Being a sponsor is one of the most significant responsibilities for any recovering addict or alcoholic. However, it is worth remembering that aside from providing a service to others, acting as a sponsor is also part of your recovery. As the 12th Step tells us: “we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” There is no better way to put this into practice than sponsoring an ailing addict and aiding their recovery.
By definition, the heart of a twelve-step program is the steps in question. The twelve steps are an incredibly difficult challenge to overcome, and they require the guidance and support of a sponsor. Therefore, the responsibility of a sponsor to help their sponsee work through the 12 steps is the most critical and challenging part of the sponsorship role.
Here are some tips on how to do it safely and effectively.
The Role of a 12-Step Sponsor
According to the AA Big Book, a sponsor is “An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through AA.”
If the definition seems somewhat vague, that is utterly intentional. Every addict has different needs, and each relationship is different. For example, a sponsor is sometimes a wise teacher and acts as a big brother on other occasions.
The sponsor has several responsibilities, including answering questions and introducing the sponsee to others within the program. Another primary role of a 12 step sponsor is to act as a confidante and trusted source of support. All of those elements culminate in the part of the sponsor in guiding the sponsee through the twelve steps.
The Sponsors Role In Guiding a Sponsee Through the 12-Steps
The steps were not meant to be worked alone. The sponsor acts as a guide and mentor throughout the process. But always keep in mind that you can’t work the steps for them or face your sponsee to progress. It is their road to travel.
1. Explaining Difficult Concepts
The 12-steps are written in relatively simple English to appeal to a broad audience and guide them clearly to recovery. However, some difficult elements may require unpacking. A notable sticking point for many is step 2. According to that step, an essential step on the road to recovery is “to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
For some people, finding the right higher power simply means continuing or resuming existing faith. However, this is a confusing and challenging facet of recovery for others. A good sponsor can help an addict find the right spiritual path and help the sponsee feel comfortable and supported.
2. The Practical Side Of the 12-Steps
The sponsor is a sounding board for the practical measures to put the principles into action. The 12-steps include valuable guides to aid in recovery. However, they do not include specific steps to put them into practice. Nor should they. Every life is different, and principles will manifest in a unique set of measures.
A sponsor’s job is to help translate the vague and lofty principles of the 12-steps into concrete actions. For example, the 11th Step tells addicts to pursue “prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him.” A sponsor may advise when and how often to pray. They may tell the sponsee to join a specific congregation or group. They may help tailor the specific prayer to the cultural heritage and emotional needs of the recovering addict.
Recovery is a long torturous road. Unfortunately, many sponsees will stumble on the road and possibly relapse. More commonly, they may lose faith or motivation to stay on the right road. Sometimes, rectifying this problem may involve simple encouragement and support.
However, at other times a sponsee may require some “tough love.” On the road to recovery, sometimes people seek shortcuts or hacks to substitute for the difficult drudgery of working the steps. When necessary, a good sponsor will hold up a mirror to the sponsees’ attempts to cut corners or find easy solutions. Complete honesty with oneself and others is essential to recovery. And the sponsor’s role in this regard includes the duty to help (per step 4) sponsees in “executing a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
4. Preventing Mistakes
The emotions that come up through working the steps are raw and sometimes challenging to manage. Addicts conduct a complete moral inventory of their affairs and history. Facing all the damage done through years of addiction can be taxing and lead to emotionally unstable situations.
Perhaps the most dangerous part of working the steps is in Step 9. At that point, the sponsee will make “direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” The process requires contacting, when possible, people injured through years of unhealthy behavior. However, the experience and results can be gratifying for everyone involved.
In some cases, the reopening of old wounds can cause damage to recovery and those contacted. It is up to the sponsor to determine when making amends should be made through direct contact. Sometimes, that is best avoided, and the process of making things right should be symbolic. The sponsor has to help those recovering balance those interests and find the best outcome for everyone involved.
5. Keeping It Real
The mind of the addict tends towards self-deception. We tell ourselves, “I’ll have one more. I can quit at any time.” An addict is a master at deluding themselves and others. It is the sponsor’s job to prevent this behavior from derailing recovery and keep the steps on track. Perhaps they are rushing the processor, alternatively not progressing fast enough. You will point out when your sponsee deludes themselves and when they must make changes to further their recovery.
A Final Word
The responsibilities of the sponsor are grave and should not be taken lightly. However, they are also incredibly rewarding. If you do your job right, your recovery will deepen, and you will lighten the load for those still suffering.