12 Step Sponsor suggestions
5- 12 Step Sponsor Suggestions
Having learned how sponsorship can help your recovery, this page provides some suggestions for increasing your effectiveness as a sponsor in 12 Step anonymous Fellowships.
1. Unique position
2. Primary purpose
3. Motive to sponsor
4. Experience of addiction
5. Living the solution
6. Criteria for effectives
7. Role limitations
8. Ideal characteristics
12 Step Sponsorship is more than a casual relationship with another addict. It is a relationship precisely structured to serve a specific purpose within 12 Step Fellowships. It is a sacred trust our Fellowship has bestowed upon us to help it grow by carrying its message of recovery to other addicts who are still suffering. Sponsoring others is a gift that carries with it certain commitments and responsibilities. Although there are no rules on how to be a sponsor, experience shows that when we adhere to the principles of our Fellowship, we increase our effectiveness in carryings its message. At the same time we avoid pitfalls that can hurt our recovery and that of our sponsee.
Below are some suggestions that aim to help you support your sponsee towards recovery more effectively.
Bear in mind: these suggestions are to be taken as guidelines – as ideas – on how you can increase your effectiveness as a sponsor. There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to sponsor another. We may find what has helped us with one sponsee has not proved as useful for another. It’s a learning process for each one of us, one that is adaptable to different sponsees. So long as we remain true to the principles of our Fellowship, so long as we keep focused on our primary purpose with a sincere desire to help another. Surely we cannot go wrong no matter how far we are in our journey on the 12 Steps.
1- Unique position
As addicts in recovery we are in a unique position to help other addicts because we know first-hand what it is to live through the horrors of addiction. Our life’s experience has given us a unique perspective, an invaluable quality normal or professional people non-addicts don’t have. We have suffered the misery of the disease of addiction and are now living in recovery and freedom. Our life stories can act as powerful evidence to convince the suffering addict in a way no one else can. We also know from our own experience that seldom did we pay heed to those who tried to help us. We rejected their help because we thought they simply did not understand what it means to be addicted – and the obsession to use drugs no matter what the consequences to others or ourselves. Yet when one addict shares his or her experiences with another no explanation is necessary. Barriers that may have prevented the suffering addict from asking for help are overcome. Nor can they use the same excuses they use with normal people, because they know as addicts, we too have used the same defense mechanisms. They would feel at ease and more likely to hear us out, in the knowledge that we are helping as part of our own process to maintain our recovery.
Our experience of addiction paradoxically provides us with criteria that can make us more approachable. Most probably in our using days, we lied, cheated and stole to get our drugs. We therefore don’t get easily shocked or likely to judge our sponsee based on the measures they had to take to feed their addiction. Neither can we be easily manipulated by all the excuses they may give not to recover. We don’t buy into all the blame, the shifting of responsibility — and the excuses to use drugs. Our experience provides us with special insight that normal people do not have. We have been there ourselves and are now living a life in recovery. We know from our own experience that if an addict has a sincere desire to stop their addiction, then no excuse or barriers can prevent them from working this program to recover from it.
As addicts in recovery we are in a unique position to carry the message of recovery more effectively to other suffering addicts. We are not professionals, not helping them for financial gain or because we are any better. We are not family members; we have no emotional ties or attachments to personally benefit from their recovery. We act simply as addicts who have found a new way of life — and are willing to share our experiences of the program with another, with the simple aim to offer them what was freely offered to us. With this approach, our sponsee will realize our genuine desire to help, which acts as a motivator for them to want to work this program too.
2- Primary purpose
When taking on a new sponsee the most important thing we need to find out is if they have a desire to work the 12 Steps. Are they, as we say in the Fellowship, “willing to go to any length to recover? Their answer to this indicates their readiness and saves us a lot of time and energy. After speaking with a prospective sponsee we will have a pretty good idea of where they stand on this question, which in turn encourages us to help them. People come to the Fellowship by various routes. Some are pressured by family, or work, or the legal system to attend a meeting. Others, of course, come on their own – out of desperation. However they arrive, though, each must reach the point where they have a genuine desire to stop their addiction. In the old days it was assumed an addict had to be of the chronic or “hopeless” variety to have a chance of grasping this spiritual program. That is no longer the case; many including young people, can benefit from this program even though their circumstances may not yet be as “bad” as ours was. What is important though is to find out if our sponsee is willing to put their recovery above all else and work the program. After all this is our primary purpose and why we take them on as sponsees.
