Sponsors are an important part of twelve-step recovery. Even in alternative recovery programs, there is often some sort of sponsor-sponsee relationship. This is because those that have come before us have great potential to help us. Although we may need professional help at times, a sponsor is simply somebody who has been through what we’re going through and is willing to help us grow. It’s integral to working the twelve steps to have somebody with whom you work the steps.
In our years working in various recovery programs, we thought we’d offer a few tips on finding a sponsor that works for you. It should be noted that we’ve found it helpful at times to change sponsor as our recovery grows, but we always have someone with whom we’re working.
This is perhaps one of the most obvious ways in which your sponsor should be chosen. The A.A. pamphlet on sponsorship suggests that generally men should work with men and women with women, and that some members of the LGBT community feel it more appropriate to work with a sponsor of a different gender. We all come to recovery with our share of issues, and this suggestion is really about minimizing difficulties with the relationship.
In it’s most obvious sense, this suggestion is about minimizing any sexual attraction or tension in a relationship. Furthermore, some of us have experienced trauma with people of a gender. Like all of the suggestions offered here, it’s really up to you to decide ultimately. However, you can keep in mind that if you’re choosing a sponsor because you’re attracted to them, that’s probably not the best way to go!
This is one that may or may not be important to you. Being sober in my early 20’s, I found that not a lot of middle-aged people wanted me to sponsor them. I get it. I didn’t have the life experience or deeply understand the dynamics of their lives in the same way that someone of their age probably would. Similarly, I’ve known a lot of young people that prefer to have a sponsor who is young and with whom they can relate.
On the other hand, a young person may benefit from an older sponsor. When I got sober at 19, my sponsor was in his early 80’s. He constantly reminded me that he had been my age before, but I hadn’t been his age before. Although his perspective may have been different, he offered me much needed advice and experience from somebody who had seen a full life.
Neither way is right or wrong, but it may be something worth investigating. We don’t know for sure what will benefit us most, but perhaps we have some intuition. Would somebody your age be better so you can relate? Maybe you need more of an authority figure or stabilizing presence in someone older?
The pamphlet from Alcoholics Anonymous suggests finding somebody with at least a year of recovery. This is pointing toward finding a sponsor with some experience staying sober. Ideally, you find someone with more time than you have. The value in this is that they’ve gone through the steps, the stage of recovery you’re in, and have made it out the other side. They can understand where you’re at and offer some hope for the future.
Personally, my sponsor had me begin sponsoring people as soon as I finished working the twelve steps. I had my first sponsee at about six months sober (and somehow he’s still sober today!). The benefit of a sponsor who doesn’t have tons of recovery is they are closer to your experience and may be able to relate easier. If you’re 30 days sober and your sponsor is one year sober, it really wasn’t that long ago that they were in your shoes.
Like the piece on age, there are two sides to this. Maybe you could benefit from working with someone with decades of recovery. My 80 year old sponsor had over 30 years of sobriety when I was working with him, and although he was far from where I was in my recovery, he was still able to relate. I found his amount of recovery inspiring and stabilizing. Again, we have to ask ourselves and investigate.
Beliefs & Use
Some people prefer to work with someone who had the same substance of choice as them, while others don’t really mind. The truth is that the substance isn’t what it’s all about, but it can help us to feel more understood. Similarly, we may want to find someone with similar beliefs as us. For example, if you’re a religious person, an atheistic sponsor may not necessarily be the best fit for you early in recovery.
These may seem like small things, but it really does matter to some people. The relationship you have with your sponsor can have an incredible impact on your life, so it’s worth considering these things.
When it comes down to it, we don’t need to find some incredibly perfect sponsor. Especially early in recovery, it’s beneficial to work with someone that fits us well enough. This doesn’t mean we should find someone we don’t like or don’t trust, but spending months and months shopping for the perfect sponsor won’t serve you as well as you may think. It also is important to remember that you always have the option to change sponsors if you find someone who fits you better! When I found a sponsor that met my needs as they changed, I switched. You’re in control of who you ask to sponsor you, and it’s a serious relationship in your life so don’t take it lightly!
Who Wrote This?
Changing Tides Addiction Treatment is an addiction treatment center in Southern California. Working with individuals from around the United States, Changing Tides brings their clients top-tier care with therapy, nutritional counseling, activities, a dedicated team of professionals, and a beautiful setting on the beaches of Ventura. Visit them at www.ChangingTidesAddictionTreatment.com.
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