What Does Effective Sponsorship Really Look Like?

Sponsorship in addiction – what does that really mean and how does it work?

This “must” from The Big Book about sponsorship and recovery is something to consider:

To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends-this is an experience you MUST not miss. (p. 89)

What is sponsorship in addiction & why is it essential to long-term recovery?

From Step Into Action: One, Two, Three:

Getting a sponsor is humbling. 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…

Doing without a sponsor is like piloting a ship without a rudder. The sailor is at the mercy of whatever current comes along.

writing-working-12-stepsWhat I’ve learned about sponsorship

I had my first sponsor back in 2008 as I was introduced to the 12 steps via another addiction recovery program.

It went well: he had me read some materials, purchase the Big Book from AA, and we met weekly to talk about what I was learning. I also was required to send a nightly email and answer questions in the form or writing in the morning.

Unfortunately, when I hit Step 9, I slowly stopped communicating with him. This was the beginning of the end and my own invitation to hit a rock bottom I never thought I’d hit…

When I finally came back to the program in February 2014, I was eventually introduced to the ARPSupport.org sponsorship program. This was the start of my “new normal” in recovery.

ARP Support is tough.

It’s working the 12 Steps in 90 days, and it’s strict.

The leader of ARP Support, Mark G., has shared this with me about the ARP Support program:

Abstinence is required to work the program. There really should be NO slips, if someone is serious about recovery. The 90 day program is not meant to do over and over again. Something begins to be lost when that happens. We hope that everyone who starts out has already hit their bottom and will be ready to abstain, work the program, and recover. Sadly, most aren’t. Even more sad is the reality that of those who prove not ready to abstain, a high percentage of them will never be ready. Some will, but not for a long time. We cannot help these individuals “at this time” and there is just not enough sponsors to spend time working daily with men who are nowhere near ready or willing to abstain. I no longer just reassign these men to another sponsor right away. I personally do some in-depth work with them, strictly on step one, in an effort to help them become honest with themselves about where they really are and what they can look forward to one way or the other.

Our hope is that the truth will humble and motivate them, helping them to hit bottom or raise their bottom.

There is one thing they MUST learn, and that is that acting out and working the steps do not go together!

In the meantime, they have meetings, good bishops, meetings, home teachers, meetings, missionaries in the program, did I say meetings, fellow addicts, AND above all, they have a Savior, to find needed love and support as they work at coming to themselves. Until that time, there is very little we can do for them “steps-wise.”

I feel working the ARP Support program, both as a sponsee and as a sponsor, led me to SAL.

ARP Support follows the LDS manual but adds questions that helped me dig deeper.

ARP Support is a structured way of working the 12 Steps of Recovery – something that I didn’t really do that well before.

ARP Support is not the only way to work the steps, but I’m grateful for what it’s taught me about sponsorship.

A few things I’ve learned as a sponsor:

  • My job isn’t to fix the sponsee
  • My job is simply to share what’s working for me and invite them to do the same or do what is working for them as long as it is within the expectations we’ve set together
  • Having the sponsee call me holds them accountable
  • The purpose of calls is to review what the sponsee has learned as they work their steps. It’s also to talk about what they are seeing in themselves as they apply what they are reading into their day to day interactions.
  • Writing is a great and essential way to heal and surrender – things can come to the surface that never were discovered without writing things out
  • Although I may review their writing occasionally, my job is NOT to critique it, correct it, or judge it. Ultimately they are writing for themselves and God, not for me or anyone else.
  • If I have to call them or remind them to do their step work (which I won’t do), we need to have a conversation about their level of commitment to recovery
  • If they aren’t willing to keep the commitments they agreed to when starting the sponsorship/sponsee relationship, it’s best for me to let them go until they are ready to truly commit: a common issue with addicts is that we think we can live by our own set of rules and still be ok with God – this isn’t the case and never will be
  • When I have questions, I can always ask my sponsor what his thoughts are.
  • I need to encourage sponsees to dig deep about their feelings and emotions. If they aren’t willing to dig deep, they may not be ready for sponsorship yet.
  • The spouse of my sponsee needs to be involved in her own recovery and healing if the relationship is really going to heal: it will help her understand what the addiction is and what’s happening so she can recognize when and if the addict falling back into addictive behaviors.

