What is a Sponsor?

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When looking at the various options out there for alcohol treatment, and specifically alcohol treatment in Florida, sponsorship is an important topic that often comes up after a person leaves inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment. Sponsoring other alcoholics or addicts is considered a vital part of the 12-step treatment process. Sponsorship is the idea of a newly sober person working in partnership with a veteran of the 12-steps. A common occurrence is for someone who has 20+ years of sobriety to have a person that they sponsor with maybe 5 or 6 years of sobriety. In turn, that person with 5 or 6 years in the program might begin to sponsor a newly sober person, and so the cycle continues. I use the example of someone with more than 5 years of sobriety because that is the advice that many people in 12-step alcohol or drug treatment programs often give. It is usually advisable to have years of sobriety under your belt and to have gone through all the steps before you sponsor another person, and it will soon become clear why that is. A sponsor is a person that a newly sober person should be able to depend on more than anyone else. Most people would think of a close friend or family member in that way, but often family and friends are not in the 12-step program themselves. A sponsor will have great knowledge of the 12 steps, knowledge of all the pitfalls to success in sobriety, and they have been there before themselves.

A common task for a person visiting meetings for the first time is to gather a few phone numbers from other sober people at the meetings. This is a list of people that you can call if you ever have the urge to drink alcohol, take a drug, or you really need someone to talk to. Once a person has met many people in the meetings they are attending, and has become acquainted with individuals with more experience in sobriety than themselves, a person that you would want at the very top of that call list is the type of person that you might also approach about sponsorship. It is also important to remember, for the sponsored person and the “sponsee” that a sponsoring relationship is a huge responsibility for the sponsor. It is not an equal partnership at the beginning. A person with long sobriety will often have the experience of being asked to sponsor a person, and then that person leaves the program a few days later, but the sponsor cannot do such a thing to a sponsee. If a sponsor was to suddenly relapse, or leave the program and stop participating, that could put anyone who they sponsor at risk. That word “sponsee”, invented for the 12-step process, is partly intended to distinguish between the two roles. You are not sponsoring each other. A sponsee helps a sponsor stay sober by giving the sponsor a chance to serve and help other people, but a sponsor helps the sponsee even more directly and importantly, by being a shoulder to lean on, a source of good advice, by guiding a person through the 12-step process, and by setting an example for what long sobriety can look like.

The process of finding a sponsor can be easier for some than others. It is a social process, so meeting new people and talking to different people is going to be necessary, but the people you will meet at 12-step meetings know this. Most groups and clubs have good people around who will seek new people out and talk to them about their progress. It is also important to note that the search for a sponsor is good practice for life in the 12-steps. Talking to other alcoholics and addicts is the foundation of the 12-step process, so anything that helps get a person involved with their newfound fellowship can be incredibly positive. Hopefully, this article has given people who may seek alcohol treatment at a treatment center in Florida or elsewhere some good information on sponsorship, as sponsorship will be an important topic of discussion at any treatment center that involves the 12-step programs. There are also various other rules and pieces of advice for the sponsorship relationship, which I can maybe talk about in more depth another time.
By Tim Cannon