Before I tell you what you need to know about sponsorship, I want to inspire you to get a sponsor by telling you ONE story of what sponsorship has done for me.
Six or so years ago, I was doing my second fifth step at my sponsor’s house. I was talking about my father and that I didn’t feel like we’d ever become close.
My sponsor told me about a story she’d heard from a woman at an AA convention. This woman had stolen money from her father, and as part of her amends, her sponsor told her to write her father a letter every week and put money it. The woman followed her sponsor’s advice and faithfully wrote to her father and stuck five dollars (or whatever she could scrape together) into an envelope and sent it off weekly.
Her father didn’t write back. He didn’t call her. She kept sending him notes though, letting him know how she was doing, saying hello, and dropping money into the mail.
Many years passed. One day, she finally got a letter from her father, and it said, “You don’t need to send me any more money, but keep those letters coming.” He’d been listening all along.
So, my sponsor shared this story with me as I was complaining and asked me one question. Are you willing to send your father one letter every week? I said yes.
I began sending my father simple emails. “Hi, how are you, I’m fine. I’m sober.” My father is a man of few words, and in the beginning, I’d get back – “glad to hear it,” or “keep it up.”
As months wore on, I began to write to him about everything. One day, I wrote him a long email, and he didn’t reply. I sent him an email telling him my feelings were hurt and he replied immediately. “I’m sorry. DON’T EVER STOP SENDING THOSE EMAILS.” Those words are the same ones the AA speaker’s father had said to her years before. THAT IS THE POWER OF SHARING OUR EXPERIENCE, STRENGTH, AND HOPE.
Now, when I write to my father, he replies with remarkable words that each feel like little miracles. I have dozens of emails that say, “You can do it,”, “I’m so proud of you,” “I love you,”. And, perhaps the most special of them all which says, “As long as you have me, you’ll never be alone.”
Our relationship is good. We are healthy and healed. My sponsor went to another AA convention not too long ago and saw the same speaker share the same story. She went up to her after the meeting and told her about me, my letters, and my father. The speaker just said, “thank you for telling me and keep on passing it on.”
Now, let’s talk about how you can go about getting an AA sponsor and begin experiencing your own miracles – both big and small.
The answer to, “what is an AA sponsor?” is very simple. An AA sponsor is a recovering alcoholic, who has worked all twelve steps with their own sponsor, and then helps another alcoholic work through the steps laid out in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Working the steps and remaining sober is a lifetime journey. As a result, sponsorship does not end after working the steps.
Our sponsors are our mentors, our sounding boards, and the voice of reason we need to grow in sobriety. Their biggest job is to provide solutions to our alcoholic thinking and help us stay sober
Newcomers should try to find a sponsor during their first thirty days of sobriety. This can feel like a daunting task if your self-esteem is lacking, if you feel shy, unwilling to trust someone, or worried you’ll be a bother. So, let’s talk about timing and strategy to set you up for success.
Many of us walk into our first meetings feeling sick. We may be shaking. Our minds may feel foggy. We may cry uncontrollably, be angry, feel detached, or terrified. We may doubt that any twelve-step program can help us, or even doubt that we want to be sober at all. Just sitting in a meeting and committing to residential treatment can feel overwhelming.
During your first thirty days, go to meetings and listen to speakers who share their stories from the podium. Listen to people that share in meetings. Listen for a voice that resonates with you, brings you hope, and sounds like the kind of person you’d like to become.
At the start or end of every meeting, those willing to be sponsors usually raise their hand. Watch the raised hands, and if you can relate to one of them, talk to them after the meeting. Remember, they raise their hands FOR you, and you are not a bother to them – you are a gift.
Once you find someone you can relate to, talk to them after a meeting, and ask them if they’d be willing to sponsor you. Ask your prospective sponsor how long they’ve been sober, if they have worked the 12 steps, and if they have their own sponsor. Ask for their phone number and call them every day for 30 days.
During this initial 30-day period, your new sponsor should get you started on working the steps. At the end of the thirty days, you’ll know if the sponsor you’ve chosen is right for you. If so, keep going. If not, part ways kindly, and find a sponsor that you can speak and relate to easily.
Some sponsors are very direct and firm. This style of sponsorship is beneficial for alcoholics who are used to manipulating others to keep their addiction going, or those who are used to being enabled. A direct sponsor can help you stay the course, relieve you of making important decisions alone, and teach you to live in the solution the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many addicts and alcoholics know they need a firm hand to stay sober. This sponsorship strategy is great.
Other sponsors use a gentler hand. Gentle sponsors also guide you firmly – just in a softer way. Some of us respond better to a more nurturing form of guidance. I knew from the beginning that I needed a gentle sponsor. I don’t respond well to coarseness; I’m too rebellious. So, the more delicate sponsor -who tells me the truth in a loving way – works for me.
Both sponsorship styles are terrific. You simply need to know what will inspire you to work the hardest. It may be helpful to think back to teachers you’ve had in school. Did you push yourself harder for the teacher that was tougher on you because they saw your potential and drove you to reach it? Or, did you put the most effort in for the teacher who softly believed in your ability to fly, and taught you using a more delicate method?
Consider the above comparison or one like it. Once you know what inspires you to give sobriety your all, you’ll see the sponsorship style that will be of the most benefit to you.
Every sponsor battles alcoholism and addiction just as we do. Sometimes, they get sick too. Other times, we outgrow our sponsor. or want to work the steps again with someone new.
There are a million reasons why you may need to find a new sponsor, but only one matters. If you are no longer getting what you need from your sponsor, it may be time to move on. If that is the case, find a new one first, and let your new sponsor guide your through the transition.
I have fired a sponsor, and it wasn’t easy. My current sponsor helped me tell my old sponsor the news. She also helped me redirect the misplaced guilt I felt for moving in a new, healthier direction. It was an uncomfortable process, but it was one I’ll never regret.
Sponsors guide us through the twelve steps. We cannot work the steps alone. Sponsors help us understand how we play a part in every relationship we have. They can look objectively at our lives and deeds, and help us break lifelong patterns that have sabotaged our success in sobriety, and every other area of our lives. What’s more, they share their past and present lives with us, and we can learn from their experience while feeling a never-before-felt sense of BELONGING.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous promises us a psychic change and a spiritual experience if we work the steps. This miracle has come true for millions of people around the globe. The art and love of sponsorship smashes any aloneness we once felt and offers us a path to freedom we could never have imagined.
Are You Ready for a New Future?