Sponsorship Tools Worth Considering

Here are a few tools I’ve used as a sponsor that have helped me share my experience:

Books I Recommend to a Sponsee

  • The White Book from SA
  • Step Into Action Books
  • Sitting in a Rowboat Throwing Marbles at a Battleship eBook
  • The Big Book from AA
  • What Can I Do About Him Me?

6 Practices I Encourage as a Sponsor

  1. Working the Steps every day: 15 minutes of reading from Step material, 15 minutes of writing
  2. Scheduled daily phone check-in for first 30 days – if I’m not available, leave a message
  3. Have 2-3 other people from groups to reach out to if sponsor is not available to talk
  4. Attend 12 Step meetings, preferably two meetings per week
  5. Practice Surrender: Daily, in the moment surrender from sponsee as he feels negative emotions or triggers
  6. Progressive Victory Over Lust: Practicing the Chin-Up Approach – this means looking at others, especially women, from the chin up.

Ultimately, I definitely don’t have the “right” way to be a sponsor or sponsee.

To me, it’s just like recovery: one day at a time and a willingness to learn from others.

I look forward to what’s working for you.

What are you learning about sponsorship in addiction and what tools & strategies do you recommend?

26 thoughts on “What Does Effective Sponsorship Really Look Like?”

      1. The thing I like most about the 90-day program is the structure in sponsorship. I think the 90-day program can be well described using these verses from the Book of Mormon, originally written about the Law of Moses:
        “It was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God; Therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him” (Mosiah 13:29-30).
        That’s what the 90-day program is. Sponsors work with their sponsees in a strict program of action to be done every single day. I was an addict to pornography, masturbation and lust for over ten years. I tried hundreds of things to improve, but I didn’t have any improvement until I sought help from a sponsor through ARPsupport and the 90-day program. The sponsors at ARPsupport know the steps very well and have the experience and sobriety to lift others out of addiction.
        Also, those who complete the 90-day program can serve as sponsors to help others through it as well. It’s a great way to continue living Step 12.

  1. Thanks for the great input on sponsoring, I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said. At one point I thought a sponsor was someone to check in with or report too if I am ‘tempted’, kind of like “OK, you sponsor me, so what that means is I’ll tell you what I need for my recovery, and you just support me in it. Obviously, I was way off in my thinking, and through completing the steps and sponsoring others, I’ve learned that sponsoring means helping others to WORK THE STEPS. So with that in mind, I think a good sponsor needs to stick to his guns. In my small amount of experience sponsoring, I think that we addicts love to be forgiven for not being perfect, or at least be justified in not always meeting our obligations. We all too often use the ‘Progress, not perfection” saying as a means of justifying sloppy recovery, and I think a good sponsor needs to be loving but firm in expecting that our requests be met, so long as they are not unrealistic, and beneficial to the sponsee. There is humility that needs to be present in order for any progress to be made, and a dedicated sponsee will do what he is asked out of faith. If he doesn’t want to, then sadly it’s time to let go. (I understand this attitude all too well from personal experience.)

    1. I like what you said and agree as well – This was me: “Ok sponsor, this is how I want it to work, this is what’s convenient for me…”

      I felt the same way, especially with the first sponsor I had, the one I ended up quitting on which then led me down a path that almost lost me everything (I see now how “effective” that worked out…)

      I like what it says in the Step Into Action book about what WORKING THE STEPS means:

      As opposed to reading the Steps, believing the Steps, or memorizing the Steps, working the Steps means taking action. Going to meetings, calling our sponsor, and participating in the fellowship are not working the Steps. All these actions can strengthen our recovery, but unless we are actively working the Steps, we are not working the SA program…We most likely will feel great after having done some writing on a Step…It is both good and important that some work be done for recovery each day. Continuing to write means more progress on the Step. When finished, say a prayer of thanks. (p. 30, Step Into Action: 1, 2, 3)

      Thanks for the great insight Cameron!

  2. I sponsor in the arpsupport.org program (i.e., 90-day program after the sponsee has already completed the 12-week program). The things that I think are inspired in this program are: 1) the strictness and total commitment required to meet the program guidelines; 2) the twice daily contact that bookends the days; 3) the requirement that the sponsee has to stretch beyond his own capabilities and rely on the Lord; and 4) the requirement for the sponsor to respond to the sponsee at least once a day.

    I find that the more I hold back on advice and allow my sponsee to work through his own understanding, the stronger he gets and the more he grows. I also find that the more I can give sincere encouragement and point out their success in faith and trust, the more likely they are to succeed.

