How Do I Choose a Sponsor in Recovery?

people in 12 step program
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Moving out of a rehab program and into long-term recovery usually means choosing a 12-Step group and sticking to it. Once you’ve become part of the group, you’ll be asked to pick a 12-step program sponsor. However, don’t be in a rush. There’s no requirement to pick a sponsor right away and, in fact, it’s better to build relationships, to get to know people, and to figure who you want to learn from. Of course, you don’t to wait too long either. The point of a sponsor is to have someone who can guide you through the process of the 12 steps and through recovery. So, you do want to choose a sponsor without too much delay. At the same time, that process can be intimidating. Where do you start? How do you choose the right person?

Sponsors are a key part of the social accountability and support that groups like AA create. But, getting started takes time. This information should help you decide when and how to select your sponsor.

Get to Know People

It’s an important step in becoming an active member of your 12-step group to think about choosing a sponsor. That means you should participate in multiple meetings, you should know several people on a first-name basis, and you should have a good idea of what is going on and when. If someone is going to commit to helping you stay clean and sober you should be committing to the group.

But, further, getting to know your 12-step group will introduce you to the people who might be your sponsors. And, it will ensure that they know you. Asking someone to be a sponsor doesn’t mean they have to pick you. They can say yes or no based on how well you get along, how they feel about you and your stories, and even on how well they think you’ll commit to help.

Sober for the Long-Term

Your sponsor should be clean and sober for the longer term. That means they should have worked through all of the 12 steps and they should be in ongoing recovery. Often, people try to jump into roles of helping others as quickly as possible. That’s why people in early stage recovery often try to be sponsors or try to volunteer at shelters or get into training to become counselors. Being clean and sober feels good and you want to help others feel that too. But, at this stage, you’re at incredibly high risk for relapse. And exposing you to someone with worse problems than you have heightens that risk.

Choosing a sponsor who has been clean and sober for a longer period means you choose someone who’s more emotionally and mentally stable. If they’ve built up the habits to stay clean and sober for 2 years or so, they’re going to have a much harder time relapsing because of something you say or do than someone who has been sober for 30 days. That’s important for you because it affects the quality of support your sponsor can offer. In addition, someone who’s been sober for longer can give better insight into what you experience, because they’ve had more time to experience it themselves. 

people in 12 step program

Part of the Group

Every 12-step group has a mix of attendees. Some will attend meetings and go home and will never really interact no matter how long they’ve been there. Others are just court-ordered and don’t want to contribute or be part of the group. But, you’ll find many people who invest in their 12-step group, who offer support, who ask for support, and who have good and healthy relationships inside the group.  Those people make ideal sponsors. That’s not only because it means that person is invested and willing to put time into the group. It also means they’ll understand how to build a relationship with you. And they can help you to learn how to do the same, as many people in early recovery struggle with this skill.

Is Reliable

You’ll want to assess how your sponsor manages themselves and other’s expectations of them. For example, do they show up on time? Are they sponsoring anyone else? Do they contribute to group meetings? Do they consistently do the things they say they will? If they’re not reliable, they won’t’ make a good sponsor.

Of course, when you ask, they’ll be asking the same thing of you. Are you reliably putting in effort? Are you showing up on time? Are you practicing and following the 12 steps? Doing your homework? Reliability goes both ways. But, if your sponsor doesn’t show it, they can’t be a good role model, and that should be a dealbreaker.

Takes Care of Themselves

Good self-care is critical to recovery. And, that means your sponsor should do a good job with self-care. That doesn’t mean they have to spend 10 hours in the gym a week. What it does mean is that they should invest in good sleep, in eating balanced meals, in setting boundaries, in not taking on more than they could handle, and in building sustainable routines.

 If your prospective sponsor is chronically under slept, relies on sugary drinks and caffeine for energy, or has no qualms about skipping meals all day, they probably aren’t very good at self care. Of course, you shouldn’t look for perfection. Your sponsor will be learning just like you. But, on average, they should invest in doing the right thing for themselves and their physical and mental health. Otherwise, they’ll never be able to inspire or guide you to do the same. 

Asks for Help

Why would you want the person who’s helping you to ask for help? Because everyone needs it. If your sponsor can reach out when they are struggling, can share incidents when they are tempted, and can ask the group and the community for support, it’s a good sign that they are well-adjusted and recovering in a healthy way. No one can manage alone. So, being around someone who’s comfortable asking for help and who can encourage you to do the same is only going to be good for your recovery.

In addition, no one is perfect. If a sponsor seems that way, it’s probably a sign that they’re hiding internal struggle and they shouldn’t be.

You Get Along

It’s crucial that you be able to sit down to chat, to have a conversation, and to get support from your sponsor. First and foremost, they are functioning as sort of a big sibling, and that means you have to get along. If there’s friction, dislike, or mistrust, you’re never going to be able to get value out of the relationship, unless you can smooth that over. And, with a sponsor, the goal is to get value out of the relationship, because they are intended to be a guide. This means you should always take time to get to know people, make sure you can get along, and try to have something in common.

Choosing a sponsor is just one part of a 12-step group. Taking part in meetings, sharing, offering support, and working on the 12 steps will all help you to move towards a long-term life in recovery. So, if you don’t find the right person to be your sponsor right away, don’t worry about it. You can ask the group for help or ask people to volunteer, you can wait, or you can get to know yourself and the group better before looking for a sponsor.

Stairway Recovery Homes has multiple sober living homes located in Los Angeles, CA. We provide quality recovery homes for both men’s sober living and women’s sober living

About Jim Sugel

SEO and Digital Marketing Expert Jim Sugel is an SEO and Digital Marketing Expert in addition to having achieved the coveted Google Partner status for PPC expertise. Prior to focusing on Digital Marketing, Jim worked in Information Technology roles at a variety of national firms as a software engineer and consultant, resulting in many years of professional coding and consulting experience. Jim holds a Bachelor of Science, cum laude in Computer Science and Psychology from Loyola University Chicago. After relocating to Southern California from his native Chicago, he became involved in the recovery industry here, discovering a natural niche in helping treatment centers with Digital Marketing and other technology projects. Jim is the Founder and CEO of Airtight Digital, a firm that specializes in digital marketing for the behavioral health industry. His other interests include hiking, canyoneering, urban exploration, and screenwriting. Jim now lives in beautiful and sunny Orange County, California.