12 Questions About the 12-Steps: What is a Sponsor?

June 22, 2017

When you’re in recovery, “sponsor” is a word you hear often. What is a sponsor? As James explains, a sponsor is simply a mentor or a guide who has been in recovery and worked through the steps and no longer has to drink or use.

What does a sponsor do?

A sponsor is a senior member of AA or NA who has been in recovery for usually at least a year. Sponsors help you navigate membership, answer questions, work on the 12-steps, and offer accountability.

A sponsor is also a confidant who understand where you have been. You can confide in your sponsor what you may not be comfortable sharing at meetings. Or, further discuss, things you have brought up in meetings but that you feel like you need to unpack more outside of the limited time frame.

Both AA and NA outline the sponsor relationship in their literature. Although slightly different, the core of the sponsor relationship remains the same for every 12-Step program.

According to studies, sponsorship leads to better treatment outcomes, and those in 12-Step programs with a sponsor have better attendance and more involvement in the group.

What does a sponsor NOT do?

A sponsor is not your therapist. You will not receive professional help from a sponsor. A sponsor should not impose his or her personal views on you. A sponsor is also usually not a close friend or a romantic partner.

For the sponsor-sponsee relationship to be successful objectivity and honesty are important. Close friendships or romantic relationships can make this very difficult to achieve. It’s best if your sponsor is someone you respect and trust but not someone with whom you have long-standing personal relationship. Some people prefer a sponsor of the same gender or who has a similar backstory, but this isn’t always necessary for a good sponsor-sponsee relationship. Sometimes a new perspective is beneficial, too.

All that matters is you are comfortable with your sponsor.

Remember, all sponsors are temporary. You or your sponsor are free to end the relationship at any time for any reason. However, if you choose to do so, make sure you do so in person. Set boundaries and respect the end of the relationship. Always remember to thank your sponsor. If your sponsorship relationship ends, do not dwell on it. You can always find a new sponsor, or potentially move into a sponsor role for another person.

What do I do as a sponsee?

Always show up to meetings with your sponsor. If you do have to cancel, make sure to give your sponsor advanced notice.

Keep calls to a minimum. Set up boundaries with your sponsor in the beginning. When is the best time to call, morning or night? Would your sponsor prefer to communicate via email or text? Respect your sponsor’s wishes and privacy.

Do the work. As you work through the 12-Steps, you may have homework to do between meetings with your sponsor. Always make a full-hearted effort to do the work.

Limit sharing too much personal information with your sponsor. Try to talk primarily about addiction, recovery, and the 12-Steps. Remember, your sponsor is not your therapist. Your sponsor is a mentor and guide to work with you, but your sponsor will not have all the answers.

How can I find a sponsor?

At the end of many AA or NA meetings, the leader will ask people interested in being a sponsor to raise their hands. If this doesn’t happen at the meeting you attend, you can also let your group know that you are looking for a sponsor. You can also approach someone in your group one-on-one before or after a meeting. Don’t take it personally if the person turns you down. Their reasons may have nothing to do with you. Perhaps the person feels he or she does not have the time to dedicate to be a good sponsor. Be persistent!

Can I be a sponsor?

Yes, but don’t rush into this role. You shouldn’t be a sponsor if you’ve never had a sponsor yourself. It’s recommended that you attend meetings for a year and work through the 12-Steps yourself before becoming a sponsor. Once you are ready, go for it! You may learn more about yourself and addiction by being a sponsor for someone else. Giving back can be an essential part of healing. The sense of responsibility that comes with being a sponsor may give you more motivation to strengthen your own recovery.

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