Question: How Do You Help Someone Who’s New to Sobriety & Recovery?

UPDATED: 6.17.20

This post was provided by one of our SAL members. It has been updated recently. We look forward to discussion on the topic of helping those who are new to sobriety and recovery. Thanks for your feedback and experience.

This question has come up a lot lately:

“How do you help someone who’s new to sobriety and recovery?”

Another way to ask the same question might be:

“How do I help someone who is just getting started in the recognition that their life is unmanageable?”

One scripture comes to mind:

Hebrews 5:12-14 (bold added)

12  For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

13  For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

14  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Giving these “babes” the meat before the milk may only do them a disservice.

After all, the “strong meat” belongs to “them that are of full age.”

What does “full age” mean when talking about sexual addiction? Is that synonymous with “rock bottom?”

Some Possible Answers

Is there just one way?

I’m not sure.

It does say in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that “Rarely has a person failed who has thoroughly followed our path.”

And that path, from my understanding, is working the 12 Steps with a sponsor.

My initial answer to this question has been to scare the person by telling them the crap I’ve been through because of my choices.

I might give him a long list of things they need to start (and stop) doing.

I may tell them about what will happen if they don’t “stop and stay stopped.”

I could give them a whole slew of articles, books, podcasts, etc. to read and listen to.

I’d be tempted to remind him of the betrayal trauma he’s causing his wife or significant other. And if he doesn’t have a wife or significant other yet, I would let him know that eventually all the stuff will need to come out if he EVER wants to have a happy and healthy relationship.

But would any of this help?

I guess it just depends on how desperate he is to break out of the chains of the addiction or how willing he is to admit that his life really is unmanageable.

I know when I first started coming to SAL, I still wasn’t willing to admit that my life was IS unmanageable.  I’m actually discovering the unmanageability of my life more and more all the time (and that’s not a BAD thing).

But it also reminds me of the cliche:

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

In other words, you can make it easy for someone to do something, but you cannot force them to do it.


I feel carrying the message is the practice of remembering where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but I don’t want to forget it either, or I’ll easily go back out there.

Talking to others who are just getting started can be difficult because at times I want to dump all the information and tools and research and experience on the person. Overwhelming!

What could I say to a newcomer?

QUESTIONS! I could just ask questions.

Here are some ideas:

  • How’d you hear about SAL?
  • What’d you think of the first meeting?
  • What questions do you have about it?
  • Have you been to other 12-step meetings?
  • Why SAL and why now?
  • When was the last time you acted out?
  • What do you feel like rockbottom looks like for you?
  • What’s going to happen if you don’t stop and stay stopped?

I’m sure there are others.

UPDATED: Additional Thoughts

As I was reading in the Big Book today, pages 89-91, it talked about talking to a newcomer.

“Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.” (p. 89)

Why is this?

For me, I think frequent contact with newcomers, and with anyone in my recovery circle, is helpful and essential because it reminds me where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and the consequences that will re-surface if I go back to my old ways.

So talking to newcomers is helpful. But what’s the “best” or “suggested” way?

AA gives some suggestions:

How to talk with a newcomer

“When you discover a prospect for Alcoholics Anonymous, find out all you can about him. If he does not want to stop drinking, don’t waste time trying to persuade him. You may spoil a later opportunity. This advice is given for his family also. They should be patient, realizing they are dealing with a sick person.

The practice of empathy.

“If he does not want to see you, never force yourself upon him. Neither should the family hysterically plead with him to do anything, nor should they tell him much about you. They should wait for the end of his next drinking bout.”

“See your man alone, if possible. At first engage in general conversation. After a while, turn the talk to some phase of drinking. Tell him enough about your drinking habits, symptoms, and experiences to encourage him to speak of himself. If he wishes to talk, let him do so. You will thus get a better idea of how you ought to proceed. If he is not communicative, give him a sketch of your drinking career up to the time you quit. But say nothing, for the moment, of how that was accomplished. If he is in a serious mood dwell on the troubles liquor has caused you, being careful not to moralize or lecture. If his mood is light, tell him humorous stories of your escapades. Get him to tell some of his.”

I like how they map out this process.

It’s very clear and calm and collected – no pressure, no preaching; just listening, sharing and observing. When and if he’s ready, then I proceed. But not until then.

Pressure could kill the opportunity.

