Questions From Newcomers: What Should You Look For In A Sponsor

Original Draft of "How It Works"

There is a line in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that reads, “If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it, then you are ready to take certain steps.” It is accepted in the rooms of the 12-step fellowships that the way we achieve lasting sobriety is by making changes in our lives. The steps are the basis of those changes. They provide a framework for action that we take to begin to get our lives back on track and on the way to normal living. They are based on ideas that have been found to work – if we work at them.

In order to “work” the steps we need guidance, and that is the purpose of a sponsor. A sponsor's job is not to lead us around by the hand, or counsel us in our relationship problems, or lend us money, or provide transportation, or be our friend – although some sponsors do some of those things. Emphatically, it is not the job of a sponsor to tell us how to live our lives. The purpose of a sponsor is to guide us through the steps. Many of us continue to use our sponsors as sounding boards and develop lasting friendships after we complete the steps, but that is a bonus. If a sponsor has taken us through the 12 steps carefully and thoroughly, then he or she has completed the job. Anything else is secondary to that duty.

That said, the sensible thing for us to do is to choose a sponsor strictly on how carefully we believe they seem to have done the steps. We want sponsors who are clearly sober, who have obviously worked through most of their issues, who are living sober lives in the community, and who are generally the sorts of people that we would like to become.

That means that, among other things, we want sponsors who won't become distractions from our program. If we are male, we want male sponsors. If we are female, we want female sponsors. If we are gay, we carefully choose sponsors to whom we are not likely to become attracted, of whatever gender. Sponsors and sponsees work closely together, share confidences, and develop extremely close relationships within the context of the program. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of carrying those relationships too far. In that case, we no longer have a sponsor/sponsee relationship, regardless of how we may try to fool ourselves, we will be distracted from our program, and we are risking not only our sobriety but that of the other party as well.

Another common trap is to choose sponsors who are “right for us.” We are in no position to make those decisions. If we knew what was right for us, we wouldn't need meetings. My advice is to choose the person in the room who has a quiet, solid sort of sobriety, the person that the chair calls on when no one else wants to share, the person who talks about how he or she did it, not about how others should do it. The person who doesn't necessarily share all that much, but who invariably leaves us thinking “Yeah!”

Another indication of a good sponsor is to take a look at their sponsor, the one who will become our “grand-sponsor.” A string of two (or three) solid individuals who seem really to have it together will virtually guarantee not only that we will get a good sponsor but that we will have good resources to fall back on if needed.

Finally, remembering the reason for getting a sponsor to begin with, we want one who talks about the steps – about their understanding of them, what they have meant in their life, how they continue to incorporate those ideas into their daily living, and so forth. High-falutin' ideas about spirituality, or religion, or New Age ideas have nothing to do with sobriety. Spirituality is about being a good person and doing the next right thing. Religion and New Age ideas have no bearing on the steps, and should be pursued separately if one desires. It is easy to be swayed by big talk. Look for the person who lives the steps, and you won't go far wrong.

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