Our clients attend group sessions while in detox, and questions come up about sponsors in recovery. Since the subject seems to confuse some folks in the beginning, we like to mention it occasionally with a bit of an explanation. These were a couple of recent questions.
What is a sponsor?
Sponsors in recovery are people with experience in the particular program of recovery, who have completed the 12 steps, and who help newcomers understand and guide them through completion. Along with that, they make themselves available as supports outside of meetings. A sponsor should be of a gender preference that minimizes the possibility of outside entanglement, and the sponsee should remember that age is not a factor in these matters. That is, men sponsor men and women sponsor women, unless the parties are gay.
Most sponsors require that their sponsees call them every day, and want to meet with them on frequent occasions to discuss their program, things that may be on their mind, and help prepare them for the various steps. If they do not have time to do that — and there are many good reasons why that might be the case — then perhaps another choice would be wise.
A sponsor is not a moneylender, legal adviser marriage counselor or therapist. Their purpose is to help the newcomer focus on the 12 Steps, and to help them come to an understanding of their program of recovery. These other things distract and change the focus of the relationship, and are generally considered detrimental. Furthermore, it is quite likely that they are not qualified in those areas anyway. Although most of us develop friendships with our sponsors, even that is not necessary. What is required is experience on the part of the sponsor, and our ability to learn to trust them.
The person we choose does not have to like our kind of music, be a sports buff, or even close to our own age, but he or she must show through appearance, actions and words that they are not only working a solid program but are also living a healthy life. There is no such thing as a perfect sponsor, but the best bet is to check out the person at a few meetings or over a cup of coffee, and see that they are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk as well.
Finally, we need to remember that a sponsor’s purpose is to lead us through the steps. If that is not happening, or if they are taking us off on some tangent, we need to understand that we are not married to them, and that we are free to look for another sponsor. We do, however, need to be sure that the incompatibility is real, and not simply a matter of having heard something we did not want to hear. The nature of recovery is change, and a sponsor who is unwilling to dig a little is not doing the job right.
Is it okay to have a sponsor in AA and another in NA?
This is a matter of opinion, to a degree. Generally-speaking, when it comes to those two fellowships, we would suggest that it is best to settle on one or the other for our step work. Every sponsor learns sponsorship from their own sponsors, and styles of sponsorship thus vary quite a bit. Having two individuals risks confusion. For example, one may like to spend more time on a particular step than another, or put more weight on writing as opposed to talking. Neither of those is wrong, but they can conflict.
One of the best reasons for not having two sponsors, however, is the danger that we will play one against the other. In any endeavor, it is best to have only one leader at a time. We recommend that a newcomer choose one fellowship for in-depth work, and attend meetings of the other for identification with those issues as well.
The exceptions to the above occur in the case of specialized fellowships, such as Overeaters or Gamblers Anonymous, or sexual addiction groups. In those and some other cases, the primary purposes are so different (at least on the surface) that it is imperative to have a sponsor who can personally and comfortably address those issues.