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The Role of a Sponsor in Recovery

In AA and NA, one of the most valuable traditions is sponsorship. This notion of addicts helping addicts is what makes the aid fellowship so effective. It’s recommended that every member in AA/NA get a sponsor that will walk them through the steps and help them stay sober. What exactly is the definition of a sponsor?

What is a sponsor?

A sponsor is someone who offers guidance to a sponsee, someone who provides emotional support when you feel hopeless. It’s someone who is there to lend a helping hand without judgement, gives you encouragement, and shares their struggles. AA describes a sponsor as “one person to turn to without embarrassment when doubts, questions, or problems linked to alcoholism arise”.

Although the tradition of a sponsorship is informal, it’s a general guideline that the sponsor is at least two years sober, has a positive attitude, and has the time to be a dedicated mentor. Getting the right sponsor is of great importance because otherwise the relationship could lead to a disaster.

The concept of sponsorship began in 1935 with AA when founding members Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith came together. Wilson was a recovering alcoholic who was in the lookout for another alcoholic in the same situation, and that’s when he met Dr. Bob Smith. Following this first sponsorship, many hospitals began to require that patients find a sponsor from a local AA program.

7 Qualities of an Effective Sponsor

Sponsorship can be a significant help on your road to long-term sobriety, and for that reason it’s important to wisely choose a sponsor with the appropriate qualities. Here are the 7 main qualities to look for in a sponsor:

  1. Gender

During the first year of recovery, getting into a romantic relationship is not recommended. The emotional ups and downs of a new relationship can easily trigger relapse and get you stranded from the road to recovery. That’s why AA/NA recommend choosing a same-sex sponsor. By getting a sponsor from the same gender as you, you will focus on your recovery without worrying that sexual attraction will interfere with the therapeutic relationship.

2. Experience

It’s also advisable that your sponsor has more experience in the program that you, the sponsee. A reliable sponsor need to have worked the steps themselves. This way, they will be more qualified to offer information and guidance.

3. Happily Sober

Ideally, an effective sponsor is someone who has been sober for at least a year. Some recommend that a sponsor should have five years of sobriety. Overall, a good sponsor is someone who is confident in their sobriety, have a positive outlook, and are willing to dedicate their time to being a mentor.

4. Number of sponsees

Many sponsors mentor many sponsees at the same time. This is an indication that they are a reliable and dedicated sponsor. However, having too many sponsees can be time-consuming and make the sponsorship less effective. It’s probably more advantageous to find a sponsor who can focus on your sobriety and always be available to help when you need them.  

5. Service Work

There are several questions you need to answer before choosing a sponsor. Is this person helpful to others? Do they volunteer in the community? A good sponsor material is someone who is involved in service work. For example they help newcomers get accommodated, take meetings, and willingly share their experience and wisdom with others. If a sponsor enjoys tending to others by providing them with words of peace and advice in order to see them succeed, then you’ve just found your ideal mentor.

6. Availability

It’s essential you find a sponsor who has enough time to return your messages and talk to you throughout the week. It needs to be someone you can call when you’re on the verge of the relapse, have emotional issues you need to resolve, and need words of encouragement. They should be there to give an answer to your concerns about sobriety, provide praise for achievements, and guide you back to safety.

7. Positive Attitude

A sponsor with a positive attitude towards recovery is most certainly what you should be looking for. A person with a negative mindset would be a terrible choice for sponsorship. A good sponsor is someone who gives you positive reinforcement, encourages you to participate in group activities, and motivates you to enjoy life.

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