better – and joyful – then their former existence. After all, if you always appear stressed out and miserable now that you have achieved a life free of drugs and alcohol, how can you convince the uninitiated?

Obviously, being a sponsor can be a lot of work and a daunting challenge, but it is one of the most rewarding experiences of your own clean and sober life. And when that day comes that your sponsee is far enough along in their own continuing recovery to become a sponsor themselves, you will be as proud as any parent ever was of their own child.