Sponsorship in 12 Step Programs

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Young woman learning about 12 step programs from a professional counselor

Young woman learning about 12 step programs from a professional counselor

The primary purpose of AA is for one alcoholic to help another practice the 12 steps of recovery. These 12 steps cannot be done alone and a sponsor’s responsibility is to guide a fellow alcoholic through them. Helping another alcoholic also benefits the sponsor’s recovery. A primary example of this is when Bill W. reached out to Dr. Bob which resulted in the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill W.’s urge to drink diminished as he assisted Dr. Bob, who then went on to help other alcoholics. This demonstrates a key principle of AA which is that in order for one alcoholic to keep his sobriety, he or she must give it away.

A sponsor is typically further along in their recovery program than the sponsee and usually has worked all 12 steps. The 12th step is for one alcoholic to help another and being a sponsor is one way to practice this step. Sponsors should prepare sponsees to eventually take up this responsibility and privilege.

Have Questions about 12 Step Program

AA meetings are great places to ask questions and gain support, however, this is not enough for the newcomer. Newcomers need constant support; they need someone they can confide in confidentially and comfortably. A sponsor fills that role. The sponsor will also help the newcomer meet other alcoholics.
Choosing a sponsor can be a daunting task for some. They are afraid to “bother” someone or simply have hesitancy to reach out for help. This can be a test of willingness. Those who are truly willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober will ask for a sponsor and begin to work the steps.

It is a general rule that men should sponsor men and women should sponsor women. This assures the singleness of purpose in AA, to help another alcoholic. Many find that having a sponsor with similar background is a useful strategy, however, others find sponsors that are very different from them to be equally helpful.

But I am New to 12 Steps

The newcomer doesn’t have to agree with everything a sponsor says. If a sponsors recommendations or advice sound strange, the newcomer should ask questions and discuss it with them. There should be an open line of communication where both the sponsor and sponsee may speak freely.
It is not solely the sponsor who maintains the recovery of his or her sponsee, it is the whole of the AA program which ensures this. If a sponsor is unavailable to speak with his or her sponsee, there are other outlets such as meetings, calling another alcoholic, calling an AA office, and reading AA books or pamphlets.

A newcomer should not have more than one sponsor, however, changing sponsors is perfectly acceptable. The newcomer should feel comfortable with their sponsor and have belief that they will further them in the progress of recovery. If these needs are not met, changing sponsors is a viable option.
Although it is recommended to attain a sponsor very early on in recovery, usually within the first thirty days, it is never too late for this step. AA is not just a program designed to cease drinking, it is a life changing experience. If one has much time without alcohol but is still feeling restless, irritable, or discontent, a sponsor may assist them in finding true recovery.

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