Our commitment to sponsor is not to convince our sponsee of the value of this program. Our Fellowship has no monopoly on recovery. It is each individual’s responsibility to decide whether they want to recover with this approach and take the actions necessary through the 12 Steps with our support. As they say in the Fellowship, we “carry the message, not the addict”.
3- Motive to sponsor
Before taking on a sponsee we need to know our motive for taking on this responsibility and commitment. If our motive is based on anything other than the principles of our Fellowship, then it has the potential to harm our sponsee as well as tarnishing what our Fellowship stands for. Our motives to sponsor should be based on carrying our Fellowship message of recovery, which in turn helps us stay clean. We do this primarily by sharing our experiences of the Steps and by guiding our sponsees through them.
Many enter the Fellowship only half-heartedly committed to recovery and many of those by virtue of sticking around eventually realize what recovery has to offer and want to work the program. Our disease of addiction is strongly marked by denial and some of us need to relapse and keep coming back to meetings before we finally get it. Our motive to sponsor should be irrelevant as to why and how our sponsee entered the Fellowship. Neither should it be based on their success or failure to achieve recovery. In a way it’s irrelevant, since we are not god and don’t have the power to make another recover. We carry the message primarily to help our own recovery and our Fellowship. We do our best by sharing our experiences around the Steps, but leave the outcome of our sponsee’s recovery to our God. We do our part then “let go and let God.”
We need our sponsees just as much as they need us. Being a sponsor helps us stay away from a relapse. We do it out of gratitude also. We carry the message of recovery because someone was there to help us when we needed it. We help because we know what it is to be suffering from addiction and now we have found the solution, we have hope to offer. Our sponsees are attracted to sponsors whose motives are in line with the principles of the Fellowship, and there is then a greater chance that our sponsee will want to work the program and recover. Knowing their sponsor has no hidden agenda; the sponsee will be open to learning more about the program and its way of life.
4- Experience of addiction
Having understood that as addicts in recovery we are in a valuable position to help others and our motive to sponsor — we want to be sure we know what we are talking about when offering the solution to our sponsee. It is futile to guide another through the 12 Steps if we are not knowledgeable about the type of a disease we are suffering from. We have had to accept our powerlessness over it and have experienced how our lives became unmanageable as a result of it. If we are under the illusion that we have managed to recover through our self-will, then we are not in a position, as our Fellowship calls for, to carry its message of recovery to another. Maybe we need to work our Step 1 again to have a better understanding of why we sought the help of our Fellowship. We must acknowledge that it is only through the Steps and our Higher Power that we are now in recovery. We must keep in mind that our own best efforts at staying clean were unsuccessful until we found the Fellowship – and that we suffered endless hardships and heartache from active addiction until we found its solution and way to recovery. It is through sharing of our experiences, namely our Step 1 that our sponsee can relate to us and identify that he or she is suffering from a disease, they too are powerless over. It is only through such acceptance that they can have a better chance of grasping the program and allow us to support them through the Steps and towards recovery.
It is also best to help carry the message to those who suffer from the same type of addiction to ours. For example a drug addict can best sponsor another drug addict, rather than a sex addict or overeater. Even though the solution to our problem lies in the 12 Steps, which are fundamentally in principle the same in all 12 Step program. In order for our sponsee to have a better chance of grasping the program, they must first find mutuality in the same problem. There are some of us who upon awakening to this program and living the miracles of recovery want to carry the message to all addicts regardless of how their disease has manifested itself. Though well-intentioned and a sign of our altruism, as far as guiding another through the 12 Steps is concerned, it is best to stay with the type of addiction we have experience of. Each 12 Step program has its own interpretations of how the Steps can be applied as a solution for a specific problem and we need working knowledge of their program before we could pass this on.
5- Living the solution
We can be most effective as sponsors when we ourselves have experienced the miracles that come from working the program. We have to have a good working knowledge of a Step, have experienced how its application has helped our recovery before we can teach and share our experience of it with another. As they say in the Fellowships, we have to “walk the walk and not just talk the talk”. Our sponsee will want to work this program when he or she sees we have found the solution and are living in the freedom that comes from working the Steps.
