Once a person has come to WAR, their recovery journey is well underway. Detox has passed, medications, if there are any, have been stabilized, withdrawal symptoms have eased considerably or disappeared altogether; life is on the upswing and the work to re-enter normal life has begun in earnest. They’re attending daily meetings, making important connections, working on coping skills and abilities to maintain sobriety, researching jobs, handling more freedom, getting ready to return home.
This is an incredibly important time in the recovery process, a time that can make or break an addict. These moments will be some of the first moments of freedom since entering treatment they have to make decisions for themselves which will directly impact their sobriety moving forward, the initial tests of the journey to being sober.
During this time at treatment facilities like WAR, massive amounts of supports are in place for those on the recovery journey to help ensure that temptation is met with strength and conviction. One of the most important supports established during this time, and indeed one that will have a lasting impact far beyond treatment, is a sponsor.
Traditionally, a sponsor is someone who is an addict themselves, but found success and sobriety by working through the 12 Steps as outlined within the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous 12 step programs.
While 12 step programs are still very prominent in the recovery community, a sponsor does not need to be well versed in 12 steps. Nowadays, a sponsor is a recovering addict who has ample insight into the recovery journey to share and has a real care and concern for others who are in their own recovery journey as well. They share their own troubles, their relapses, their successes, their tactics for sobriety, and their lessons learned during their recovery journey with sponsees who are often just beginning their own trek to sobriety.
Sponsors seem to be synonymous with treatment and recovery. But why? What is a sponsor exactly? What is their role in the recovery process? And why might an addict who is on their own recovery journey choose to become one?
Let’s break that down.
What is a sponsor?
In many ways, a sponsor is like a good friend, a mentor, and an experienced guide on the path to recovery. A sponsor is someone who has suffered from addiction and has experienced recovery themselves.
A sponsor’s primary responsibility is to help a sponsee work through the pitfalls and difficulties of recovering and maintaining sobriety, sometimes through the 12 Steps, sometimes not. While sponsorship can be an extremely rewarding experience, it can also be a scary one as well during the early stages of a sponsee’s addiction recovery.
This relationship requires the sponsee to be honest, vulnerable, and divulge truths about their drinking or using experiences to their chosen sponsor that may be incredibly uncomfortable for both the sponsee and the sponsor. This may be the first time an addict is truly honest with another human being about the exact nature of their disease. Being vulnerable with another individual is no easy task, but it is essential in developing the necessary foundation for long-term recovery. Conversely, the sponsor needs to be strong within their own journey, as the stories, emotions, and experiences shared by the sponsee can oftentimes be triggering to fellow addicts.
For many in early recovery, the vulnerability that starts to develop in the relationship is a totally new experience. It is this honesty that starts to lay the foundation for a powerful relationship that can be integral to recovery. That is the sponsor/sponsee relationship that a sponsor seeks to build.
Do I need a sponsor?
Truthfully, there is no need to get a sponsor. But for many who are on the never ending journey of addiction recovery, having someone beyond a family member or friend (who may have no idea what being a recovering addict is like) is an essential piece of successful addiction recovery and sobriety maintenance.
Addiction recovery is different for everyone. What works for one may not work for another. Many recovering addicts have found success without a sponsor, and many have found success only with one. As is the case with everything else in one’s own recovery journey, a decision about how to go about setting one’s self up for the best chance of success in recovery needs to be made.
A sponsor relationship is tough sometimes, they will call out weaknesses and challenge habits that have long comforted the addict. A sponsor will also support in ways and at times that others won’t, or can’t.
Is a sponsor right for you? Only you will know that answer.
Why become a sponsor?
Being a sponsor is a daunting task! And a full time job. Not only must a sponsor be strong within their own recovery journey, that sponsor needs to be strong for others in their journey as well.
It’s hard work, but it can mean the difference between success and failure for many different addicts.
There is no formal training program to becoming a sponsor in an organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, AA prides itself on its casual informality as this makes the meetings and events friendlier and more conducive to building long-term relationships. This way of viewing the relationship between sponsor and sponsee is an effective one. Casual, conversational, friendly, and open. This is where the connection is made.
The best way to prepare yourself for becoming a sponsor is to live and work the philosophy of a sober life. By living a sober and drug-free lifestyle, you will set a much-needed positive example for others.
Sometimes, deciding that you are ready to become a sponsor is an easy choice to make. You may be asked to be a sponsor and immediately feel a sense of pride that someone sees you as a person to emulate. For some, however, the confidence to be a sponsor is harder to achieve. If you have been asked to be a sponsor and you aren’t certain whether you are ready, perhaps asking your own sponsor their feelings on the matter would be a wise way to begin this journey.
Am I ready to take on another’s addiction journey in addition to my own?
Am I doing this because I truly care about the person or people that I will be sponsoring?
Can I be strong enough for everyone?
Do I have the time and patience that it will take to walk the path of initial recovery with my sponsee(s)? And beyond?
These are questions that the one contemplating becoming a sponsor should consider.
Sponsorship is equal parts rewarding and frustrating. No matter how effective a sponsor is, there will be failures. Sponsees will relapse. A sponsor needs to be strong – so as to not fail in their journeys themselves – and patient as that sponsee starts over.
In the end, sponsorship is a noble calling, and a successful sponsor will positively impact many addicts throughout their time as they recover and reach a point where, perhaps, they even become sponsors themselves.