5 Things to Consider When Looking for a Sponsor

We’ve received the question a number of times about how to find a sponsor and wanted to address it more formally in the men’s discussion today.

This is a specific question we got recently in one of the comments about effective sponsorship:

How does one go about finding sponsorship that works when the groups I have been meeting with don’t appear to have many willing to sponsor and/or don’t know what sponsorship looks like?

He goes on to say:

I understand ARPsupport could be one path, but since I’v been working the steps over time with the resources I have, I struggle with the idea of starting the step work over, but think it might be worth it to have effective sponsorship.

All good questions.

What are your thoughts?

I replied to one man’s question like this:

In regard to finding a sponsor, here are a few questions:

1. Do you currently attend a 12 Step meeting? If so, which one and how long have you been attending?

2. Have you got the names and numbers of people in a group that you can reach out to? Have you started reaching out to them?

I personally have worked with 4 sponsors. The first I found when going to a meeting back in 2008. I liked what he shared in group discussions. I reached out to him and asked if he’d be willing to be my sponsor; he said yes.

Unfortunately, after working together for quite some time, I thought I’d “figured this all out,” “overcome the addiction” and that I didn’t need to communicate with him any longer. That’s when things really started going down-hill for me.

My second sponsor was assigned to me as part of the ARP Support program. He was from Missouri and we never actually met in person. But he helped me work the 12 Steps based on ARP Support’s outline, and he answered questions as we progressed through the Steps. After completing the 12 Steps together, we kept in contact for a while and gradually stopped communicating.

My 3rd sponsor was someone I knew from another group I was a part of (not addiction related). He had a healthy amount of sobriety and we got along well. He helped me quite a bit. However, I didn’t see him very often – he went to a different meeting and we sometimes had a hard time getting in touch due to our schedules. We never formally stopped working together, but, over time, we just haven’t communicated as much. (As I write this out I feel I should probably let him know I’m working with another sponsor…)

My current sponsor is someone I see at least weekly and we talk frequently. He also has a healthy amount of sobriety, has a sponsor, and has been great to give me different insights and feedback based on his experience. I was a little nervous to ask him to be my sponsor – I assumed he would have a ton of others he is working with (and he does), but he said yes when I reached out and the experience has been a great one.

Ultimately, having a sponsor is essential for sobriety and recovery for me. Who the sponsor is is a personal decision.

I hope this helped some. But, as I’ve thought about it more and done some reading, I found additional direction worth sharing.

When selecting a sponsor, here are a five things to consider:

5 Things to Consider When Looking for a Sponsor

finding-a-sponsor

1. Getting a sponsor will be humbling.*

As it says in Step Into Action: One, Two, Three, “Trusting the experience and insights of another sexaholic as we attend SA meetings and go through the Steps can require a big change in our ‘I can do it myself’ attitude. After all, the way were were living our lives and what we thought we knew about recovery is how we got to SA in the first place.”

Sometimes your sponsor won’t tell you what you want to hear. In fact, sometimes they will call you out and could even make you upset.

I remember specifically when I called one of my sponsors to surrender some resentment I was having towards my wife. I felt like I was “right” and that she was really off. I told him what had happened and expected him to say, “Yeah, she is off and you need to tell her I said so.”

But, how wrong I was.

Instead, he asked me what had happened before our argument. Then what happened before that; then what happened before that. I was honestly getting annoyed.

But his questions were causing me to dig into my feelings and emotions. And this digging helped me see things I hadn’t seen before. I was able to see my part in the issues that had come up and take accountability for these problems and emotions I had buried.

Humbling? Yes.

Frustrating? Yes, initially.

But ultimately it was what I needed to hear.

2. Working the Steps without a sponsor is like piloting a ship without a rudder.*

The sailor is at the mercy of whatever current comes along. We will need more help.” (p. 25, Step Into Action: One, Two, Three)

I’ve been to meetings where I’ve heard things like:

“My wife is my best sponsor.”

“This group is my sponsor.”

“My ecclesiastical leader is the sponsor that’s right for me.”

“I’m just glad I can check-in with each of your once a week and share what I’m going through.”

Statements like these remind me of the denial statements we’ve discussed.

And unfortunately, my friends, THIS is NOT sponsorship.

These tools, although helpful, will only get an addict so far.

On page VI of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it says:

…only an alcoholic could help an alcoholic…”

Personally, I believe this 100%.

Although other people can have good intentions and want to help, only an addict can truly help another addict because they truly understand, they’ve been there, and they can share their own experience of what real recovery really looks like.

Based on my own personal experience, if you work it alone, it will be a short process of going back and forth, in and out of white-knuckle sobriety and ultimately being as the dog going back to his vomit (Bible reference – Proverbs 26:11).

If you work it with someone else, it will work.

