Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are based on the idea that support is a key component in healing from substance abuse. Sponsors are an important part of the program, since serving others is one of its foundations. You can work a 12-Step program without a sponsor, but many people find it helpful.
What Is a Sponsor?
A sponsor is someone who has been in a 12-Step program for one year or more. Sponsors answer questions about the program and help the members they work with stay accountable.
Your sponsor is someone you can discuss things with that you may not feel comfortable sharing with members at a meeting. If something comes up during a meeting you would like to expand on, your sponsor is a good person to continue the discussion with.
Keep in mind that the sponsor is a mentor, not a therapist. She may share information and insights with you, but her role is not to impose her personal views on you or to tell you what to do.
What to Look for When Choosing a Sponsor
Does the person you’re considering attend 12-Step meetings regularly?
You want a sponsor who is serious about their own recovery and working their own 12-Step program. It’s a good idea to go to meetings for a while before you decide to approach a member about being your sponsor. Get to know some people casually and find out who you feel most comfortable around.
Do you want to work with someone with a similar background or a new perspective?
When choosing a sponsor, keep in mind that you aren’t looking for someone to become a close friend or a romantic partner. It may be easier for some people in recovery to relate to a sponsor who has a similar background, while others want a sponsor who can bring new insights to the table.
It’s generally not a good idea to choose someone to be your sponsor in whom there is even a slight possibility you could develop a romantic interest. Dating isn’t the purpose of the sponsor/sponsee relationship. It wouldn’t be appropriate for a sponsor to become involved with someone he or she was sponsoring.
Is the person someone you can trust and respect?
If you’re going to lean on this person as your sponsor, she has to be someone whom you can trust to keep what you share confidential. You don’t want to open up to a person who isn’t able to keep your information to herself.
You can tell whether you can respect someone else by watching how she shows respect to others. Keep this in mind when you are evaluating potential sponsors. Step back and really consider how she relates to people before you ask her to be your sponsor.
Does the person you’re considering have a sponsor of their own?
It’s important to find someone who not only “talks the talk” but “walks the walk” when it comes to having a sponsor. If the person you want to sponsor you doesn’t have their own sponsor, ask why not. If this type of mentoring relationship didn’t work for them, they may not be a good fit to fill that role for someone else in a 12-Step program.
Does the person have the time to commit to sponsoring someone?
It’s a considerable commitment to agree to sponsor someone in AA or NA. If you are looking for a sponsor and that person is already sponsoring other members, he may not have the time or energy to take on anyone else right now. If you approach someone about being your sponsor and they turn you down, more than likely it’s due to a lack of time and energy than anything personal.
A Note About Sponsors
Even if you decide early in your recovery that you don’t want a sponsor for your 12-Step program, you can change your mind at any time. It’s never too late to decide that you’d like to have a sponsor. Program members are very supportive and non-judgmental; each member of the group is prepared to help the others on their sobriety journey.