The role of the sponsor in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is to provide a support system for the newcomer. An alcoholic or addict that has recently made a decision to stop abusing drugs and alcohol is in a very delicate position. One of the best things they can do is simply talk to someone who knows what they are going through.
At the time there was no such thing as 12-step programs or sponsors. The only option for alcoholism treatment was a mental hospital.AA started with a sponsorship when founding members Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith came together in 1935. Wilson, only a few months sober from a debilitating alcohol problem, decided to find another alcoholic in a similar situation. That’s when he met Dr. Smith. At the time there was no such thing as 12-step programs or sponsors. The only option for alcoholism treatment was a mental hospital.
Later, hospitals began to require that alcoholic patients find a “sponsor” from a local AA program, before they could be discharged. They were present when the recovering alcoholic was released, and they took them to their first meetings. Hence the term: sponsor.
You don’t have to have a sponsor to join a 12-step program. Many recovering addicts go years before finding one. But since AA, NA and similar programs function as support groups, sponsorship is a significant factor. It’s important to choose a sponsor with the appropriate qualities, because they are one of the first people you’ll call in moments of weakness.
Here are 7 qualities to look for in a sponsor.
- They Are Happily Sober: If a sponsor is there to answer your questions about recovery, then they must have been through the same experience themselves. Ideally a sponsor is someone that has been sober for at least one year, and has completed all twelve steps. Some experts recommend choosing a sponsor that has successfully completed five years of sobriety.
- They Are Not Sexually Attractive: A sponsor is there as an impartial party that you can trust. They should never be in it for any other reason than to help another addict achieve sobriety. Sex introduces a lot of complications, and for that reason it is better to select a sponsor of the same gender – or the opposite for homosexuals.
- They Listen More Than They Talk: The sponsor is there to encourage the newcomer’s integration into the program. They are not your therapist, boss or clergy member. They are there to answer your questions about sobriety, not to treat co-occurring conditions, preach personal beliefs or order you around.
- They Display a Positive Attitude: Obviously a person that maintains a poor attitude towards sobriety is a bad choice for AA sponsorship. They should also have a positive mindset about your recovery, and offer reinforcement as needed. For example, they will encourage you to participate in group activities, or identify common mistakes made by newcomers.
- You Met Them at a Meeting: This may seem like a no brainer, but don’t pick up an AA sponsor at the bar, ball game or beach. The best place to find fully integrated members is at recovery meetings.
- They Have Enough Time: Substance abuse, personality disorders and addiction don’t follow a work schedule. You have to find a sponsor that has enough time to talk to you throughout the week, and can promptly return your messages. That means picking someone who doesn’t already have several sponsees.
- You Don’t Dread Contacting Them: Overall your sponsor is someone that the newcomer can trust and relate to throughout the process of recovery. If your instincts tell you something isn’t right, or you literally dread picking up the phone to talk to your sponsor, it is okay to seek out a new one. AA has rules in place for such situations.
Finding a sponsor can be awkward. It may take more than one try. But remember that the program is there to provide a foundation for other addicts in the same place they once were, and they want to help you. In the end, sponsorship is an important relationship that is paramount to successful recovery through 12-step programs.