At the same time we should have the courage to let our sponsee know about our own setbacks and struggles with working the Steps and present him or her with an honest account of our experience of life in recovery. We let them know that we are not perfect and that we too are living our program a day at a time to the best of our ability. We let them know that life in recovery is bound to have its ups and downs, but that the Steps provide us with the tools to deal or cope with any of life’s problems. Our sponsees will be more willing to work this program when they see that the Steps are designed for imperfect people like us. Knowing this will help them being deterred out of fear of working a perfect program.
We do a disservice to our sponsee if we fail to guide them though the Steps in the manner laid down by our Fellowship. For instance, we should not be tinkering with the Steps for our sponsee to make them “easier”. Our job is helping them work the Steps so that they may find the solution and be able to experience the miracles this program. This means working those Steps as they appear in the approved literature. We stay true to our Fellowship and make sure the “message” we are carrying is our Fellowship’s and not our version of it. That “message” — the solution — consists of admission to a problem we are powerless over, our need to rely on a Power greater than ourselves, and a program of action as suggested in the 12 Steps that will provide us with the tools to live in recovery one day at a time.
Part of our effectiveness as a sponsor, is to introduce our sponsee to the broader program, so that they may benefit from all the tools and the support our Fellowship and program has to offer. This way they would not feel confined to purely rely on us for support and guidance. We do this by taking them to various kinds of Fellowship meetings to help them learn about the Fellowship, introduce them to other members, inspire them to study Fellowship literature, and encourage them to take on service commitments. Doing this shows them we are not their sole means of support and that the Fellowship has much to offer.
6- Criteria for effectiveness
We can help another through the program more effectively and focus on our primary purpose as sponsors when we refrain from:
- Financial gain
Using the sponsorship relationship for financial gain.
- Preach about God or religion
This is a spiritual program that must remain open to all who seek it. Our sponsees must be given the right to choose their own understanding of God, however different that idea may be from our own.
- Patronize them
For one thing, these kinds of attitudes will only turn them off. For another, we have to realize that we are imperfect addicts ourselves and helping another primarily to maintain our own recovery.
- Wanting to feel powerful or to build our own status
Those of us who have fallen prey to this ego building know it ultimately fails – both the sponsor and the sponsee.
- Act as their higher Power
It is fine if our sponsee looks up to us or turns to us for suggestions, but we cannot let the relationship become distorted. Specifically, we make it clear that we are in no position to be their Higher Power. Any misunderstanding on this point leads to grandiosity on our part and disappointment and resentment on the part of our sponsee. In addition if we try and act as our sponsee’s higher Power we are ultimately diverting them from the true purpose for working this program.
- Judging them
As sponsors it will be helpful for us not to take our sponsee’s inventory. Part of our process in recovery in becoming whole human beings is the practise of tolerance and compassion to our fellows. We may need to take stock of our own defects and shortcomings before putting ourselves in a position to help others. We will not be of use to our sponsee if we constantly find fault with them or reprimand them or tell them off, which inevitably will end the relationship and hinder their progress in recovery.
- Dictate their lives
When we sponsor others, we often learn about the principles of surrender and tolerance. We need to remember that we are just sharing experience, strength, and hope with our sponsees, not dictating their every action. We allow them to live their own lives and make their own mistakes. While we may want to prevent them from making the same mistakes we did, we have to remind ourselves that our knowledge and experience is limited; we do not always know what is best for our sponsee. We have to “let go and let God” and allow our sponsees to have their own experiences – and to learn through trial and error. The responsibility of their recovery is theirs, not ours.
- Act as if we have all the answers
We are neither gurus nor experts in recovery. But this is fine, because by admitting we sometimes do not have the answers prompts our sponsee do their own homework, take responsibility for their recovery and search for the answers to solve their own problems. It also puts them in a place of equality, realizing we like them are works in progress, that we are no better or worse than them. As a result they will enhance their own sense of value and dignity, realizing they are adults in charge of their own recovery and life.
