Sponsorship during addiction recovery is one of the tenets of 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Many who have gotten, and remained, clean and sober have done so with the help of a sponsor guiding them through the process of recovery. While it has proven to be an effective tool in 12-step circles, some wonder whether sponsorship in addiction recovery is really an important element.
For those who are in early recovery, finding sponsorship for addiction recovery is often a topic of conversation. They are advised by others in recovery that they should find a sponsor and begin working with him or her sooner rather than later. This can be a daunting task if you are brand new in recovery, especially when you likely don’t know exactly what a sponsor is and should be.
This begs the question of what exactly the role of a sponsor is in addiction recovery. The main responsibility of a sponsor is to help another person in recovery work through the 12 steps of the program. It’s often one of the closest and most rewarding relationships that is developed in recovery.
What Does Sponsorship in Addiction Recovery Mean?
Addiction recovery sponsorship requires a sponsor who has a history of sobriety, knows the 12 steps, and is able to be responsible to a person without becoming responsible for a person. A sponsor is like a close friend who mentors and guides someone with less sobriety through the process of recovery. Typically, a sponsor is another person in recovery who has already worked the 12 steps that are outlined in 12-step programs like AA. They usually have a significant amount of time sober and continually work to live the principles of 12-step programs in their own lives.
The primary responsibility of a sponsor is to help their sponsee work through the 12 steps of whichever fellowship they belong to. It can be both rewarding and scary for sponsor and sponsee. The sponsee, who is just newly sober, has to be honest and vulnerable with another person – something that he or she haven’t likely done for a long time, if ever. Being vulnerable to someone else is no easy task, but it is the most important part of developing a relationship of trust which is the foundations for long-term recovery.
The Role of Sponsorship in Addiction Recovery
The sponsor works with the sponsee, going through the 12 steps, one by one. Sponsorships in addiction recovery are meant to offer guidance, explanation, encouragement, and support. Your sponsor may also provide other vital functions that someone new in sobriety needs. Some of those are:
- A sponsor can be a friend, teacher, and role model.
- A sponsor can be a great source of addiction recovery information, including their own experiences, successes, and failures in recovery.
- A sponsor can show the newly recovering valuable insights about living a life free from drugs or alcohol.
- A sponsor can provide motivation and encouragement that a newly sober person needs.
- A sponsor can be someone who is available to listen and support.
- A sponsor is someone to whom a sponsee has some accountability.
- A sponsor can help by explaining recovery concepts, terminology, and introducing their sponsee to others in the program.
- A sponsor is a person whom a sponsee can trust with confidentiality and nonjudgement.
- A sponsor is someone available in a crisis.
- A sponsor can help guide sponsees in developing healthy relationships with others.
What Sponsorship in Addiction Recovery Does Not Do
Sponsorship in addiction recovery serves many purposes while helping sponsees in recovery. Because of that, it’s easy for the role they play to become muddied. So, it’s equally important to understand what the role is not. What a sponsorship in addiction recovery doesn’t do can be just as important as what it does.
Here are some things that a sponsor cannot and should not do:
- A sponsor should not act as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, as they are not any of those things.
- A sponsor cannot take on the responsibility (or perceived responsibility) of keeping another person from using or drinking.
- A sponsor should not take advantage of a sponsee.
If any of those things occur, then the person in the sponsor role was clearly not ready to take it on, and the relationship should be terminated right away.
Is Sponsorship for Addiction Recovery Necessary?
In a word, no. Sponsorship during addiction recovery is not necessary for all recovering addicts. There are people in recovery, in 12-step groups and not, who have maintained sobriety without the help of a sponsor (Recovery Outside of AA: Incorporating the 12 Steps in My Own Way). However, part of learning to live a life that is free of addiction is determining which recovery tools work for you and which don’t. Having a sponsor is one of those tools and it has worked for many people in recovery – including me.
I have been, and still am, both a sponsee and a sponsor, and have found that both roles have helped my recovery immensely. For me, what works for long-lasting sobriety is staying embedded in my recovery and never forgetting what I went through in active addiction. Working with others in recovery – in both roles – helps me to do that.
Whether you are a member of a 12-step group or not, having a trusted friend who understands and supports your recovery is crucial. If you decide that an additional step of finding sponsorship in your addiction recovery is right for you, then it will only enhance your recovery even more.