So summarized:

  1. Find out all I can about the person
  2. If he’s not ready to stop lusting, don’t try to persuade him
  3. Engage in general conversation.
  4. Turn the talk to some phase of the addiction.
  5. Talk to him about my own story.
  6. If he wants to talk, let him.
  7. If he doesn’t, that’s ok too.
  8. Share a general map of my process in addiction, but don’t tell him how I’ve stopped.
  9. Don’t moralize or lecture!

What Do You Think?

Many of you that are part of this discussion have been going to SAL meetings for a long time.

A lot of you have years of sobriety and recovery.

All of us have different (yet similar) experiences in how our lust addiction has manifest itself.

What are some of the things you’d share with a newcomer?

What would you warn against?

What would you encourage them to do?

What boundaries would you help them set?

How does this question even apply to how you work with sponsees?

I look forward to your answers to this important question:

How Do You Help Someone Who’s
New to Sobriety & Recovery?

13 thoughts on “Question: How Do You Help Someone Who’s New to Sobriety & Recovery?”

  1. For me, understanding the differences between sobriety and recovery was huge. I know that if there is no sobriety, I’m not in recovery. However if I focus on sobriety, I’ll never find recovery. When I focus on recovery, sobriety finds me. For me this was a great place to start. Learning and understanding what recovery is, continues to help me. At first recovery was not acting out. But once I’ve found some sobriety, I have to learn from what else I need to recover. Continuous digging in this area helped me get started.

  2. I am new to SA Lifeline and I’ve only been working through the suggested tools for about a month and a half. Although, I’ve been studying some general addiction materials for a year and even attended some general addiction groups for about 5 weeks prior to discovering SA Lifeline.

    I really like the question and I’m really glad it was addressed. I am grateful that my sponsor and other friends in the group haven’t use some of the ideas that were listed in the article with me. While it will be different for everyone, for me, scare tactics aren’t helpful. I know that I’ve caused my wife extremely undeserved pain. I know the terrible results that I’ll face if I don’t stop. In fact, for all but a few years of my entire life I have felt that I was broken and unworthy of friendship.

    My sponsor and friends in my group have been exceptional. Here are some of the thing’s they’ve done:
    – They’ve provided friendship and fellowship.
    – They’ve shared ideas that they’re finding helpful in their own lives.
    – They’ve encouraged me to study parts from Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA, The White Book of SA, as well as Step into Action.
    – They’ve helped me learn about setting boundaries.
    – They’ve encouraged me to practice reaching out to others—so that I can do it in the time of weakness.
    – They’ve encouraged me to work the steps and testified how the steps have changed them.

    In answering the question, it’s critical to remember that each person is an individual. What helps me may not be the solution for my neighbor. Even more important, I’m a different individual than I was a year ago. Because of that, the tools that were most helpful for me last month might have been ignored by me last year.

    For me, when helping someone new to sobriety and recovery, follow a major principle of SA — Surrender to God. I believe that my sponsor and my group friends have surrendered to God regarding me. I believe they’ve prayed for me and shared with me the impressions that came.

    I’m so thankful for my sponsor and my group friends. Their friendship, inspired ideas, and suggestions are changing my life as I work the steps.

  3. After contemplating the question, the thought occurs to me that I should not take on the responsibility of “help(ing) someone who is new to sobriety and recovery”. The program is in place for that reason. The programs of SA and SAL are “for those who want it—not for those who need it”.

    I used to offer all kinds of advice and solutions to newcomers until I realized that most of that advice was unsolicited and therefore almost always fell flat. I got in the way of addicts discovering for themselves that they must want recovery and that they must SEEK for the solutions that are found in the program. Attending quality 12 step meetings (those with healthy sobriety and recovery and with sponsors) will get the discovery process started for the interested (usually desperate) addict. Once regular attendance at meetings is established, the newcomer will soon discover that “we realize we know only a little. (And that).. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us”. It is my experience that what and how and through whom God discloses more is intimately tailored to the addict seeking help.

    Nowadays, I try to simply qualify myself as a sex addict with newcomers and offer my experience working the program when they want to hear more. And above all, I encourage them to keep coming back.

