The Making of a Sponsor

By Ken Wells - 10/14/2022


Series Three: Blog Seventy-One

Dear God, my spiritual awakening continues to unfold. The help I have received I shall pass on and give to others, both in and out of the Fellowship”— a 12th step prayer

The 12th step is “having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” If not an alcoholic, you replace the correct addictive behavior that has been your challenge. This step springs an addict forward in recovery toward a life of service.

It is necessary to engage the 12 steps daily in order to practice these principles in all our affairs. A life of service includes sharing hope and strength for recovery to another addict. You carry the message of hope and strength to individuals with whom you have influence. Everyone has impact. We are all celebrities in our own small world. When you are tempted to return to a life of addiction it is critical to consider those who are counting on you to be true to who you are before imbibing destructive behavior. There is a partner or spouse, kids, friends and colleagues who are counting on your influence to help them be true to their principles in life calling. The 12th step is a clarion call to remind every addict of their influence with others in the program and in the community at large.

Becoming a sponsor is an act of service that every addict in recovery should consider at some time. The primary role of a sponsor is to help a sponsee complete the 12 steps. The influence of a sponsor guides a sponsee in living a sober life in all their affairs. Sponsors become mentors who assist sponsees to solve everyday challenges in recovery life. Through my many years of recovery and counsel, here are a few observations to consider toward becoming a transformative sponsor.

  • Recognize your privilege. Sponsorship is a privilege in recovery. You have grown and completed necessary steps in recovery to guide and influence others who are struggling. You have worked hard in your program and are qualified to be an agent for change in the life of another. This privilege carries great responsibility to remain true and sober to your own program. You build trust and establish social power and influence when you humbly walk your talk. The privilege of sponsorship requires credibility. If you are a sponsor and chronically act out against your values, step away from sponsorship and address your continuous backsliding.  Establish accountability and then return to sponsorship.  Recently an addict shared that his sponsor regularly acts out against his values. Receiving guidance from someone who can’t stop acting out is like being lost in the woods and following someone who doesn’t know how to read a compass.
  • Know your own addiction history. Keep an eye on your own limits, shortcomings and historical background in addiction. Pay attention to your roots of addiction. Many addicts in recovery stop the train of compulsive behavior running out of control down the tracks without understanding the root causes of the compulsive behavior. Be sure to treat the roots of your addiction, else you become vulnerable to exchange one addiction for another. Some sponsors load up with too many sponsees. They learn to regulate their lives by regulating others. Know your history and be sure to treat root causation.
  • Service as a sponsor means to listen to the spondee’s heart. Being comfortable with who you are will help you listen. You will be less urgent to share cold rapped out counsel. Listening will help you tune in to the spirit of your sponsee and gain understanding of the challenges that exist in their heart.
  • Share your failures. Many times as a mentor or elder in recovery, sponsors think they cannot admit to their own shortcomings to a sponsee. This is a mistake. The common thread that brings addicts together is common-shared brokenness. The free flow exchange of this truth is the energy that maintains a healing dynamic between sponsor and sponsee. Being willing to face and admit shortcomings and mistakes with a sponsee establishes a credential to be heard. It strengthens trust and influence.
  • Practice compassion and forgiveness toward self and others. As a sponsor, you will blow it sometimes. Poor suggestions, a breakdown in follow through, judgmentalism are all likely mistakes in sponsorships. It would be a mistake to try to role model perfection! Simply, forgive yourself, apologize, correct the mistake or failed behavior and move forward. Doing the same when a sponsee blows it is equally important.
  • Foster growth by being intentional, through example, and by empowering a sponsee to run with the ball in their own life. There must be regularity with connection between sponsor and sponsee. When you fail to consistently connect you lose your influence as a sponsor. Your sponsee will do what they see in you. Care enough to be honest with your sponsor even when it hurts or you risk conflict. Help your sponsor evaluate h/her failures. Focus on the value of learning from failures more than successes. You only grow yourself when you know yourself.

Hold a spondee’s power in trust. You walk by their side for a season of time. They turn their power of choice over to you for a short period of time because their poor choice making got them into the predicament they are in. However, this time period is short.  The goal is to empower the sponsee. A format for assisting sponsees to incorporate recovery tasks can be: (1) You demonstrate the task while the sponsee is with you; (2) They do the task while you walk alongside; (3) They do the task alone; (4) they do it while modeling it for someone else.

Everyone is hypocritical, incongruent and inconsistent. The role of a sponsor requires accountability and consultation. Embracing this lifestyle is necessary toward becoming a transformational influence in your community.

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