In most 12-step fellowships, we hear the word “sponsor” thrown around quite a bit. To the uninitiated, the role of this elusive person is hazy at best. Of course, it brings to mind lucrative deals with athletic brands, or Little League teams brought to you by the local pizza joint.
So what exactly is a sponsor? What do they do, how do you get one, and do you even want one?
While there are no hard and fast rules about this, and opinions vary, most generally agree that a sponsor is another member of the same 12 step fellowship whose job it is to guide you through the steps of the program and more or less model being a sober and somewhat sane human being. As you can imagine, sponsorship styles run the gamut and are as varied as the individuals in each program itself. Here is my experience, for whatever it’s worth:
When I first started coming around the rooms of AA, I heard a LOT of people talking about how critical sponsorship was. Eventually, I became convinced that having one might be a good thing, but was fairly daunted by the prospect of finding one. I had some very lofty expectations about this person that I was going to share my life with. After looking around for quite some time and not seeing anyone who felt particularly inspiring, I asked someone to be my “temporary” sponsor. I felt more comfortable with that looser level of commitment.
And so my journey began. I, in no way, “wanted what she had,” as people advise when looking for a sponsor. Rather, she was the only person who offered to do it when I raised my hand and asked for help. She was not a shining example of the steps transforming lives or anything of the sort. In fact, rather the opposite. She looked like her story. She had a Breathalyzer installed in her car at that very moment. It wasn’t a hard stretch of my imagination to see her hitting bottom. But that said, I got the oddest sense of relief when we spoke. And at that point, around 30 days sober, I was positively desperate for some relief. I hadn’t been drinking OR working the steps, and I was left alone with just myself and my racing thoughts. The anxiety was palpable and I wasn’t going to last long on my own.
She told me to call her every day in the beginning. So I did. I would rant like a lunatic about pretty much anything that came to mind. Although she didn’t have a ton of time sober, she had a sponsor herself and was engaged with the program. Regardless of what I said to her, she directed me to AA and the 12 steps. She told me to pray A LOT. I often thought that she didn’t hear me very well: I would call and complain about work, and she would direct me towards the steps. I would think to myself, “But, I’m not calling to talk about AA, I’m calling to talk about WORK.” But, ha! She knew that the solution was in the steps, and that I needed to fundamentally change in a way that “venting” wasn’t going to deliver.
We began to meet once a week in an assortment of embarrassing places. Having someone read aloud to you from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in a Burger King is a very ego-deflating event. But I was desperate and out of ideas so I went along. Lo and behold, I began to change. She gave me real, clear and precise direction on how to begin the process of recovery and how to live like a sober woman. Shockingly, I saw my compulsion to drink leave me. It was almost out of nowhere.
Today, many years later, I credit my first sponsor with saving my life. Had she not raised her hand that day and offered her help, I would probably not be among you today. She taught me absolutely everything about living sober on this planet—from how to avoid a drink a day at a time, to how to have a relationship with a higher power, to what to wear to a job interview.
What she offered me was a lifeline. She was a clear voice of reason and a signpost to a new freedom. For some reason, I was able to hear her voice and stop fighting. It was the first time in my life I tried following someone else’s ideas ahead of my own. Even though her directions seldom seemed like good ideas (or even related to my problems) the results seemed almost magical. She introduced me to a real solution and a road to happiness, joy, and freedom that I still walk on to this day.