From Addict to Sponsor: Am I ready help others?
An important part of the 12 step format of self-help programs is the role of the sponsor. Sponsors are recovering addicts who assist those newer to process of recovery in meeting the goal of staying sober. Done at the right time, becoming a sponsor can be an empowering experience and make a huge difference for both involved. If the timing is wrong, the results can be disastrous. How do I know if I am ready to be a sponsor?
What step am I working on?
One of the wonderful things about 12 step self-help groups is their autonomy and freedom to run the program in a way that fits the needs of those in the group. This means that although groups have certain traditions, literature, and formats in common, there can be a wide range of expressions. Groups therefore can very significantly on how one becomes a sponsor. Often, anyone who is willing to become a sponsor can become a sponsor.
In most groups, would be sponsors are encouraged to first work through at least some of the steps. This is not a hard and fast rule, but rather how things generally go. Sometimes, someone working on step 6 or 7 may sponsor someone on step 1 or 2. However, consider the reasoning behind step 12 and why it is the last step.
Step 12 reads as follows in the Alcoholics Anonymous version of the steps, "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." Step 12 is the step where the person in recovery begins helping others who need recovery. The steps are designed to be done in numerical order. The message is to be shared after one has had the spiritual awakening, not as the spiritual awakening is occurring.
When a sponsor skips to step 12 prior to completing some of the earlier steps, emotional energy and precious time are taken away from the earlier steps to assist the other person in recovery. This places the sponsor at risk of relapse. Before becoming a sponsor, one needs to consider where they are along the recovery road and whether they are far enough along to really be a help.
Your time being sober and in recovery really counts
Have I remained sober in good times and bad?
Becoming a sponsor can be a wonderful experience as you get to walk alongside someone who is experiencing sobriety and the joys it brings. However, everyone's experience is not that smooth and working with a recovering addict can become a stress itself. Becoming a sponsor can be a depressing and frustrating experience as well. Listening to someone else struggle can be every taxing. Will the added stress spark a relapse? The only way to predict that is to look back on an extended period. One who has been sober for over a year knows they can handle the holiday seasons, losses, and other changes common to everyday life, without abusing substances.
When one has been clean for over a year, they have also accumulated a vast knowledge of how to handle conflicts and setbacks without their drug of choice. This wealth of knowledge gives the sponsor practical examples to share with the person they are sponsoring.
Am I taking care of my current responsibilities?
Often people who enjoy helping people quickly get into circumstances they cannot handle because they are so focused on helping others they forget to take care of themselves. Before entering into a helping relationship, one needs to examine each area of their lives and determine if everything is in order. This means the potential sponsor needs to examine their family relationships and romantic relationships. Are my relationships stable? Do I need to forgive someone? Do I need to settle a conflict?
Potential sponsors need to make certain their finances are in order and that their income is stable. Stable employment will be an encouragement to the person you are sponsoring. It also means the sponsor will have the energy to spend to sponsoring. Arguing with collection agencies, juggling payday loans, and jumping from one job to another may be necessary evils at times, but those issues distract from focusing on sponsorship.
All of these may seem to be unrelated to becoming a sponsor, but each of this issues can contribute to stress and stress can contribute to relapse. Addressing these issues first can also help in the sponsoring relationship. The sponsor will be able to share his or her experiences in getting these issues settled with the person they are sponsoring.
Can I commit for a year or more?
Ability to commit long-term is very important. The relationship between the sponsor and the person being sponsored can become very intense. This is a natural occurrence when two people are sharing emotionally intimate details of their lives. This also means that if a sponsor backs out it can cause feelings of abandonment that will be difficult to overcome. While few sponsorships will last a year or more, some of the most effective sponsorships are lifelong relationships.
It is also important to recognize that relapse is a part of the recovery process. As such a sponsor will need to be ready to continue sponsoring through these periods. The consistency will be helpful and it would be an act of unconditional acceptance.
Sponsorship is not marriage, but it does require a long-term committment
Being open about recovery is tough. Know what it feels like by being sponsored before becoming a sponsor.
Have I experienced the power of sponsorship first hand?
Before becoming a sponsor, the wise recovering addict will first experience being sponsored. There is nothing like first hand experience to expose one to how wonderful, and challenging, the process can be. For example, sponsorship can occur face to face, by phone, or by email. One may find when going through their own process of sponsorship that face to face does not meet their lifestyle or they do not feel comfortable writing their struggles out in an email. A lot can be learned too about how it feels to be on the receiving end of sponsorship.
Before placing yourself on a list of potential sponsors, ask someone else who knows you well if it is a good idea. You may be surprised by their feedback. When you are ready, go for it. Sponsorship can be very rewarding.