When entering the rooms of a 12 step group, there are a lot of suggestions and phrases that one will hear… a lot. One of those suggestions is to get a sponsor. But what exactly is a sponsor? Why do you need one? If you don’t get one, is anyone going to know? Why can’t you just work the steps yourself?
I’m sure that you have probably asked yourself one or more of these questions, naturally, but I’m here to tell you, yes you need one. Here’s why.
You want to recover, right? Well, one of the most tried and true methods that hopeless addicts and alcoholics have found to actually work is the 12 steps. The thing about it is, they are pretty difficult to work by yourself. To be honest, when I was just getting sober, I wanted to run out when I saw the words God and amends and whatever else on the signs on the walls.
Eventually, I found a sponsor and became really willing to work the steps. I had tried to read through the book by myself before that, and related to some stuff, but found the whole thing to be pretty heady and I couldn’t figure out exactly where the steps were or how to do them. So the sponsor is the one who shows us the ropes on the steps, where they are in the book, why we do them, and how to do them properly.
The Only Requirements for a Sponsor
In the beginning, I wanted a sponsor that seemed like they had their lives the most together, but I judged it on all the wrong things, like their clothes, their car, who their friends were, etc. Turns out, the only requirements I needed to look for in a sponsor were much simpler than that, and when I found the sponsor that represented those ideals, I found my place in my own steps. The requirements are:
- The person has completely worked the 12 steps themselves, with a sponsor who has also worked the 12 steps.
- The person has had a spiritual experience or awakening as a result of working those 12 steps
- The person continues to be involved in the community of their fellowship through service work and sponsorship
- The person represents morals and values that align themselves with the basic principles of the fellowship
So that last requirement is kind of optional, but I feel like it proves that they have had a spiritual experience as a result of working the steps, because people that are still living dirty, probably aren’t working a great program. When I say dirty, I mean, gambling, promiscuous relationship activity, going clubbing, excessive spending, gossiping, etc., pretty much anything that lends itself too much with how someone behaves in active addiction.
A sponsor, primarily, should be someone who is a positive example of what can happen through working the 12 steps.
Working Relationship with Your Sponsor
The most important aspect of having a sponsor, with the intention of keeping that sponsor and staying sober, is to create an active working relationship with that sponsor. In order for that to work, it involves a whole lot of honesty and communication.
Primarily, the only expectation that an individual in early recovery should have on their sponsor, is that they will be able to take them through the 12 steps. Technically, that is the only actual need for a sponsor, but a lot of people discover that their sponsor can become a very close friend and confidant for them. This is because, through the process of the 12 steps, our sponsors get to know us very well, through multiple sessions of getting together to read through the book, not to mention through reading them our 4th step inventory (don’t worry about that yet, you’ll get there), the bond sort of just builds.
Long story short, a sponsor is someone you definitely want to keep open lines of communication with, as when shit starts to hit the fan with your emotional roller coaster of early sobriety, your sponsor will most likely be the one who is able to help you through it.
A Sponsor Provides Experience, Not Rules
So, as previously mentioned, over time, we can get to be pretty close buddies with our sponsor. We respect them, they helped get us sober, and we love them for it. However, it is important to remember that our sponsor is not the end-all, be-all for us. A lot of people can get wrapped up in treating their sponsor like their therapist or their parent, expecting them to make decisions for them.
This is not the job of a sponsor. The job of a sponsor, after taking us through the steps, is to provide us with their own experience, strength, and hope around certain situations that we may face. For example, I used to always call my sponsor in early recovery because I would get into stupid relationships with people who were definitely not good for my sobriety. Every time I called my sponsor, she would tell me about her struggles in the same area in her early sobriety, how she suffered, and how she came out the other side. Obviously, these were warnings, but I only heard what I wanted at the time, so I kept doing it, despite her ominous stories.
After a while, when I kept getting my poor little heart stomped on, and going back to her for advice, she recommended I discuss it with other people since her own experience had not been sufficient enough to help me through it. This was her nice way of saying, “If you don’t like what I have to offer, you are free to suffer”. After a while, when I’d had enough of slamming my head into a wall, I took her suggestion to focus on myself.
Nowadays, with my own sponsees, who are going through the exact same situations that I was, I use the same method she did, and it is a constant reminder of where I came from and how far I have come.
We Get a New Community
When we come into the rooms, it’s likely that we have burned a lot of bridges in our past lives. We assume we won’t fit in with the 12 step crowd, either because “I’m not as bad as they are” or “that’s all you did? Weak.” The point being, we compare ourselves to others, which could forever keep us on the fringes.
A good sponsor will be one who encourages you to get involved in the community, despite your fears around it. A good sponsor will show you why the fellowship is one of the most important aspects of being in the program. A good sponsor will encourage you (strongly suggest) to get involved in service work by picking up commitments at meetings such as making coffee or being a door greeter. A good sponsor and the point of a sponsor is to help you figure out your way in the world of sobriety.