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Do I Really Need a Sponsor in Recovery?

a male client speaking to a rehab staff regarding sponsorship

If you’re moving out of addiction treatment you likely think the worst is over. That’s true, you’ve made it through withdrawal, hopefully learned coping mechanisms and skills, are working on changing behavior, and have learned a number of tools to help you in your recovery journey. But, remember that you’re not cured, and that your best chance to stay sober consistently is to be “in recovery”.

That’s one reason why many people move out of addiction treatment and into long-term support programs like 12-Step and other self-help groups. You get ongoing support, accountability, and motivation in your recovery journey, supported by people who are going through the same process you are. Most importantly, a sponsor is there to guide you through the process, offering assistance and helping you to find and meet your recovery goals.

What Does a Sponsor Do?

A sponsor is a volunteer, usually in a 12-step setting. This means that their roles can change depending on the person, their capabilities, their progress, what you ask of them, and what you need. There is no exact list of responsibilities that a sponsor takes on and has to specifically meet – although they will have guidance on what to try to offer. However, on average, sponsors offer:

  • 12 Step Work – A sponsor’s most important role in a 12-step program like AA or NA is to take you through the 12 steps of recovery. In addition, they can fulfill other functions that help you in your recovery as well.
  • Accountability – Your sponsor is someone who takes some responsibility for helping you to stay clean and sober. This means you’ll have someone to report to, someone to look to for accountability, and someone who is directly saying “I’m here for you and I am here to help you stay accountable”. That can be a lot of responsibility. But, it can also help you to stay clean and sober, because accountability to someone who knows what you’re going through is a big deal. Not all sponsors will be good at asking for accountability. But, you will have to tell them when you relapse, if you relapse, and you will get to talk to them about it. And, knowing you have to tell them if you relapse will make it harder for you to relapse.
  • Sharing – Your sponsor is there for you to talk to, to share about cravings with, to discuss your challenges with, to celebrate your successes with.  That’s much or personal than sharing in a group setting with people you possibly don’t know very well. It’s also much easier to truly share when you know the people in question have similar experiences. That’s true whether you want to talk about cravings, about things you did while under the influence and how they make you feel, about approaching people in your life, about sharing that you’re sober, etc.
  • Support – Your sponsor has been where you are now and is hopefully further along the recovery track. They can offer support, advice, share their own choices in that, and offer advice from experience. They can also offer meaningful support when you’re experiencing cravings and it’s not unusual for people to call their sponsors to ask for help and talking you through cravings. Not everyone can offer that kind of support, but it can be very meaningful in your recovery.
  • Inspiration – Your sponsor has been where you are. They are also further along on the path of recovery. Ideally, they can function as inspiration and as motivation, showing you how far they’ve come and therefore how far you can go. That’s not meant to show you that you aren’t there yet. Instead, it should show you that you can get where you want to be because other people who are very real and very part of your life were able to do the same and are there to help you. People don’t usually become sponsors until they have several years of experience with recovery – meaning that they’ve gone through most of what you will and that they have probably had run-ins with relapse and recovering from that as well.
  • Grounding – It might not sound like something you actually want from a sponsor, but your sponsor will help you to ground, to set expectations, and to approach recovery as a much longer and time-consuming process. Having a reality check in place isn’t great for motivation. However, it is great to keep you grounded so you can focus on recovery, putting one foot in front of the other, and moving forward.

Of course, your sponsor may do very different things. In some groups, your sponsor may even have a list of tasks. Asking what kind of support you can expect from a sponsor in the group you’re in may be important if you want to set expectations for yourself.

Get Your Questions Answered Now

How to Tell If You Need a Sponsor?

If you’re in early recovery, a sponsor can almost always help you to stay in recovery. However, you can also ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I able to handle cravings without having anyone to talk to or support me?
  • Do I have people to talk to and things to do that will keep me away from my friends and acquaintances who use/drink?
  • Do I know how to approach friends and family? Or could I use help and support when figuring out how to talk to them?
  • Are you ashamed of yourself? Do you see yourself as broken? Or are you certain that you can work on healing?
  • Are you afraid of connecting with others because you’ve hurt so many people in the past?
  • Are you lost on what to do next or what steps to take?
  • Do you know what you’re going to do if you’re faced with cravings or want to drink or use?
female client asking a staff if she should have a sponsor in recovery

Often, a sponsor can help with all of that, by providing guidance, support, and ongoing motivation. They won’t have all the answers, but they will be able to help. And, that means you do need a sponsor.

Asking a Sponsor for Help

It’s not necessary to have a sponsor in recovery. However, it can greatly help you on your recovery journey. Finding someone who’s been where you are going, who can act as a guide, and who can offer support and inspiration can make a big difference to your recovery. Of course, that will often mean building relationships, asking for help, and investing in your self-help groups, otherwise no one will want to help you. Once you do, asking someone to sponsor you can deepen your relationships with them and with the group – giving you the opportunity to build your recovery on mutual support, community, and asking for help.

If you or a loved one is seeking help for alcohol or other substance abuse, contact us at Stairway Resource Center today. At Stairway Resource Center we provide a 60 to 90-day outpatient program that takes place in an engaging and supportive community setting. We offer dual diagnosis treatment and daily group and individual therapy for our clients, in addition to fun community-based events and activities.

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