5 Guidelines For Choosing A 12-Step Sponsor

Getting sober was never something I could have done on my own.

But I didn’t always feel that way. In the beginning, when I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to be sober, I was convinced I didn’t need anyone’s help or advice. As time passed, I realized I was in over my head. I became overwhelmed with the idea that sobriety was potentially a forever thing, and I realized I needed someone to talk to who had been where I was.

I had heard the word sponsor thrown around in my outpatient rehab group. It had even been suggested that I find one. However, I hadn’t started attending 12-step meetings regularly, so I hadn’t met anyone I could ask to be my sponsor. Not only that, but the idea of asking a stranger to be a mentor of sorts was intimidating when I was only a month sober.

Once I started attending meetings more regularly, I spoke to someone willing to be a sponsor. However, we didn’t really click. In fact, I don’t even remember her name. All I remember is that I didn’t feel connected to her or comfortable telling her my deepest, darkest thoughts. As time passed, I started pulling away and not responding to her texts or calls, or reaching out on my own. I didn’t relapse, and I told her this. I just made it clear that I needed to find a person to whom I related more.

A few days later, a woman in her 20s came in and spoke at one of my outpatient group meetings. Let’s call her Jill. As I listened, it was like Jill was telling my own story. I looked at her, beautiful, put together, sober and grateful, and thought, “That. That is what I want.” After she finished speaking, I gathered the courage to approach her and tell her the similarities in our stories were uncanny. I tentatively asked if she was taking sponsees, and rather than agree right on the spot, we set up a time to meet and talk more over coffee. That meeting went well, and I felt an immediate connection. There was no doubt in my mind that I had found my sponsor.

Though my first go-round with a sponsor didn’t work out, my second did. In a way, finding a sponsor is a little bit like dating. You have to find someone who clicks with your personality, who pushes you to be a better version of yourself. By taking the following guidelines into mind, you may have more luck finding a sponsor you connect with right away.

1. Determine what type of person would make the best sponsor for you. It is often recommended that potential sponsors have at least one year of continuous sobriety and are the same gender as you. Having at least a year of sobriety under their belt is important because a potential mentor should have personal experience with sobriety and be working a program that is effective. Additionally, it is often recommended to choose a sponsor of the same gender (or someone whose gender you are not romatically attracted to) so as to avoid romantic entanglement, as that can often impact or distract from sobriety and recovery. In addition to these key factors, think about the type of mentorship you need. This could mean someone who is gentle but stern, or someone who always tells it like it is. The question is, what will be best for you and your sobriety?

2. Take time to meet with someone before officially asking them to be your sponsor. Though I asked Jill if she was taking sponsees right away, she didn’t agree to be my sponsor right off the bat, for which I’m grateful. Instead she suggested meeting for coffee and taking it from there. Meeting for coffee together was a good opportunity to tell her more about myself and my story, and explain what I was looking for in a sponsor. Getting to know each other before agreeing to be sponsor and sponsee was a better way to go about it than having a complete stranger agree to be my sponsor without knowing anything about me and vice versa. It was a way to build a foundation that later led to a solid relationship and friendship.

3. Learn about your potential sponsor’s story and their sobriety. If a potential sponsor is willing to discuss their sobriety, which they should be, don’t be afraid to ask questions. A potential sponsor should be someone who has what you want, so it’s important to examine what their life is like and how they balance their sobriety with day-to-day tasks. Find out if they have a sponsor, what a sponsor/sponsee relationship looks like to them, how they respond to stress, etc. When working with a sponsor, the way they work their program is likely the way they will work a program with you, so it’s important to have a little bit of background knowledge.

4. Ask your sponsor about their expectations of you as a sponsee. When entering a sponsor/sponsee relationship, it is important to know what is expected of each person. Some sponsors like sponsees to check in with them at least once per day, while others ask sponsees to call or check in as often as they feel necessary. Being on the same page about expectations is vital for a sponsor/sponsee relationship.

5. Make it clear what you hope to get out of a sponsor/sponsee relationship. Just like it’s important for your sponsor to express what they expect of you as a sponsee, it’s also important to let them know what you want their role to be. This could mean telling them how often you’d like to check in, how often you want to meet in person, what type of guidance you respond to best, etc. It’s important for both parties to understand how the other works in order to have a functioning and effective relationship.

While no sponsor/sponsee relationship is foolproof, the relationship is more likely to grow and last if certain guidelines such as the above are taken into consideration.

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