Sponsorship And Recovery


§ Part of the Recovery Is NOT For Quitters series §

Almost all recovery groups make abundant use of catch-phrases and slogans. “Just for today”, “meeting makers make it”, “let go & let God”, “it works if you work it”, “fake it til you make it“, “take life on life’s terms”, are just a few from what I think is a ridiculously long list. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of catch-phrases or slogans. As always, if they work for you, then by all means use them! Certainly they can be helpful now and then, but I also think it is far too easy to simply regurgitate a slogan without really taking into consideration what it means and applying it to a given situation. Not unlike the person whose mantra is “think thin” as they buy a diet soda to go along with their two double cheeseburgers and large order of french fries from their favorite fast food restaurant. There is one particular catch phrase however, that stands out from the often times mindless repertoire and truly inspires me.

“We keep what we have by giving it away.”

Though the fine people who wrote Alcoholics Anonymous seem to infer that the idea originated with Bill W. and Dr. Bob, and I came across this quote in some material from Narcotics Anonymous, it’s a concept that has existed for thousands of years among nearly every people on the planet. It’s the sharing of what we have experienced and learned in the hopes of helping someone else. From a larger perspective, support group meetings do this to some extent, but what I am talking about here is a focused, one on one approach. Much like the shamans of old, sharing their “secrets” with someone who is on his or her way to becoming a shaman themselves. Most recovery groups call this sponsorship and in many ways it’s similar to apprenticeship.

So what is a sponsor and what do they do?

A sponsor is simply an individual who has made progress in the recovery process and shares his or her experience in that process with another person who is attempting to achieve or maintain their own recovery.

Leading by example, a sponsor is someone who has been where the addict is and shows the addict how to get where he or she wants to be. One of the primary ways a sponsor does this is by helping the addict understand the 12 steps and how to apply them to daily life. In many ways, a sponsor is like an older brother or sister, a good friend, a teacher, and experienced guide.

How do you choose a sponsor?

Choosing a sponsor is an important part of the recovery process, although it can seem intimidating and downright frightening as a newcomer takes their first steps in recovery. Every now and then, finding a sponsor just sort of happens, but most of the time it is a conscious choice. The main quality that someone must look for in a sponsor is openness. Ask yourself, “can I talk to this person openly and honestly, even about life’s most intimate aspects?”

Many groups have a list of members who are willing to be temporary sponsors. A temporary sponsor can be a helpful first option. They can answer questions, explain concepts and terms, and help make finding a permanent sponsor easier.

One of the best suggestions for finding a sponsor that I have heard is this: Go to as many meetings as possible in different groups for awhile. Some groups suggest 90 meetings in 90 days. While that may seem like a lot of meetings, it will provide ample opportunity to meet many people and listen to what they have to share. In this way many new friends can be made and these friends will be able to offer suggestions as to who they think might be a fitting sponsor. Often, especially early in recovery, other people can see us better than we can see ourselves.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a sponsor:

  • Does this person have what I want?
  • Does he or she walk the talk?
  • Does he or she have more time in recovery?
  • Is this person available for phone calls and one on one meetings?

This is a list that I have seen in several different places both in groups and on the web. A good sponsor will have the following qualities:

    • I will not help you to stay and wallow in limbo.
    • I will help you to grow, to become more productive, by your definition.
    • I will help you become more autonomous, more loving of yourself, more excited, less sensitive, more free to become the authority for your own living.
    • I can not give you dreams or “fix you up” simply because I can not.
    • I can not give you growth, or grow for you. You must grow for yourself by facing reality, grim as it may be at times.
    • I can not take away your loneliness or your pain.
    • I can not sense your world for you, evaluate your goals for you, tell you what is best for your world; because you have your own world in which you must live.
    • I can not convince you of the necessity to make the vital decision of choosing the frightening uncertainty of growing over the safe misery of remaining static.
    • I want to be with you and know you as a rich and growing friend; yet I can not get close to you when you choose not to grow.
    • When I begin to care for you out of pity or when I begin to lose faith in you, then I am inhibiting both for you and for me.
    • You must know and understand my help is conditional. I will be with you and “hang in there” with you so long as I continue to get even the slightest hint that you are still trying to grow.
    • If you can accept this, then perhaps we can help each other to become what we were meant to be, mature adults, leaving childishness forever to the little children of the world.

There are times when it might become necessary for someone to part ways with their sponsor or person being sponsored. Should such a need come up, do your best to make it as friendly as possible. Best of luck to you if you are looking for a sponsor!

Do you have experience with a sponsor or in being a sponsor? Tell me about it!

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