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12-Step Recovery Guide: The Role of Sponsorship

12-step recovery is an important resource for many people who are trying to stay sober. Deciding to get help and go to treatment is a huge step, but another important aspect of recovery begins when you leave treatment and get back to your day-to-day life. 12-step programs can help you integrate what you learned in treatment into your life and develop important relationships to help you stay sober.

One of the most helpful relationships you will find in 12-step recovery is your relationship with a sponsor, or another member of the program who agrees to take you through the steps and support you on the path of recovery.

As a newcomer, you will generally want to look for a sponsor who has been sober for a good amount of time and who is available to work with someone in early recovery. A sponsor is someone who you will exchange phone numbers with, talk to regularly, and use as your guide to working the steps. Everyone has a different style of sponsorship and might have different expectations of those they work with. It is common for sponsors to ask sponsees in early recovery to call or text them frequently, meet with them regularly to read 12-step literature and do step-work, and to do certain things aimed at building a strong recovery base, like attending a certain amount of weekly meetings or reaching out to others in recovery.

You can ask your sponsor any questions you have about recovery and utilize the relationship to help you as much as you need. It is not uncommon for people in early recovery to call their sponsor for help in emergency situations, like cravings or risks to sobriety. It is normal to need the help of a sponsor, and having regular contact with your sponsor prepares you to reach out for help when you really need it. Those in 12-step recovery would much rather get a call from you at midnight than know that you tried to face a craving or risky situation on your own, so don’t be shy about asking for what you need.

To help you find a sponsor, some meetings will have those who are willing to sponsor people raise their hands. In early recovery, it is helpful to start working with a sponsor as soon as you can in order to build the skill of utilizing this important relationship. It is also common for newcomers to start working with a temporary sponsor before finding someone to work with long-term.  A temporary sponsor can be important in helping you get grounded in recovery and establishing daily practices that will help you stay sober. As you start to learn more about recovery and the sponsorship relationship, you will start to develop insight about what you need in a long-term sponsor.

In finding a long-term sponsor, you may want to get to know a wide range of people in your recovery circle to find those that you connect the most with. Once you start going to meetings, you will likely find a meeting that feels comfortable to you and that you start to attend more regularly. Many 12-step programs encourage you to find a “home group” where you regularly attend meetings. This helps home group members develop closer relationships with each other and increases accountability for everyone who regularly attends and learns to count on each other for support. A home group can be a great place to find a long-term sponsor.

A key to finding a long-term sponsor is looking for someone who has aspects of recovery in their life that you admire and want for yourself. For instance, if you have goals like improving your marriage, starting a new career path, or developing healthier self-image, it can be helpful to find a sponsor who has qualities like that and has done things that inspire you. Of course, the heart of sponsorship is trust, and developing a relationship in which you feel comfortable sharing is the most important element of sponsorship, no matter how much or how little you have in common.
It might feel strange to ask someone to sponsor you for the first time, but this act is seen by those in 12-step recovery as an honor. Even if someone is not available to sponsor you, they will appreciate that you asked them. Sharing experience, strength, and hope with newcomers is viewed as one of the foundations of staying sober in 12-step recovery, so being a sponsee is just as important and helpful as being a sponsor. Don’t forget that you have a lot to give back in the relationship with your sponsor.