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Sponsorships Dos and Don’ts

Ready to Choose a Sponsor? Sponsorships Dos and Don’ts

Sponsors figure prominently in the 12-step model of recovery, and research suggests that the simple act of working with a sponsor can greatly increase your odds of sobriety success. Choose the wrong sponsor, though, and you could be stuck working with someone you don’t like who offers you little help on your journey to recovery. If you want to make the most of this unique relationship, follow these simple rules.

Do: Choose Someone Who Understands Your Values

A sponsor isn’t a mental health expert or a trained addiction counselor. Instead, they’re someone who’s been there, done that, and knows how to walk the path to sobriety. The goal of sponsorship is to provide you with someone who can help you chart a path to sobriety within your own life. If your sponsor doesn’t understand your values, though, he or she may not be able to help you pick the right path. Before setting on a sponsor, be sure to talk about the following issues:

  • Your religious faith and the role you want it to play – or not play – in your recovery journey
  • Your philosophy on recovery; for example, do you intend to avoid all potentially addictive substances or just the one to which you’re currently addicted?
  • Your political and social values. A dyed-in-the-wool feminist, for example, might not find much help from someone who embraces a more old-fashioned gender dynamic.
  • Your approach to relationships. Will this sponsor respect your family and friends? Does his or her attitude toward relationships match yours? For instance, a sponsor who has been divorced five times and who bounces from relationship to relationship might not be the best fit for someone committed to a lifetime of monogamy.

Do: Seek Additional Help

Your sponsor is not your therapist, and it’s unfair to treat him or her as such. While a sponsor can increase your chances of recovery, your sponsor cannot fix or heal you. Be sure to seek additional help for your addiction. Otherwise, you may end up endlessly and unfairly overburdening your sponsor – a recipe for the quick deterioration of this valuable relationship.

Do: Talk About Relationship Goals

Everyone does sponsorship a bit differently. Some people see the sponsor as little more than a wise friend, while others want a mentor, a parent, or a person upon whom they can call at virtually any time of the day or night. There’s no right or wrong way to do sponsorship, but it’s important that you and your sponsor see eye-to-eye about how the relationship should go. Be sure to address the following:

  • How frequently you will talk
  • When it is and is not acceptable to call
  • Whether you’ll regularly meet in person
  • Your sponsor’s specific goals and role in your life – for example, will he offer you specific tips, or just be a loving friend?
  • How long the sponsorship relationship will last
  • How you’ll address any issues that arise; talking through conflicts with your sponsor is a great way to re-learn the skills addiction may have taken from you.

Don’t: Pick a Sponsor You’re Attracted To

If there’s someone alluring in your NA group, you might be tempted to get to know him or her better through a sponsorship relationship. A sponsor is not a friend or romantic partner, though, and when you blend sponsorship with a romantic connection, you’re begging for pain. Most experts advise picking a sponsor to whom there’s no risk of attraction. For example, a young lesbian woman might select a gay male or an older straight woman. When you remove sex from the relationship, you remove a potential channel for disagreement, thereby eliminating a potential trigger for drug and alcohol abuse.

Don’t: Rush Into Sponsorship

There’s no rule that says you have to pick a sponsor as soon as you get clean. In fact, a sponsor is most helpful when you’ve already passed through the initial crucible of withdrawal and detox. Your sponsor’s role is to provide encouragement, wisdom, and support, so you need to choose someone you can deal with on a long-term basis. Take your time, and be sure to talk to several potential sponsors before settling on a match. And if you’re not sure your current sponsorship relationship is working, don’t be afraid to try someone new. The goal is to get and stay clean, not to make a new best friend.

Don’t: Violate Boundaries

It’s up to you and your sponsor to set clear boundaries for your relationship. Those boundaries exist to protect both of you and to help you avoid the kind of stress that could reignite addiction in either of you. Carefully negotiate boundaries at the outset, then stick with them, even when it’s hard. Some important boundaries to discuss include:

  • Whether you can share what you discuss with other people, or with your 12-step group
  • When and how frequently it’s acceptable to call one another
  • Whether there’s an exception to normal calling hours for an emergency
  • Whether your sponsorship relationship is confidential; for example, do others know this person is your sponsor
  • Whether and under what conditions you socialize with one another

Don’t: Choose an Unstable Sponsor

Some people talk an incredibly good game when all the while their lives are crumbling. Don’t focus solely on what your sponsor says. Instead, look at how this person lives. Do they seem to be farther along in their recovery journey than you? Is there a balance in their life? Do they have healthy relationships? Do they hold the values you respect? If you can’t answer yes to these questions, you need to find someone else. A sponsor should be stabler, wiser, and better-adjusted than you currently are. Otherwise, they have little to teach you. It may seem like a pain to carefully investigate your sponsor and critically evaluate your relationship. But the sponsorship relationship is one that is vulnerable to abuse if you choose the wrong person, and relationship difficulties are a major trigger for substance abuse. By doing the legwork now, you can save yourself a meltdown – and even a relapse – down the road.

Ashwood Recovery is here to help you and your loved ones overcome addiction and other disordered behaviors. Our counseling programs have already helped many of our clients get their lives back. Call us now to start your journey to recovery today. Don’t let addiction and other dangerous behaviors go untreated, and cause extreme emotional, mental and physical hurt and harm to yourself and those around you.

Contact Ashwood Recovery at (208) 906-0782 or