A sponsor is someone who has sobriety experience and guides you, as if you’re an apprentice, through each successive Step. Working with a sponsor is one of the most important tools for learning how the program works.
Sponsors often ask their sponsees to telephone them every day to discuss that day’s challenges, and to call any time a particular challenge arises as well. They read The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous with you, ask that you to go to meetings with them, and make “suggestions” for what to do to stay sober and improve your spiritual condition.
In rehab I was ordered to get a sponsor before I was discharged. I asked how one decides whom to ask and was told, “Ask someone who exhibits the serenity you want.”
The one-on-one nature of working with a sponsor is the flip side to the communal quality of meetings. There’s more than one way to learn. 12-Step programs embrace both individual and group models of instruction.
A sponsor is usually the person one shares the “rigorous moral inventory” called for in Steps 4 and 5 of the 12 Steps. Sponsors also sometimes tell their sponsees hard truths they can’t see on their own, like identifying “character defects,” or patterns of negative behavior identified in the 4th Step inventory. This prospect can instill fear and reluctance to have a sponsor. But sponsors generally listen to inventories and tell hard truths with love and acceptance, having been through the same process and the fears that accompany it, themselves.
Sponsees usually find that sponsors are non-judgmental because they’ve often been guilty of doing similar things. Many sponsors make their own admissions in discussing Step 5. When he or she admits having done the same kinds of dreadful things you did (and perhaps worse), you’re no longer alone with your shame and you can finally put it behind you. Furthermore, sharing Step 5 with a sponsor is a tremendous lesson in acceptance. When another human being accepts you no matter how bad the things you’ve done may have been, it’s much easier for you to accept yourself.
One caution about sponsorship is that sometimes sponsors and sponsees don’t “click.” It’s a very individual relationship. Some sponsors may have an approach that’s comfortable for you while others may not. There’s no standardization or quality-control in this mentor-mentee relationship, so sometimes sponsorship doesn’t work out. I have had friends who have agreed to end their relationship with their sponsor and other friends whose sponsor ended it. This can be very awkward and upsetting. At rehab they urged us not to view changing sponsors as a failure but as a learning and growth experience. If you don’t succeed at first, you’re urged to keep trying until you find the right one.