Why is an AA Sponsor so Important?

The Importance of an AA Sponsor

One of the most important choices you will make while in recovery is the selection of your AA sponsor. This is the person who will be there offer support and guidance to a sponsee, which in this case is you. A sponsor doesn’t just guide you  through the AA program, but he/she is there to be a listening post. Being able to rely on a sympathetic ear can be particularly important when a recovering addict feels they are on the verge of relapse.

The History of Sponsorship in AA

The relationship between sponsor and sponsee, and sponsorship in general, has been one of the key components of AA from the beginning. Founding members realized that having other people help to maintain an individual’s sobriety was a good idea. Who doesn’t need a friend during difficult times? It’s a basic human need.  In fact, AA originated from one alcoholic reaching out to help another. Bill Wilson was struggling to stay sober on his own. He was on the verge of relapse when he got the idea of helping another alcoholic. He called around to local hospitals looking for suitable candidates and found Dr Bob – their meeting is considered to be the birth of AA.

As we all know, the focus of AA meetings is members supporting each other. When you’re in one of these groups, that sometimes is enough to help you stay free from addiction. For those times when one-on-one care is needed, a sponsor is a good idea. Sponsors are trusted individuals who have a closer bond to the sponsee than the connection one has with their AA group.  This is why the tradition of sponsorship remains strong within the 12 step recovery programs.

The AA Sponsor’s Role

The AA sponsor fulfills a number of important duties including:

* This is person who will usually have more experience in the program than the sponsee. This additional experience can provide valuable insights to the sponsee.

* Most sponsors are available 24 hours a day. Since the temptation of relapse can come at any time, having somebody to contact can make all the difference.

* Your AA sponsor can just be someone who is a good friend. One of their most important relationships a recovering addict can make might be with their sponsor.

* Your AA sponsor will offer encouragement and praise for achievements, but will also hold you accountable.

* Your AA sponsor is charged with providing honest feedback.

* Your AA sponsor who is in recovery will be able to spot the warning signs of an approaching relapse. These insights can help guide the sponsee back to safety.

* Your AA sponsor should be a good role model for their sponsee

* Your AA sponsor should help the sponsee work their way through the 12 steps

How to Choose Your Sponsor

There is no defined set of rules for choosing an AA sponsor, but the following guidelines might help:

* Your AA sponsor should have more experience in the program than the sponsee. If they do, they will be better be qualified to offer information and guidance.

* The sponsor should be secure in their own sobriety and not be on the verge of relapse. Choosing a sponsor with a shaky recovery record can be risky to both participants in the relationship. AA advises members to always stick with the winners.

* AA usually recommends that heterosexuals don’t choose sponsors of the opposite sex; the opposite rule applies to homosexuals. The reason for this is the possibility that sexual attraction might interfere with the therapeutic component of the relationship.

* A sponsor should have first-hand experience with the 12 step program. Some members only show up to the meetings and while they may talk the talk, if they’re not walking the walk, they’re probably not the best choice. A sponsee needs somebody experienced with the day-to-day challenges of working through the 12 step recovery program.

* Some AA members have many sponsees. If they are this popular, this likely is a good indicator of their effectiveness.  However, it can also mean that  maybe they’re spread too thin. Choose a sponsor who will be able to devote enough time to you.

* The sponsor needs to be completely trustworthy. A lot of confidential information is exchanged during this relationship.

* At some point, you must trust your instincts. It’s important that you connect deeply and trust wholeheartedly in this type of relationships. If you have any initial misgivings, look elsewhere for a sponsor.

The Downside of AA Sponsorship

Sponsorship can be hugely beneficial to both parties, but sometimes things do go wrong. The most common warning signs to watch out for include:

* Some sponsors can be overbearing or manipulative and might try to manage every aspect of the sponsee’s life. Their desire to help might be genuine, but occasionally, they may just be power hungry.

* When a sponsor relapses, it can be a huge setback for the sponsee, and it may even put your own sobriety at risk. It’s important look for sponsors who have a strong history and foundation in recovery. Still, there are no guarantees.

* Given the amount of personal information shared with the sponsor about the sponsee, it is wise to discuss the step 5 moral inventory with the sponsor. This step can reveal a lot of embarrassing information, as well as things that might even have legal implications. Giving such information to an untrustworthy sponsor could later prove disastrous.

* Remember that sponsors are human and sometimes, they can give bad advice. You need to be alert to advice that seems contradictory to logic or recovery. This also applies to medical advice. If you sense a medical emergency or display severe physical symptoms, you should seek treatment. Trust your instincts here. If you have any doubts, seek medical attention anyway.

* Sometimes the sponsor can be overly critical of their sponsee. This can damage confidence and self-esteem. Constructive criticism isn’t a bad thing, but a good sponsor will guide you through any mistakes and offer advice for improvement. If a sponsor becomes harsh or even verbally abusive, seek out another sponsor.

Where to Find an AA Sponsor

Now that you know why an AA sponsor is so important, it’s time to find one. AA meetings are a great resource to find a sponsor. Recommendations from peers within these groups are usually solid and you can talk in detail with other member about their sponsor. From these conversations, you can probably find a good fit for your personality and situation.

Another resource is your recovery treatment center or your sober living home. Both probably have a Rolodex full of pre-screened, qualified and successful sponsors.

You don’t have to settle for the first name you get. Spend a little time talking with sponsor candidates so you can both get to know each other. When you find the right one, you’ll sense a deep connection and the conversation will flow comfortably. Trusting your instincts is good, but remember to dig a little deeper in the sponsor’s own history with addiction, note any relapses and discuss his most recent successes. It’s like interviewing someone for a job.

Remember that your decision is not final and if you find later on that you are not a good match, there’s nothing preventing you from switching sponsors.

The main thing to consider is that always having a sponsor on speed dial is critical. In moments of weakness, you do not have time to shop for a new sponsor. Use your resources while you have clarity and you’ll find a sponsor that will be there for you at any time.


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