When a person is new to recovery and joins a 12-step group, it is generally recommended that they select a sponsor to show them to ropes. A sponsor is a person who is further along in their recovery and who has successfully worked the 12 steps with a sponsor of their own.
Ideally, a sponsor/sponsee relationship would last for some time, but there is no expectation that sponsorship be permanent. In fact, a sponsorship brochure on the AA website indicates that a sponsee is free to change sponsors whenever they feel like it would benefit their recovery.
How to Select a Sponsor
A sponsor should be someone you like and respect and with whom you have a platonic relationship. In addition, look for these traits in a sponsor:
- Solid recovery knowledge – They have worked the steps and can teach you how to work them as well. They are able to answer your recovery-related questions or direct you toward finding your own answers.
- An open mind – They know that there are multiple paths to recovery and that yours doesn’t have to be identical to theirs. They don’t try to control you or force you to do recovery their way.
- Attentiveness – They listen when you are talking to them and aren’t distracted.
- Honesty and trustworthiness – They don’t sugarcoat things for you, and they don’t share the things you tell them with other people. They are open about the struggles of sober life.
- Has adequate free time – They are not so busy that they cannot answer your calls or meet with you.
- Sets clear boundaries/expectations – They make it clear what they expect of you and what you can expect of them. They are honest about their limitations.
I Don’t Like My Sponsor
Because it’s your sponsor’s job to be honest and hold you accountable, there may be times when you don’t like them very much. If you are thinking it may be time for a new sponsor and you are contemplating finding someone else to work with, make sure it’s not for the following reasons:
- Frustration because their counsel is hard to swallow, even though you know it’s right
- The opinions others hold of the sponsor
- Unrealistic expectations of what the sponsor should be doing
- Wanting a sponsor who will let things slide
- Wanting a sponsor who is more attractive
It’s Actually Not Working
Sometimes, in spite of your best effort to pick a sponsor who will be a good fit for you, things happen that make the relationship inappropriate or unhelpful for your recovery. For example:
- The relationship seems to be developing into a romantic one, instead of a platonic one.
- You and your sponsor seem to be completely incompatible with each other. Your relationship is one of continuous conflict.
- You don’t feel fully comfortable with your sponsor; you’re afraid to share your most embarrassing and scary thoughts, feelings and urges.
- One of you moved to a different location, and it’s no longer practical to work together.
- Your sponsor is too busy to work with you. Perhaps illness, changing job and family responsibilities, or taking on too many obligations within the recovery community have taken up their time.
- Your sponsor seems to be struggling with their own sobriety and could be at risk for relapse.
- Your recovery progress has stopped, for whatever reason.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
If you have determined that it is time for a new sponsor, communicate this with your current sponsor as openly, honestly and kindly as possible. Even if they cannot function as your sponsor anymore, maybe they could still be a sober friend in your support network.
Taking the lessons you learned from that relationship, be thoughtful about choosing a new sponsor. You might want to ask for a recommendation from a friend or from the leader of your 12-step group.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. A strong sponsor-sponsee relationship increases your chances of maintaining sobriety. Being willing to trust someone and listen to their honest feedback will benefit not just your recovery but also your relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. It might inspire you to become a sponsor someday, too.