    The more I sponsor, the more I recognize that testifying of principles, holding sponsees accountable, and encouraging faith are the keystones of being a good sponsor. I also recognize that when I try to help a sponsee understand something, instead of leading him to learn on his own, I do a disservice to him and actually get in the way of his recovery.

    Now, the most important part of sponsoring is to stay in a good strong recovery myself. Again, the arpsupport program has helped me with this by setting me up with an accountability partner with whom I exchange every morning and every evening a report of my progress on my prayer, scripture study and on my plans for the day as well as on my inventory of the day and my journal of blessings, spiritual feelings, and impressions. This helps me stay grounded and focused on daily working steps 10, 11, and 12. I must stay in recovery and I must continue to move forward and improve at it, since not doing so means degrading back into complacency and eventually back into my addictive habits.

    1. Thanks Kevin. Great insights. I agree that it’s important for me to continue to work my own recovery and not get caught up in trying to give advice, fix the sponsee, or imply my will on them.

      One suggestion I’ve received about sponsorship is this, and I wonder how it will be received by 90 Day ARP sponsors:

      I often times don’t even read the Step work of the sponsee: it’s not my job to correct them or critique them, only to hold them accountable for doing their Step work. If they feel they are writing for my approval, both the sponsee and the sponsor are misunderstanding what doing the Steps is all about. The sponsee’s writing is between he and God. If I begin to critique his work, correct it, or tell him he’s doing it wrong, I’m ‘playing God’ and that’s not ok for me. Where I can give feedback, based on my experience and understanding, is in our check-in calls where we talk about what the sponsee is learning in his writing and study.

      What are your thoughts on this idea?

      This has been really helpful for me to avoid wanting to fix my sponsees.

      Look forward to insights from everyone.

      1. This is a big reason that I stopped doing that program and looked elsewhere. There was a lot of correcting and critiquing of my morning writing and of my recovery journal entries that my sponsors required nightly. I wasn’t comfortable with it. Yes, it was really humbling to allow someone else access into my mind and heart with those entries, so that was something that helped. Ultimately, it wasn’t something I was ok with

      2. I also sponsor in the arpsupport.org program in the final 90 day portion of the program. As I have gained more and more experience being a sponsor, I have found that the correction of a sponsee by saying something like, “you are doing this wrong, or seeing this incorrectly” has not been very helpful.
        But, there is a need for a sponsor to call out a sponsee when they are stuck in their own blind spots. And trust me, a new person in recovery (as well as one with years of recovery – me for example) has massive blind spots. And we need someone who is willing to be honest, and even blunt with us from time to time to tell us that we are being idiots and not seeing things as they really are.
        Now, as I have gained more experience, and have been shown more of my own weakness and blind spots, I have learned that in most cases, a sponsee will be able to find that blind spot with a few directly, but carefully-asked questions. For example: “In your work this morning, you said this … In my own recovery, I have experienced similar thoughts, but one day my sponsor asked me this question … OR, but one day I came across this verse of scripture or this paragraph from this book that really opened my mind. With that in mind, what are your thoughts now?”
        I also like to ask the question when reviewing a sponsee’s work each week with said sponsee, “After reading through these questions and answers again, is there anything that you may have answered differently if asked the same question today than when you answered it a few days ago?”
        This also gives him the opportunity to share, and put into words, some of the changes of heart he has experienced this last week, and also gives me an opportunity to share my faith and hope in my own experiences with my higher power.

  3. I recently had an experience with my sponsor who probably could have said to me that what I was talking about was not the problem, that I needed to work my own recovery. Don’t get me wrong, I think one of the biggest advantages of having a fellow addict as a sponsor means that he is seeing right through all of the manipulation I have perfected in my many years of acting out. However, my sponsor took the opportunity to really focus on and teach me how to really surrender. He ended up praying with me over the phone. It was a moment I will never forget. So, sometimes it is necessary for my sponsor to kick my kiester and give me the wake up call and sometimes it helps for him to say, “that’s tough and I may not be the person to help you with that, but I know God can help…I’d be honored to help you surrender that.”
    Thanks for the article, Nate.

    1. Thanks DeWayne. That’s awesome that your sponsor handled things the way he did. I know, for me, it can be tempting to want to act as if I “have things figured out” as a sponsor so that I don’t lose the confidence of my sponsee. But the honest reality is that I DON’T. To have your sponsor admit that and encourage you to surrender it to God together is really cool.

      Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hey Nate, thanks for posting this. I have a question that maybe you (or others) can provide some insight on. I’ve been attending ARP and SA-L meetings now for about a year and working the steps but haven’t had meaningful sponsorship. I have a guy from ARP that helps me with my inventories and seeing where I am needing to understand what I’ve written about and how it affects my recovery, and tried a sponsor from my local SA-L group, but that hasn’t been effective.

    So, my question is 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. 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.

    Any thoughts are appreciated.

    1. Hey Brent, thanks for the good question. I am scheduling a post to address this question based on my own experience.

      I hope others will share their experience as well.

  5. I’d like to echo what everyone else has been saying about how a good sponsor can help by sharing from their own experience. I have not started sponsoring anyone yet and would also like to know when a good time to start sponsoring should be?

    1. For me, the timing can be a bit tricky. In one group I’ve been in (90 Day ARP), one criteria was that I had to have finished the Steps myself. This may have changed since then, not sure.

      I’ve also heard that having completed a Step 4 and Step 5 is helpful in order to direct a sponsee down the path.

      Ultimately, I think you have to have been working the Steps yourself consistently and have a healthy length of sobriety (no sex with self, no porn, no sex with anyone other than spouse, and being accountable, honest, and humble. Also progressive victory over lust).

      Just my two cents.

      What do others think?

  6. This may sound a little melodramatic, but arpsupport.org set me back several years in my recovery.
    I can say that because it was 3 years ago that I went through it, and due to the shame and counter-productive techniques from that program, I am now starting over. This time I have a nationally-renowned therapist and when I told him about some of the principles of arpsupport.org, he was concerned. In particular, the requirement of perfect abstinence and perfect step work exacerbates the addiction instead of helping it. I had a slip about 20 days in but had been told at the beginning of the program that if I slipped, I’d be kicked out. So, I lied to my sponsor about the slip because I wanted to keep going in the program… and thus, the shame cycle began.
    Then there are minimum requirements of coursework. For example, if you don’t have at least 100 items in each of 7 or 8 tabs for your Step 4 inventory, then you’re kicked out of the program. I simply didn’t have that many despite feeling like I had done a thorough job with all my fears, resentments, emotions, etc.
    Finally, towards the end of the program, my sponsor started talking to me about becoming a sponsor as soon as the 90 days was up. I told him that I was not ready, that I had not actually been sober for the 90 days, and that I was feeling new resentments because of the artificial and unhelpful minimum requirements on the step work. He talked to Mark G., the head of ARP Support, and told me that Mark told him he had to drop me immediately as a sponsee and not work with me anymore.
    I think this is what happens when someone with good intentions, but who is not experiment and not professionally trained, tries to start a program. Perhaps Mark is a good guy, but he’s an electrician, not a sexual addiction expert, counselor, or therapist.
    I recommend sticking with a program that is backed by a professional, based on research, and that uses legitimate recovery techniques and principles.

    1. Hi John S.
      Just a quick question to help me understand better. Is the strictness of the program the very reason you chose to be dishonest when you slipped?
      I, by no means feel that the arpsupport program is the end all be all in recovery. There are imperfections in it and the people who run and sponsor in it, just as there are in every program (because we are humans and these programs are being run by humans). There are imperfections and mistakes made even by specifically trained professionals.
      I have learned that whether I succeed or fail at really anything in life or in eternity, it is my own choices that put me in those places and not the requirements of others or of programs. It is like losing a hard-fought basketball game and blaming the loss on the referees. Yes, the officials may be imperfect, but the loss is on my team, and I am a part of that team.
      My dishonesty can never be attributed to another person or program.
      Outside of that, I believe you are correct, that other ways may click for some and not for others. For example, therapy with a CST did not click for me. In my opinion, I allowed it to screwed me up more (but that is my own fault there, too). And that is ok. I am grateful that I have found abstinence, sobriety, am working recovery and finding healing through the Atonement of the Savior.

    2. I completely agree. ARPsupport caused me so much anxiety that my wife asked me to stop finally. My therapist and others who have specific training on pornography told me that the shame based and fear based approach used by the controlling leader of the program are not researched based and honestly counter productive. For some people, shame and fear work. However, it does not really tackle the real issues of pornography addiction which is lack of connection, handling emotions and other areas which are the ways which are research based. I would stay away.

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