What’s Sponsorship All About?

Many people have questions about 12-Step sponsorship. What is a sponsor? What does he or she do?

A sponsor is someone who has sobriety experience, has been through the 12 Steps, and guides you through each successive Step in the program. Working with a sponsor is one of the most important tools for learning how the program works.

Different sponsors have different styles. 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 their sponsees, ask sponsees to go to meetings with them, and make “suggestions” for how for develop their spiritual condition in order to stay sober.

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 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 these hard truths with love and acceptance, having been through the same process and the fears that accompany it themselves.

Sponsees ordinarily find that sponsors are non-judgmental — they’ve usually 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, Step 5 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.

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.

Sometimes sponsors and sponsees are a bad fit. If that happens, it’s typical for one or both parties to end the sponsorship relationship. If you find a sponsor who isn’t helpful, find someone else who is.

For more questions about 12-Step programs click on What If I Don’t Like Parts of the Program or Some of the People There?

For a more detailed description of sponsorship click on The 12-Steps.

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