  4. When it started for me, 5 therapist, mountains of books, assessment tests, bomb after bomb dropped on my wife, financial difficulties, awkwardness at work, finally lost employment, more therapy and more prayer… explosive mood swings, drying out period, realizing step after step that I was becoming sober by working recovery. Like an addict, I had no idea. DENIAL! LDS-ARP to SA in person, to SAA in person, to a different SA in person group, then finally SAL… it was progressive, but then I look back, and it’s totally worth it. No more Facebook, no more LinkedIn, no more social media period, limited news viewing, fewer movie viewing, no more binge watching. I read, I write and I live in the moment the best I can. Collectively, it’s an experience so many have to go through, at least I did, thick headed. But now I’m so much better in tuned. God knows me. That makes a difference to me.

  5. I have been reading in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous recently and came across a paragraph that really speaks to me as I continue through my journey from abstinence to sobriety to recovery and finally to healing.
    Big Book p. xxvii, par. 2 “On the other hand–and strange as this may seem to those who do not understand–once a psychic change (My note: AKA a mighty change of heart) has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules.”
    The simplicity – and the extreme difficulty – of experiencing that change of heart is the secret.
    My advice to someone new in recovery is to seek that change that comes only through one’s higher power and surrendering to Him. Once that change of heart happens, it is suddenly easier to control one’s desire to act on lust or to make any intentional moves towards lust.
    In my experience, this is the very miracle of recovery. It was the hardest thing for me to do – to surrender my will to God – but when I finally was “compelled” to it through my own repeated failures of trying to do it on my own, I quickly experienced that change of heart and the strength of God suddenly came into my life.

  6. In a TED talk about shame, Brene Brown said that the antidote to all shame is empathy. In the presence of empathy, shame cannot survive.
    I think we start with letting the new guy know that we understand and he’s not alone.
    I remember the first time I went to a 12 step meeting. I sat there in the parking lot for a full 10 minutes before going in, thinking to myself, “has it really come to this? Am I so messed up that I have to go to a “support group” for help?” There was the dread that I might run into someone I knew. There was the fear of going into the meeting and finding myself among addicts/”sickos”. The walk from my car to the door of the building was the longest ever. The discomfort of that first meeting with my eyes downcast. The mix of emotions as I listened to people share their experiences, faith and hope. Seeing the light in some of their eyes and hearing it in their words and wondering how it was possible for those people to be “addicts”.
    For me, I like one of the statements from the Step 12 section of the LDS ARP manual:
    “Tell some of your story to let them know that you can relate. Don’t give advice or try to fix them in any way. Simply inform them of the program and the spiritual principles that have blessed your life.”
    My sponsor has said to me that the only thing that qualifies me to help another addict is if I have had a spiritual experience as a result of working the steps. Ultimately all I can share with anyone else is what my experience has been and what has worked for me. I offer it to others hoping that it actualizes my desires as stated in the AA Step 3 prayer, that “God… take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.”
    One thing to remember is that all that is required to begin recovery is the desire to stop. A tiny flicker of will, the smallest desire, that is all that is needed for grace to start flowing into someone’s life. Even at the start when I didn’t want recovery, I was able to start with “wanting to want it”, and it was enough to get me to a meeting. It was enough for God to come in and start working on me.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I especially appreciated the quote from Brene Brown that the antidote for shame is empathy.

  7. My view is stay in step one for a good amount of time and be patient that it takes time to develop rigorous honesty. You did not develop this right away and recovery will not come quickly.

  8. I think, based on what I know as a new member that frequent contact is probably the best way to at least initially help a newcomer. Some will be able to catch on quicker than others but this is what I would think.

  9. I am finding 4 things to be important:
    1. I think it’s great to let them know to get to lots of meetings (more than just the “one meeting a week” mentality – that leads to an attendance mindset instead of an engagement mindset).
    2. Get myself to lots of meetings so that I can *invite* the newbie to meetings instead of telling them to do something I would never do.
    3. Let them know the importance of taking the steps with a sober sponsor
    4. Teach what “focusing on the solution rather than the problem” actually means. It’s not uncommon in some meetings I attend to meet guys who make the “how can we overcome our problem if we don’t talk about the problem?” comment. Maybe this 4th one is impossible to succeed at – they need to experience it – but I feel it’s important to talk about.

  10. Two things: First ask someone to be your sponsor. Go to two meetings a week and pay attention. Listen. Observe. And prayerfully decide who to ask to be your sponsor. Be humble enough to do what he invites you to do. Second, quickly set boundaries. These have been huge – maybe the most influential thing I do – to stay sober.

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