7- Role limitations
As sponsors we need to let our sponsee know the purpose of the relationship —what we can and cannot help them with. For sponsorship to be effective and better serve its primary purpose, our sponsees should be made aware of the limits of our role and responsibilities. For example:
- There are times we have to say no
There is a saying in the Fellowship that states we need to be “selfish” about our recovery, meaning that we have to put our recovery above all else, otherwise we will lose it. Sponsoring others is not about pleasing them but helping them. We cannot help another take responsibility for their recovery, if we cannot do so for ourselves. We cannot act as examples of living in recovery if the quality of our recovery is suffering. For example, if we already have many sponsees, we can’t be of maximum benefit if we take on another sponsee. Or if we find our disease has taken its root in another type of addiction and we need to work our program on this aspect of our disease, then we need to have the honesty and the courage to accept our circumstances and take care of ourselves first.
- We cannot help everyone
Sometimes someone with whom we have a previous relationship such as a family member, co-worker, or friend may ask us if we will sponsor him or her. In such situations we should think carefully about whether we can effectively sponsor that person. We may want to talk with our own sponsor about the situation and evaluate whether our responsibilities in different roles will conflict with one another. For example, having our boss or best friend as our sponsee may be awkward. We need to ask ourselves whether our effectiveness as sponsors will not be tainted by what we already know about them or compromised because of the nature of our other relationship with them.
- We help within our capacity as a 12 Step sponsor
The 12 Steps is a program of recovery from the disease of addiction, not a program of recovery for other diseases or problems. Though the principles embodied in the 12 Steps help us deal with life on life’s terms, we do not use them to recover from such ailments as cancer or depression. We have to encourage our sponsees suffering from other illnesses to get appropriate help and treatment. At the same time, people in recovery who take doctor-prescribed medication for an ailment such as depression should not be rejected or made to feel ashamed about it. Such a judgemental approach will only deter other suffering addicts from entering the program.
- Let them know of our limitations
If we have not worked all the 12 Steps, then we have the humility to let our sponsee know. We inform them that we can guide them up to a point and that they may have to look for another sponsor from there on. Being honest about our limited experience of the Steps may actually encourage them by showing that we are not perfect and that we work the program at our own pace. It will help them realize that the program is not so much about completing the 12 Steps but about applying the tools of each Step to live in recovery one day at a time. On the other hand taking on a sponsee half way through our own Steps may act as an incentive for us to gain working knowledge of all the 12 Steps.
- State the truth of our recovery
If our sponsee has problems with types of addiction we have no knowledge of, then we refer them to the right Fellowship to find the support needed. We cannot help another towards recovery over a problem we have no experience of. The same principle applies to other affairs. If our sponsee comes to us with problems over money, family or career, then we let them know. We can only share our experiences neither can we give advice. If they come to us for help for issues that lie outside the parameters of our responsibilities as a sponsor, such as medical or legal advice, then we let them know. After all, we are not therapists, doctors — or god! What we have to offer is our experience of the Steps and how the support of our Fellowship has helped us towards recovery from addiction.
8- Ideal characteristics
Below is a list that has been widely published and passed around in Fellowships that sum up the 12 ideal characteristics of a sponsor:
As your sponsor:
1) I will not help you to stay and wallow in limbo.
2) I will help you to grow, to become more productive, by your definition.
3) I will help you become more autonomous, more loving of yourself, more excited, less sensitive, more free to become the authority for your own living.
4) I cannot give you dreams or “fix you up” simply because I cannot.
5) I cannot give you growth, or grow for you. You must grow for yourself by facing reality, grim as it may be at times.
6) I cannot take away your loneliness or your pain.
7) I cannot sense your world for you, evaluate your goals for you, and tell you what is best for your world; because you have your own world in which you must live.
8) I cannot convince you of the necessity to make the vital decision of choosing the frightening uncertainty of growing over the safe misery of remaining static.
9) I want to be with you and know you as a rich and growing friend; yet I cannot get close to you when you choose not to grow.
10) When I begin to care for you out of pity or when I begin to lose faith in you, then I am inhibiting both for you and for me.
11) You must know and understand my help is conditional. I will be with you and “hang in there” with you so long as I continue to get even the slightest hint that you are still trying to grow.
12) If you can accept this, then perhaps we can help each other to become what God meant us to be, mature adults, leaving childishness forever to the little children of the world.
For suggestions on how to set parameters with your sponsee to help you both come to an understanding of your mutual roles and responsibilities, please refer to: 12 Step Sponsorship relationship