Among the most popular drug addiction treatment programs are the 12 Step programs – specifically Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) with roughly 2 million worldwide members, an enigma that many aren’t sure of – that have you undergo a very specific treatment plan involving a sort of personal transformation from the early stages of denial and self-pity to acceptance, gratitude, and a sober life.
Part of that sort of program is the concept of the sponsor – an experienced individual who is there to offer you support, advice, and help whenever you need it regarding your addiction and addiction recovery process.
What Is a Sponsor?
For all intents and purposes, a sponsor is someone you confide in and look to for advice on a personal level whilst working through the 12 Steps. A sponsor is also someone you can confide in regardless of what treatment plan you use, so long as it supports sponsorship. The concept was popularized with the AA, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s exclusive to them. There are, after all, many other alternatives.
Sponsors are there to help you – in every possible recovery-related sense. If you need help, tips, someone to talk to, rant to, cry to, shout at, argue with or confide in, sponsors are there because they most likely were in a similar spot as you, and know just what it’s like to get to from where you are to where they’ve gotten. And they know how hard that road can be.
A sponsor can also be there for an honest answer. Sure, they are in a way your friend – but the entire purpose of their relationship with you is for you to get better. That involves telling you some nasty things at times and letting you in on a perspective of the truth that you perhaps had not considered.
What a Sponsor Should Be Capable Of
There are good sponsors and bad sponsors, as with anything in life. A good sponsor should be able to do quite a few things, including:
- A strong, secure sense of self and a very solid long-term sobriety.
- Walking the talk, and does as they preach.
- Being in contact with their own sponsor, amiably.
- Being always there to talk.
- The capacity to be considerate of your circumstances, and not just mindful of their own.
- Not being someone you can be attracted to.
These are all straightforward. You want someone who really knows what they’re talking about, lives the advice they give you, possesses the steely resolve needed to push through with sobriety and give you advice on doing the same and, finally, they need to be someone you can’t be attracted to. You can choose the opposite sex, but keep it strictly platonic for your own sake. Sponsor and sponsee relationships can get intimate and have their moments of extreme vulnerability.
Pros & Cons of Working with a Sponsor
Working with a sponsor is a relationship. It’s not professional or distant, or even formal – it’s often quite personal and there’s a lot of trust involved. Because of that, working with a sponsor can be quite a challenge for some. But for others, it may be just what they need to help them stay on track during recovery and make real progress towards sobriety.
A sponsor can be a great person to have around. But, if you’re uncomfortable with the 12 Steps or whatever other program is being offered, then a sponsor from the same program isn’t a good idea. Similarly, many sponsors aren’t always great sponsors – and that can further damage your road to recovery.
You Don’t Need a Sponsor
You don’t need a sponsor, just like how you don’t need a life vest when swimming out in the open ocean. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a pretty good idea, especially when you’re not the best swimmer. Recovery is entirely possible without a sponsor, without rehab, without therapy and treatment plans and all the other extended treatment options out there.
That’s important to note. While it isn’t a bad idea to seek out a sponsor to help you navigate the road to recovery – or someone similar, with a similar list of responsibilities and capabilities, regardless of what you call them – you don’t necessarily have to entrust yourself to another person to complete your path to sobriety.
Staying on path, on the other hand, does require the help of others – although that help doesn’t have to come in the form of the same sort of sponsorship people seek out in recovery. So long as you can hold yourself accountable and be responsible for others, and include yourself in a family and community that has meaning and purpose for you, you can raise the stakes of relapse and help yourself not only stay sober, but get back onto the path of sobriety even when a relapse strikes.
Sponsors are people who play a significant role in helping you go from your lowest bottom, to a point where you feel you are once again in control of your life and your decisions and can spur yourself towards better progress in sobriety on your own terms, in your own way, without the need for medication, therapy or group meetings.
But their role doesn’t have to end there. A sponsor can become a friend and can be a continued acquaintance throughout life. With a sponsor, you can discuss the way negativity and hard times makes you draw closer to a relapse, and talk about ways to prevent slipping out of sobriety, or even just catch up on life as friends regularly do.
In a way, recovery never ends – it’s a lifelong journey, from the day you decide to give up using or drinking, for the rest of your life. But that’s not a statement of doom – because it gets easier. And within time, along your journey, you won’t even have to think about working towards sobriety – sobriety will be your way of life. And all the experiences you’ll have made in your days as an addict will be a source of strength – your uniwue journey through hell will be your own personal proof that you can overcome anything, from any depth.
At that point, the relationship between sponsor and sponsee is irrelevant – what matters is that you have contact with others who have been on a similar, yet wholly unique path, with individual insights and experiences that can help you bring a new perspective to your emotions and struggles, and motivate you – or help you motivate others – to keep on the straight and narrow.