8 Tips for a Successful Relationship with Your Sponsor

In many 12-Step recovery programs, and increasingly in other recovery programs as well, you’ll come across the concept of a sponsor. A sponsor is essentially a mentor for someone new to recovery. Their role is to encourage, guide, and support you through the recovery journey, and to be there for you when you need advice or when you are close to relapse.

It’s important to remember, however, that both sponsors and sponsees are human beings, with individual personalities. Not every sponsor is a good fit for every addict, and sometimes the sponsor-sponsee relationship can break down. In order to choose the best sponsor for you, and to maintain a healthy and helpful relationship, here are some key points to bear in mind.

1. Consider a Sponsor’s Experience

A good sponsor doesn’t have to have 20 years of sobriety under their belt, but they do need to be further along the recovery process than you are, and preferably with some substantial time sober. In a 12-Step program, your sponsor’s key role is to guide you through the steps, so it follows that they must be a considerable way into the program themselves in order to be able to help you.

2. Avoid Romantic Entanglements

When you’re newly in recovery, a new relationship is frankly the last thing you need. Since the relationship between a sponsor and a sponsee becomes very close, it’s common for sexual relationships to develop, but that can lead to all kinds of problems down the line. Avoid choosing a sponsor you feel attracted to; it only muddies the water and really won’t be helpful for you or for them.

3. Choose a Happy, Secure, and Stable Sponsor

Your sponsor needs to be someone who is happy in their own recovery. Happiness is relative, of course, but a depressed sponsor will have too many problems of their own to deal with to effectively help you with yours. Look for someone who radiates inner peace and who is successful in their own life, in whatever way you or they may define success (not necessarily materially).

4. Listen To Your Instincts About Trustworthiness

Your gut instinct counts when choosing a sponsor. You will be sharing a lot of personal, confidential information with this person, especially in a 12-Step program where you may share the Step 5 “moral inventory” with them. If your instincts tell you that you cannot entirely trust them with such information, choose someone else.

5. Consider a Sponsor’s Other Commitments

If your potential sponsor already has a lot of sponsees, that can be a good sign that they are a good mentor; it can also mean, however, that they will have little time to devote to each individual sponsee. Someone with no sponsees may lack experience in the sponsor process, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a good fit for you—use common sense and find what suits your needs.

6. Avoid a Micromanaging Sponsor

It’s your life, and it’s your recovery. Your sponsor is there to help and guide you, not to dictate every detail of how you should live. If your sponsor wants to control every aspect of your life, or lay down restrictive rules about what you can and cannot do, look elsewhere. Even if this is well-intentioned rather than an ego or power trip on their part, it is still unhelpful to you, as you must ultimately learn to manage your own life independently.

7. Seek External Advice

On the other side of the coin, avoid relying on your sponsor for advice which is not related to recovery. He or she is just an individual, like you. Unless they are qualified to offer financial, health, or other advice, seek professional input elsewhere to avoid being led astray. It’s not fair to your sponsor to put them under that kind of pressure, and their advice in these areas may not be reliable in any case.

8. Continue Therapy

Don’t decide that your sponsor is your one and only support during your recovery. It’s important that you continue to attend meetings or therapy or to engage with the rest of your program. Consider your sponsor an invaluable extra support, not a replacement for the support system you already had in place.

With these common sense guidelines in place, you should be able to choose and benefit from a sponsor who can become a lifelong friend as well as a critical crutch in your addiction recovery.

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