Finding a good sponsor when you’re recovering from addiction is a bit like finding a good coach in sports. It’s someone who has been through what you’re going through, knows what to expect, and can help you from knowledge and experience.
A good sponsor acts as a friend and confidant, someone who can sympathize with what you’re going through in your recovery and offers helpful advice about how to get through the absolute lowest points. In a 12-step program, they’ve been through about 10 or 11 of them already, and they remember very well how difficult the first two or three were.
But like coaches, there are different types of sponsors with different styles of helping you. There is no one right way to be a good sponsor, it’s all about compatibility. Some sponsors are more supportive and compassionate, while others focus on drive and motivation, like a personal trainer. There are as many styles of sponsorship as there are personality types, and finding the right one for you simply means finding someone who you feel at ease with.
That being said, while there is no one right way to be a sponsor, there are some general guidelines about what makes a good one and what makes a bad one. So let’s talk about what you should generally be looking for in a sponsor, and what they can do for you.
What a Sponsor Does for You
In a recovery process, particularly one with several different “tiers” of recovery, a sponsor is someone who is much further along in the recovery process than you, and has been clean for a long while. With their experience, especially in 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, they can help you not only navigate the rougher parts of your recovery, but also show you around and help you discover new resources in your recovery.
They provide a wealth of information and experience, and you can trust that it is coming from someone who has been in your position before. You are, understandably, going to have a lot of questions as you go through the process of recovery. Beating addiction comes with a lot of firsts, and you will undoubtedly run into a lot of metaphorical brick walls.
When you’re stuck wondering, “what do I do now,” having a sponsor can help you chart out your next couple of steps. They’ve been there and they understand your situation, and can share not only their own experiences when they were in your shoes, but those of friends, other program members, and perhaps even their own sponsor.
In other words, having a sponsor through recovery is like having a mentor who you can confide in, and who can help you through the toughest times.
So how do you find the right sponsor for you? Well, here are a few guidelines.
Find Someone You’re Comfortable Talking To
This seems like an obvious requirement, but it’s important to mention regardless. And it goes deeper than just small talk. We’re not talking about simply finding someone you’re comfortable shooting the breeze with.
A good sponsor is someone you confide in. They’re going to understand you and your circumstances, and they’re going to care. You absolutely must feel comfortable being candid with them, because they may be the person you go to with a problem you don’t feel anyone else will understand.
A good sponsor will know some of your deepest secrets, and you’ll be able to trust them with that. You have to be able to trust them with that. A sponsor you can’t trust with some of your most personal problems and issues isn’t going to be much good to you.
Because when you hit a rough spot, when you’re thinking about relapsing, or when you have relapsed, that’s something most people don’t want to tell the people around them. They already unfairly carry the stigma of “recovering alcoholic” or “recovering drug addict.” Nobody wants to admit that they’re having trouble staying away from their old ways.
But the threat of relapse happens to everyone in recovery at some point. Nobody will understand that better than someone who has been through it before. But if you don’t have a strong enough bond of trust built up with your sponsor to tell them when you’re having those urges, there isn’t anything they’ll be able to do to help you.
That’s why the most important thing in finding a sponsor is to find someone you can talk to openly, who is understanding about your situation and can help you in a way you’re comfortable with and will respond to. Having a lifeline is no good if you’re not willing to grab it.
Find the Balance Between Getting Advice and Being Told What to Do
One way that sponsors are not like coaches is that they are not supposed to get in your face and tell you exactly what to do. Some people, when approached about being a sponsor, misunderstand their role as someone who is supposed to exert control, rather than simply be a source of support.
Good sponsors are not those who try to control your life. They may offer advice or let you in on methods that worked for them, or for other members. But their job isn’t to tell you what to do. Nobody can lead your recovery except you.
On the other hand, it’s not helpful to have a sponsor that offers you very little advice, either. The key is to find a good balance. They should be a helpful confidant without being an overbearing boss.
That can be a difficult balance to strike, but it is an absolute must. It is crucial that you remain in control of your own recovery.
Choose Your Sponsor Like You Would Choose a Role Model
When you go to recovery meetings, you’ll likely find a lot of people you like. Some people have a certain charisma to them, and they seem like a lot of fun, like people you’d really love to spend time around.
These people aren’t necessarily the best sponsor for you. Your ideal sponsor isn’t necessarily the most fun person to be around (though you don’t want them to be a total bore, either).
The best sponsor for you, personally, is someone you look up to, or even envy. It’s someone you want to model your new sober life after. If you get to know someone in meetings and you find yourself looking at them and saying, “yeah, that’s what I want, too,” then you may have found a good sponsor.
You’re ultimately looking for someone who has broken the cycle of addiction and will help you get your life back to a state that you’re happy with. So if you find someone whose life you want yourself (or at least as a general model), they can offer you particularly helpful advice on what they did to get where they are from the depths of addiction, and you can apply it directly to your own life.
Take Your Time Making a Decision
It isn’t necessary to choose a sponsor for yourself, but the benefits of having a go-to resource for questions and concerns is invaluable. But that doesn’t mean you need to pick somebody out at your first meeting.
You should wait until you really make some connections and get to know some people before choosing a sponsor. Naturally, you can change your mind if you believe you’ve made the wrong choice. But it’s best to give yourself the time you need to make the right call the first time. Remember, you want a sponsor who is:
- Far along in the recovery process, and has a long streak of sobriety
- Consistently available at meetings
- Easy for you to talk to
- A good role model for the sober life you want
- Helpful, but not overbearing or controlling
Like addiction treatment, there isn’t any such thing as a one-size-fits all choice for a good sponsor. It’s something you have to decide yourself after careful consideration. But follow these guidelines, and you will at least have a good idea of what you’re looking for.
Armed with that information, you can find a great sponsor in your area that may just tip the scales in your favor for recovery, and even become a friend for life.