When I found my way into Alcoholics Anonymous, I knew I had found my people. I was beat and I knew it. It was time to start the process of recovery and I was ready to do whatever was suggested.
I hadn't been in the rooms long before I heard about the concept of sponsorship. A sponsor in AA is basically a guide or a mentor who will take you through the 12 steps. That's it in the simplest of terms and it doesn't need to be any more complicated than that.
But perhaps you've heard the AA program described as a simple program for complicated people? Well, yes, we certainly do like to complicate things!
Choosing a Sponsor
What should you look for in a sponsor? There are a few things to consider, but I would start with simply getting to as many AA meetings as you can and listening. As you listen, you'll get to know the regulars at your meeting. You'll also connect with some of them before and after meetings, so, if you can, try and arrive a little early and allow some time at the end to help with the clearing up, maybe have another cup of tea and get to know people.
This is worth mentioning up front. You'll be feeling vulnerable and that can leave you open to developing feelings and attachments. This is perfectly natural, and it is why it recommended that you choose a sponsor who is not of the gender that you are usually attracted to. If you're attracted to both genders, just keep in mind the idea that you're looking for a mentor and not a partner. Your sponsor will probably keep the boundaries clear and well defined, but it's something to keep in mind.
Phew! Okay, now that that gender stuff is out the way, what next?
When you feel ready, think about who in the room you feel some identification with. It might be someone of a similar background. It might be someone whose shares you've identified with. There can be all sorts of reasons why you might feel drawn to someone in the rooms.
Think about how the shares of others in the room have resonated with you. Have their shares felt helpful to you? Do they talk in a way that you can understand? Could you imagine spending time with them outside of the rooms? Would you feel safe with them?
Don't feel afraid of talking about sponsorship with different people. Nobody with a decent length of recovery is going to feel uncomfortable about answering your questions and maybe even running a few recommendations by you.
For me, I chose someone that I could imagine having a drink with. I know, it sounds crazy, but that's how it was and it worked for me!
What Should I Expect from my Sponsor?
We're all different and unique. Sponsors are too. No two sponsors will have exactly the same ideas about the best way to help you, and that's as it should be because YOU are unique too. What works with one alcoholic won't necessarily work with another. Sponsors have to be flexible in their approach.
Generally speaking, a sponsor will guide you through the 12 steps by sharing with you how they did the steps. If your sponsor has sponsored others, they will also have a good idea of what worked and what didn't work with others.
Your sponsor should be willing to give you the time that you need to find your sobriety and keep it. They should be willing to give out their number and be available for you whenever you need to call. Recovery is a serious business and any sponsor worth their salt knows this and will make themselves available to you as much as they can. I mean naturally if you can avoid calling them in the middle of the night, you should, but if you really really need to or you feel like you're going to pick up a drink, make the call.
In my role as a sponsor, I like to block out time when we can work together, so maybe like a Saturday afternoon or one evening a week. In my early days, my sponsor worked with another sponsor and we would meet as a foursome, two sponsors, two newcomers, and we would work through the steps together. I also had one-on-one sessions with my sponsor, including a couple of rather long ones over a weekend to complete step 5.
What Should I NOT Expect from my Sponsor?
Sponsors are people. They are also recovering alcoholics and, believe it or not, are still susceptible to all the same issues that you are. Taking on a newcomer as a sponsee requires time, dedication, compassion, empathy. So if you're not serious about following the program, and I mean fully committed, consider waiting before asking someone. Alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful and you may find yourself beginning to have doubts about whether you actually are an alcoholic or not. Only you can answer that question.
If you are serious and committed, great, but if you're not and you find yourself slipping night after night, there would be an emotional toll on your sponsor as they would feel as if they were failing. It's heartbreaking to spend time with a newcomer and then to see them disappear. Of course it happens, time and again. But do try and be respectful of your sponsor's emotions.
What's In It for the Sponsor?
Ah, that's a great question. I'm glad you asked! There's a paradox at play in Alcoholics Anonymous that I think extends further into life outside the rooms, and that is that we get to keep what we have by giving it away.
Sobriety is hard won and can be challenging to keep. This goes double for serenity. When I'm struggling with life and feeling overwhelmed with my task list and family obligations and workload, I will still be available for a newcomer. When I get into that zone of sharing my experience, strength and hope, my serenity returns. I get perspective on life and start to see that all the things I'd been overwhelmed about aren't important at all. Serenity is all that there is. That is my lodestone. So for me, helping others is a way of getting my own serenity back. It's not a zero sum game — the more serenity I give away, the more my own serenity gets stronger. It's like a magical feedback loop of miracles.
Should I Do the Steps?
No, but seriously. You should. I know it can seem daunting and scary, but this is where the old saying that you're not alone comes into play. Anyone who knows the steps will be able to explain it to you in a way that makes sense. The way they are set out in the Big Book can seem a little archaic and out of touch sometimes, but it's not about the words so much as what the words mean. That's where a good sponsor can guide you, by interpreting the language of the Big Book into simpler language that will make sense to you. The main thing is that you avoid that first drink today. You'll give yourself the best chance of doing that day after day if you can build up a strong foundation of recovery. In my experience, that means doing the steps.
I hope this has been helpful to you. You might like to watch a video I made covering some of these ideas. I think it can help to see someone talking rather than just reading words on a screen.
If you have any questions, @me on Twitter and I'll get back to you.
And remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!