For some, the relationship with their sponsor – a mentor that comes with participating in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program – is an essential part of their recovery. This might be especially true for those who are new to recovery and heavily relying upon someone who can show them the ropes.
What Is a Sponsor?
A sponsor is someone who can guide a sponsee through the 12 Steps. A sponsor might also be a friend and a support for a sponsee throughout the beginning stages of sobriety. In fact, when the sponsor/sponsee relationship is secure with a strong rapport, it can be the foundation upon which a newly sober individual can find hope, support, and faith in the process.
However, it’s very possible for a sponsor/sponsee relationship to go bad. And it happens all the time. Although it might not be the norm, it is very possible for this kind of relationship to reach its end. For instance, a sponsor might begin to overstep their bounds in the relationship. A sponsor might feel that he or she can handle all your struggles and attempt to support you. But if that support is not quite enough, a sponsee might end up blaming the sponsor. It’s important to remember that a sponsor is not a therapist or a mental health counselor. He or she cannot assess for depression or anxiety. A sponsor cannot make the appropriate recommendations for your mental health.
Limitations in the Relationship
You should try to remember that there are limitations to your relationship with your sponsor. As mentioned above, he or she is there to guide you through the 12 steps. Your sponsor should be well versed in the 12-steps and in living sober in general. There are some in recovery who attend Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meetings, but who give the 12-step program lip service. If you want to find someone to help you “work the steps”, you’ll need someone who knows those steps well. Anyone giving the 12-steps lip service and not working the steps themselves might contribute to your sponsee/sponsor relationship in harmful or unproductive ways. For that reason, a sponsor should have more experience in their sobriety than you. In fact, they should be secure in their sobriety and firmly rooted in living sober.
Another reason that could contribute to the falling apart of a sponsee/sponsor relationship is if it gets romantic. Although finding romance can be nice, it shouldn’t be the focus of your life, especially at the start of your recovery. The point is that you don’t want a sexual attraction to get in the way of your growing recovery. Your sponsor should provide sober help, not take you out on a date. For this reason, those who are heterosexual should choose a sponsor that is not of the opposite sex, and the opposite is true for homosexuals.
If for some reason your relationship goes bad and if any of the above circumstances comes true for you, know that you can always request a new sponsor. You always have the right to choose someone new to work with, someone that you feel you can trust, and someone who you can be vulnerable with. Vulnerability is likely to be a feeling you’ll experience along the road to recovery. For this reason, you’ll want your sponsor to be someone you can feel comfortable with, no matter what you’re feeling.