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A sponsor is someone we find in a 12 step program that we can relate to.  Usually, you want someone who is to deal with life on life's terms as we would like to.  Look for someone who has what you want.  A sponsor is basically a mentor who walks us through the 12 steps sharing their experience, strength, and hope with us. 

A sponsor is a more experienced member of the program who guides the newcomer through the process of recovery. Generally, a sponsor has at least one year or more in the program; however, some cities have so many new people coming into the 12-Step Programs so fast that supply and demand makes such criteria unrealistic. With this in mind, some 12-Step communities suggest a sponsor have six months living the program. The most effective sponsors have:

A working knowledge of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions
Personal experiences dealing with life in recovery
A willingness to listen
A willingness to help another person build a foundation for recovery by sharing their experience, strengths, and hopes
A willingness to guide a person through the12-Steps based on their own personal experience
A willingness to make suggestions and refrain from giving advice.

The 12-step Programs are based on the therapeutic value of people who share a common problem helping each other. Therefore, having a sponsor provides the opportunity to learn to trust and be trusted, perhaps for the first time. Many of us wrestle with our problems alone for so long; there is a tendency to isolate, even after coming into recovery; we have to come to believe that we are not alone and that we never have to be alone again. We can do what we could not do alone.

A sponsor is someone to contact when we need someone to talk to or feel unsure about decisions that have to be made. A sponsor also helps with problems and questions not only when times are tough but also during the good times.

Other good examples of when to call a sponsor would be when something triggers a member to think about using, or when unpleasant memories surface during the night that, in the past, caused a member to get drunk or high. Calling a sponsor usually provides comfort, identification of the feelings, and hope that, in spite of how the person feels, he or she does not have to self-destruct.

A sponsor provides a listening ear and acts as a sounding board for decisions that have to be made. Most 12-Step Programs suggest that all major decisions be talked over with a sponsor. The sponsor does not make that decision; the sponsor shares his or her experiences as they relate to the decision. If a sponsor has no experience in a particular area, a wise sponsor will direct the person to someone else who has had similar experiences. Guidance is freely given so that the person gets practice in making sound decisions.

Sponsors do not give advice; they only make suggestions, based on their experience, strengths, and hopes. Sponsors who have had experience with a particular situation that is presented, will share with the person what their feelings were and how they handled a similar situation using the tools of recovery. This shared experience process keeps the newcomer from feeling alone with their problem. In the fullness of time, the newcomer sheds the question that haunts most of our lives, "Am I the only one in the world who feels like this?" The realization that we are not so different, not alone, in our problems gives us therapeutic relief.

It is the member's choice whether to take the suggestions once they are given. There are no "musts" in any of the12-step programs. Sponsorship is an effective tool of recovery because sponsors are people who have suffered with the same problem or addiction and are on the same road seeking recovery from the chains that once bound them; sponsors understand because they have been there.

Good news, victories, and hopes are also shared with a sponsor. Some of the principles both sponsor and the person being sponsored practice through developing this crucial relationship are unconditional love, selfless giving, patience, tolerance, honesty with another human being, and trust.

A sponsor is neither a counselor nor a mental health professional. If, the sponsor is a counselor professionally, that role is left at the door of the 12-Step Program. The sponsor is in recovery, too. Sponsors are equals who are members of the program also on the road in search of lasting recovery. When additional help is needed, members are encouraged to seek professional guidance; doctors, accountants, marriage counselors, and financial brokers are all to be found outside of the program. Sponsors are not to be used as therapists, loan companies, landlords, nor do they work the program for you. They listen, share their experience, and guide the people they sponsor through the12 steps and 12 traditions of the program.

In 12-Step circles, it is suggested that a sponsor should be of the same gender. The newcomer to the program is quite vulnerable; for some of us, this is the first time we have expressed our true feelings, our secrets, and our fears.

Experience has shown that this new relationship with a member of the opposite gender could be misinterpreted, which if acted upon, could reduce the chances for sustained recovery for both parties.

One of the advantages of choosing a same-gender sponsor is that the member will get to know more about himself or herself as a member of that gender. Experience has also shown that it is sometimes more difficult for a male to talk to a female and vice versa. As open dialogue is of paramount importance in the sponsor/newcomer relationship, it makes good sense to avoid gender based communication problems.

A sponsor is an objective person on the outside looking in.
Sponsors are able to see patterns that emerge and point out problem areas before the person sponsored gets into more trouble.
Sponsors see how much a person has changed and offers encouragement along the way. There’s a 12-Step Program slogan that defines the need for a sponsor, "Other people see you better than you see yourself"
Sponsors generally stress accountability
Sponsors help the people they sponsor stay focused on their recovery.

Sponsorship is a two-way street. It is a relationship built to help the sponsor and the person being sponsored; therefore, people who opt not to choose a sponsor, or later not to sponsor others, are cheating themselves and fellow human beings out of a great opportunity to grow spiritually and emotionally.

Sponsorship is a vital tool of recovery. Sponsorship allows another person in so that together they can begin the process of healing and learning how to live one day at a time.

Sponsorship a beacon in the night; this is especially true, in the beginning, when the new member feels that his or her whole life is one opened festering wound. Newcomers usually say they feel like they are bombarded by an onslaught of emotions, feelings, and painful memories; they doubt that the program can and will work for them; and they are usually angry because of their failure to control their own lives.

Newcomers, normally, have a myriad of complex problems that are a direct result of the out-of-control lifestyle; these problems will not go away overnight and will take time and patience to remedy—patience that newcomers usually don’t possess. This is where a sponsor can shed a bit of light by sharing with the newcomer his or her own experiences, strengths, and hopes. Sponsors can empathize because they have been where the newcomer is; they have known the hopelessness, desperation, humiliation, and powerlessness to control or change themselves for the better. Someone was there for us when we first sought help in the program; so, we want to be available for the newcomer. The program is built on this mutual sharing of recovery. We strongly believe our unofficial motto: "You can not keep what you have unless you give it away."

©1999, 2000 Stanice Anderson,

Excerpt from 12-Step Programs: A Resource Guide for Helping Professionals

Permission to Post from Stanice Anderson.

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Sponsors are not: 

Professional counselors or therapists

Responsible for you working your program

Responsible for keeping you sober and clean

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This website is not intended to replace a sponsor, but rather to aide you and your sponsor in recovery.  This is just a way to start working the steps, and share in someone else's experience, strength and hope. 

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This Website was last updated on:  June 17, 2008

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    Disclaimer: This site is NOT endorsed nor sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous or any group and is not intended to offer specific advice to persons in recovery or contemplating recovery. This site DOES, however, attempt to follow the 12 Traditions of AA. Contact your local Alcoholics Anonymous Intergroup Office for direct info on AA, for info on meetings in your area, and if you'd like to speak with someone regarding alcoholism. This site is produced in the spirit of AA's Twelfth Step - to carry the message. When reading the experience, strength and hope on this site, we remind you that AA's "public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films."