How to Help a Sponsee Who’s Struggling

Today’s men’s discussion is based on a question received from a sponsor regarding his sponsee. He wondered, “How do I help a sponsee who’s struggling?”

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help a sponsee who's strugglingHow to Help a Sponsee Who’s Struggling

I have a sponsee that I’m having a hard time helping understand that he needs to work the steps and write things down.

I feel like I could just have a pre-recorded message for when he calls because it’s always the same thing, literally.

I’m not trying to row his boat, but he honestly doesn’t do anything to change his situation. He blames his wife for just about everything. In fact, I received a call today from him where he was saying that he couldn’t stand to be around his wife right now because “she won’t work on her recovery to help the relationship.”

I’m kind of at a loss as to what to do.

Any advice?

One of the things that I told him was that he’s caused a lot of pain and it will take a long time to make up for it, if it’s even possible.

It’s hard to see this happening when you know how to fix it.

One Possible Response

If it were me, I would set some boundaries with him. For example:

“Talking about what your wife is or isn’t doing is Not. Your. Problem. Your problem is that you’re a sex addict and your wife doesn’t trust you at all. Period.

“So get over what she is or isn’t doing and work on YOUR recovery – you have a lot to be working on.”

That may be harsh, but it’s true for me and my situation.

I would say boundaries have been one of the most important things for recovery for me.

His wife will never feel safe if he continues to have expectations for her to work her own recovery.

I think we as addicts don’t even realize that we are lying to ourselves and believing it. That’s where I’ve been.

It’s hard to surrender the outcome and realize me fixing it won’t last, especially long term. The sponsee has to realize it for himself. I can share my experience but that’s it really.

What are your thoughts?

One thing I’ve learned from my sponsor is this: I try to never give advice unless the sponsee asks for it. I’m not perfect at this, but I’m more aware of it now.

Instead, when they are done sharing, I may ask if they’d like any feedback.

If they say yes, I will try to share from my own experience. This can get tricky at times, but my hope is that I can try to empathize with them, try to understand what they may be going through, and then share what has (or hasn’t) worked for me in the past.

If they say no, I thank them for sharing and for reaching out. Then I let it go, maybe even by reaching out to my own sponsor to surrender the feelings triggered in me.

I feel this is why being a sponsor (Step 12) is so helpful: it reminds me of where I’ve been, how I’ve felt, my rationalizations and pushing-blame tendencies as an addict, etc.

I look forward to your suggestions on the question.

9 thoughts on “How to Help a Sponsee Who’s Struggling”

  1. I listen and state to my sponsee that his recovery is his responsibility and accountability. Not mine not anyone elses. I like the advice in this discussion to ask if the sponsee wants feedback first. As a sponsor we are there to guide and help to the degree the sponsee accepts and is willing to work it. Just like our recovery is our own.

    1. Thanks for the comment T. I’m grateful for a sponsor who listens to my concerns and then, when I’m ready, shares his experience.

      There’s a reason we say, “It works when I work it…”

  2. I would perhaps go so far as to stop being his sponsor. To me, the role of a sponsor is to guide someone through the process of working the steps. If he is not ready and willing to work them, the steps won’t work.

    I do general 12-step support and I simply won’t sponsor someone who isn’t ready to do the work. THAT may sound harsh but to me the role of sponsor is very specific and purposeful. It would sort of be like being asked to be a trainer if someone won’t come into the gym.

    Miracles happen with willingness. And sometimes it just takes time for someone to become willing. That is not something I can force someone to be. That is between that person and God.

    1. Amen! Had a conversation about that last night and an ongoing conversation about sponsorship has been happening.

      Sponsorship has to have boundaries, just like a marriage that has been affected by lust addiction has to have boundaries. If a sponsee isn’t willing to stay within the boundaries set, I have to lovingly detach until he’s ready to work the steps and follow the path.

      One of my favorite quotes that keeps coming back to mind when thinking about sponsorship and working the steps is in the Big Book:

      “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” (Chapter 5, The Big Book, p. 58)

      If a sponsee isn’t willing to follow the path, I don’t have to make him. But I’m not going to have negative emotions come to me because of his choices – and they will because I’ve felt them.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

    2. Hope and Healing Admin,

      You said pretty much the same thing I was going to say. If my sponsee won’t look inward to solve the problem, he is not ready. When I first started sponsoring I would try everything I could to help lead a sponsee to do what he needs to do.

      However, I have found that it did not work even once. I eventually had to let them go anyway because they never progressed. I had one sponsee I struggled with and was afraid to let go. However, I did. He was angry with me when I let him go and didn’t talk to me for about a year. However, he came back to me after that year and thanked me for stepping down as his sponsor and letting him know he wasn’t doing what he needed to. He said it hurt, but it was exactly the thing he needed. He went on to become ready, got another sponsor as well as a therapist and is now well into recovery.

      Also, we are best of friends with a great love for each other. We will reach out and gain strength from each other.

      Sometimes the BEST and ONLY thing that we can do is step down as their sponsor and tell them why.

      1. It really seems like a number of the comments here are made by people who have had sufficient sobriety that perhaps they are forgetting what it is like to be blinded by the addiction. Pride blindness, denial, whatever you want to call it, we were all subject it and perhaps a little compassion for their situation with some loving, but firm guidance would go a long way.
        When I had a sponsee who was blaming his wife for not doing her work, I talk to him about my experiences with pride, rebellion, and enmity similar to what it talks about in pages 47-48 of the white book and of me being the key to my wife’s recovery on pages 133-134. That man took what I said and now has more than 6 months of sobriety and talks much more positively about his wife.

  3. Man. Sponsoring in general is a tough thing. But I’m realizing that I need it. I need just as much as a sponsee who’s really working recovery needs a sponsor.

    There’ve been times when I’ve kind of backed of from my sponsees. “Needing space”. Which I think can be a real need at times, but never with the excuse that “I need to focus on my own recovery so I can’t help you…”

    Helping others is a big part of me working the steps. They are very connected.

    The idea of time, and everything that surrounds it, work, family, being a husband, etc. great cause of grief and anxiety at times.

  4. I might help him realize what it says in the AA blue book. “Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more (addicts) than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease…”
    I struggled with resentment toward my wife for years and found over time that my resentment was a poison that weakened my recovery. Like any craving, resentment has to be surrendered with the knowledge that we are powerless over the inclination to be resentful.

  5. Your sponsee needs to realize that his job in recovery is to keep his own side of the street clean. He needs to stop trying to clean his wife’s side of the street. We addicts are great at taking other people’s inventory. Not too ready or willing to take our own though.

    Your job as a sponsor is to do whatever is the best next step that gets your sponsee to recovery. Continuing to sponsor him when he is not working the program is on you if you choose to stay. There were times when I knew the best thing for my sponsee was to get him to his next sponsor faster by my stepping away.

    A wise recovery friend and longtime sponsor once told me that in recovery, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. That’s all we can do with our sponsees. Share with them what worked for us.

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