3. Ask someone who is ahead of you in working the Steps.*

Being “ahead” of someone else is a bit triggering for me, the idea of competing or comparing isn’t a good mindset for me to get into. But I feel this is essential to quality sponsorship.

How can one addict help another if neither of them have really done any of the work required?

The timeline here is gray for me. Completed the 4th Step? Completed the 5th Step? Completed ALL the Steps? I don’t know. But if I’m going to feel good getting feedback about Step 9 work, for example, I would want to be working with someone who had actually done a Step 9 at least once or twice.

4. Ask someone who has successful and continuous sobriety.*

Without sobriety we have nothing to offer anyone.” (The White Book, pg. 191)

Sobriety is the first step towards recovery and healing. If I’m dabbling in lust or pushing the line as far as I can, how can I expect to help anyone else, let alone, myself?

If you’re looking for a sponsor to help you get on the right path, sobriety is a must.

5. Ask someone who seems to have recovery that you would like to have for yourself.*

This is a great suggestion and one that I feel answers the question of a lot of the men who have asked about getting a sponsor.

The step to take seem, to me, to be like this:

First, go to meetings (online or in person – here’s a schedule).

Next, get the names and numbers of people in the group that share in the meetings. (I say people “that share” because, if you’re looking for a good sponsor, it will most likely be one that has something to say, something to share. Just my opinion.)

Then, reach out to them outside of the group meeting. Talk to them, get to know them, ask them questions about their experience. Connect!

Finally, when you feel like you connect with one of them, ask them to be your sponsor.

* These suggestions come directly from the Step Into Action: One, Two, Three book, pages 25-26.

Conclusion

Finding a sponsor is critical to the recovery process.

I’m sure there are many opinions on what the process “needs to be” or “should be.”

The feedback here is based on my own experience and directly from the Step Into Action: One, Two, Three book.

Next week we’ll discuss five other things to look for when selecting a sponsor.

I really look forward to your insights on this discussion.

 

9 thoughts on “5 Things to Consider When Looking for a Sponsor”

  1. I agree, I have had a couple different sponsors, my first being with ARPsupport.org. When I started attending SAL I kept my eye out for someone that I connected with then asked him to be my sponsor. I know without a doubt that I need a sponsor, and I will always need a sponsor. I need someone with more experience working the steps than I have. I’m very grateful for the friendship that I’ve gained from having a person to turn to, someone I can trust.

    1. Thanks for the comment Devin. I, too, will always need a sponsor and people to reach out to. This is the real connection that I tried to find in my addiction for nearly all my life.

      I feel that my sponsor and the guys I connect with at meetings is what true friendship and fellowship really looks like. Without this connection, one addict helping another, I feel it’s only a matter of time before I return to my old ways.

  2. The first bullet point resonates with me a lot, because that’s exactly what happened with me both times I’ve chosen a sponsor. The first time was having the courage and humility to get a sponsor after wallowing in lies and denial for a long time, and the second was finding someone who would challenge me in new ways. That experience was the kind where I felt both drawn to him and immediately judged him for being so dissimilar to me in what I thought were ways I didn’t want differences. But I listened to my gut first and asked him to sponsor me, and that was the best decision I’ve made in my now 19 months of sobriety. A sponsor that works the steps and has a real track record of sobriety is critical – at least it has been for me.

    1. Great comment JR. It’s so interesting how we are guided to do things, while working recovery, that may never, ever have happened otherwise. I’m glad you were able to “listen to your gut first” and that your experience with your sponsor has been a good one. Thanks for your true friendship.

  3. Just a thought to add merit to not using your wife as a sponsor: I check in with my often, not as much as I should, but often. There are things my wife simply does not need to know, nor wants to know about my day to day struggles with addiction. (She sets the boundary here, not me) These are things that still need to be talked about, still need to have the light shined on, but not with her. It is harmful to her and therefore not my right to dump that on her. Sponsors are much more capable of filling this role because they understand my feelings and my struggles, and are not deeply personally attached to me in the way my spouse is. My sponsor has also not been deeply betrayed by me like my spouse has, and therefore has a much more objective opinion, without the risk of being deeply hurt by what I have to say.

  4. I feel like I’m different. Like I don’t need to work the steps exactly as they are written – or follow the specific suggested ways to work the steps in the Step Into Action books. Also, I’ve wanted to hurry and work each step quickly and just make it through all 12 steps. My sponsors have helped me slow down, take a breath, be more humble and stop thinking I am so different, smart, unique. As I have submitted my will for speed and uniqueness in working the steps, I have learned things I would not have learned at this time.

    1. Thanks Daniel. Your comment reminds me a lot of some of the denial statements I’ve told myself for nearly all my life, especially these:

      False Compliance
      Eternal Optimism
      Uniqueness

      I feel being aware that I’m using those statements can be such a breakthrough in changing, surrendering these false beliefs to the God of my understanding, and living a “new normal.”

      I appreciate your vulnerable thoughts.

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