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How Do I Choose a Sponsor in My 12-Step Program?

How Do I Choose a Sponsor in My 12-Step Program

If this is your first time in a 12 step program, welcome to awkwardly navigating the rules, rituals and processes of being involved in said 12 step program. Showing up at meetings and hearing the different things people might chant along, trying to figure out how to NOT hold hands with someone at the ending prayer, or how to effectively avoid eye contact with others are all part of those early days of getting involved with this ‘thing’.

Ok, so now you’ve decided you’d like to participate in working the 12 steps but you aren’t sure exactly how to start- and god forbid, go up to someone, feeling like you’re asking them on a blind date, to be your sponsor. How do you even go about all of this? It’s a little bit flustering, but it’s possible! Let me share with you how I recommend people choose a sponsor in a 12 step program.

1) Pick someone who has what you want

It’s common to hear in meetings, “choose a sponsor that has what you want” because if someone has what you want, then you can learn how to obtain that as well. It’s important to know exactly WHAT it is that you want though. Coming into recovery, many of us come in broken, penniless, homeless, jobless, or relationshipless and it might seem appealing to gravitate towards others who seem to ‘have it all’ and appear to be very successful. There is nothing wrong with becoming successful while in recovery, but these are bottom layer gifts and not the top shelf gifts that we hope to earn around here. Characteriscs that I was really lacking before getting clean were self worth, honesty, perseverance, compassion and integrity, THESE were the things that I actually wanted to learn from a person and the REAL gifts of recovery. I can obtain a job or a relationship, but I will certainly not keep them if I don’t actually have the skills learned to sustain these things. When looking for a sponsor, keep an eye out for consistency of character. When you see that people behave in ways consistently, it truly tells you who they are.

2) Pick someone who you see participating in their own recovery

You might meet someone once at a meeting and hit it off with them well and ask them to be your sponsor based off of the ease of rapport you felt, however I would refrain from fully going forward and asking someone to be your sponsor until you know for sure that they themselves are also involved in their own recovery. This is a cyclical process, we can only keep what we have by giving it away and continuing on in our own practice. Asking someone to be your sponsor who perhaps hasn’t attended a meeting in a long time, doesn’t have a sponsor for themselves, and would have to dust off their stepwork might not be a good indicator that you’re being led by someone who knows how to fully work the program. They could be a good sober support to you or a friend in recovery, but they might not be the best to walk you through doing your steps.

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3) Pick someone who is a good listener

Let me preface this: YOUR SPONSOR IS NOT YOUR THERAPIST. A sponsor is someone who is meant to help you through the 12 steps of recovery and walk the journey with you, they are not trained professionals who are being paid to psychoanalyze you or be your therapeutic support. Even though a sponsor is not a therapist, it is a good idea that they have the quality of being a good listener.

Ending up with a sponsor who does not make you feel heard, typically does not end well. The relationship between sponsor and sponsee is a give and take of communication and listening- find someone who you feel heard by and who you feel comfortable opening up to.

a female sponsor friend listening to her friend sitting in front of the ocean

4) Pick someone who has a working knowledge of the steps

This actually should have been my first suggestion based on how important it is in choosing a sponsor. You absolutely want to pick someone who actually KNOWS what they’re sponsoring you in and LIVES by what they’re sponsoring you in. This is a program of lived experience and you want to have a sponsor who is truly living the program that they are working. Certain people can regurgitate steps or repeat what they’ve heard in meetings, but are they actually living by the spiritual principles the program talks about? Are they practicing these steps in their life and in all of their affairs? This may not be easy to discern on your own when you’re new and trying to find someone to be your sponsor, but it helps if you hear others talking highly and respectfully about this person.

5) Take suggestion

female listening to her friend's suggestion

Lastly, if you’re really overwhelmed and unable to choose a sponsor through the sea of people you encounter at meetings, I would ask for some suggestions. You can ask friends who already have a sponsor to help recommend others or raise your hand at a meeting and share that you are looking for a sponsor and see if people drop names to you. When people are suggested by others, often (not always, but often) it means that they already have a reputation of being a good sponsor.

However you decide to find your first sponsor, I wish you luck! This is an ever evolving and growing process and through the ups and downs and uncertainties, if you persevere, you will find your way. May you pick the sponsor that helps you begin and continue on in your 12 step journey to recovery!

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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Medical Disclaimer: Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken in place of medical advice. Before making any decisions regarding your health, please consult your doctor. The staff at Stairway Resource Center develops a custom treatment plan for each of our patients. Specific medical advice will be provided to our patients by our professional providers while in our care.