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AA Sponsor | What a Sponsor Is and Why You Need One

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An AA sponsor is someone who takes you through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Ideally, they follow the steps as outlined in the Big Book.

Here’s what an AA sponsor does, why you need one, and what to stay on guard for.

What an AA Sponsor Does

While a sponsor’s primary job is to take you through the 12 steps, there are other things that a good sponsor will do for you.

First of all, a good sponsor is going to help you stay accountable in a number of ways.

They might help you stay accountable in terms of going to 12-step meetings.

For example, you might find yourself not wanting to go or slipping, but a call to your sponsor to tell them how you’re feeling can be a good way to get back on track and get to a meeting.

You might also find that you’re struggling to do the 12 steps — or that you don’t want to do them at all. A good sponsor is going to encourage you to get back on track and help you get them completed.

The 12 steps are the way you get free from alcoholism and drug addiction. A sponsor is going to do everything they can to help you get through them — as long as you’re trying to do them.

Another thing an AA sponsor is great for is that they have knowledge and experience — both in Alcoholics Anonymous and in life — that you can tap into.

If you’re struggling and need advice, you can turn to your sponsor for help. A good sponsor is always going to be willing to share their experience when you ask them to — and to keep their advice to themselves when you’re not interested.

Why You Need a Sponsor in AA

The simple fact is that, if you could stay sober on your own, you wouldn’t need a sponsor.

I have a sponsor. I got a sponsor because I couldn’t stay sober and I didn’t know how to get sober.

I saw that the 12 steps were the only way I was going to get sober — that’s just my experience and opinion — and that I needed someone to show me the way.

An AA sponsor is a guide. Any good guide has already walked the path that they’re going to take you on. A good sponsor has worked the steps and is able to take you on that path.

If you could work the steps on your own without a sponsor, then we wouldn’t have sponsors in the first place. If getting sober on your own is something that most people could do, then sponsors probably wouldn’t exist.

If you’re reading this, you likely can’t get sober on your own. That’s why you need a sponsor — to guide you through the steps and help you stay sober.

You also need someone you can talk to regularly who understands what you’re going through. That’s another important role that a sponsor plays — they are a sounding board, someone you can bounce ideas off of.

But they’re more than that. They’re someone you can call when you’re struggling to talk about what you’re feeling and what to do about it.

They’re someone you can call when you just need a shoulder to cry on.

They can even become a good friend.

Many of my sponsees have become some of my best friends in the world. We have gone through the fire together and come out the other side — there’s a lot to be said for how that experience can bond two people together.

What to Look for in an AA Sponsor

When you’re looking for a sponsor, you’ll hear a lot of opinions and advice on what to look for in the right sponsor.

These are my suggestions and opinions.

Above all else, I think you need to look for a sponsor who you feel you can trust.

This is different from the common advice that you need to find someone who has what you want.

I think that can get you in trouble. For example, my second sponsor had some things that I wanted — money, their own apartment, a business, a car, women.

I focused on someone who had those exterior things that I wanted.

That was a mistake.

I can’t say that I felt I could really trust this guy — and my first sponsor I found out I couldn’t trust at all.

Not being able to trust them meant that my 5th step wasn’t as detailed or as honest as it could have been.

What makes a sponsor trustworthy? I can’t say that I’m sure. That comes down to your feelings.

I guess you could say that you feel like you could tell them anything.

That matters much, much, much more than anything else.

Ideally, a good sponsor is going to have a good amount of time sober — at least a year — though I sponsored plenty of people when I had 60 or 90 days sober who are sober to this day.

Sober time is good because it means your sponsor has experience with sponsorship and can guide you better than someone who is new, but even a newly sober person is going to have their own sponsor and have been through the 12 steps, so they’ll be able to do the same for you.

Truly, what matters most is that your sponsor is someone you can trust — how much time they have is irrelevant. If you get a sponsor with 30 years of sobriety who you don’t feel you can trust, you’re going to struggle to stay sober.

Which brings me to another point — an AA sponsor who is much older or younger than you probably isn’t going to be a good fit. This is just what I’ve seen in the program — the further away in age your sponsor is, the harder it’s going to be to identify with them (which means, again, that trust is going to be hard to establish).

So just because someone has a lot of sobriety time doesn’t mean they’ll be a great sponsor.

Bad Sponsorship Practices to Avoid

If your sponsor does any of these things, you probably need to get a new one.

Again, we come back to the idea of trust. If your sponsor is telling other people about things that you have talked to them about in confidence, run far, far away.

That shit is not cool. I’ve had it happen to me before, and I fired that sponsor immediately.

If your AA sponsor is doing this, it means they’re untrustworthy. How can you tell them all your deep, dark secrets if you can’t trust them to keep those secrets to themself?

Another bad practice in a sponsor is dishonesty and hypocrisy. If your sponsor is telling you to do something that they themselves aren’t doing, they’re probably not going to be a great sponsor.

Dishonesty is even worse. If your sponsor is doing things that are clearly dishonest, that’s not someone you want in your life, no matter how much you feel you can trust them.

For example, if your AA sponsor steals or shoots steroids illegally, that’s a huge red flag. It shows that they’re not interested in living a life of rigorous honesty, which means they’re working a shitty program (which means they have no business telling you how to work the AA program).

Even worse than this (in my opinion) is when a sponsor is actively causing harm in a group.

This most often happens when someone is 13th stepping, which is when someone with a lot of time sober is sleeping with people regularly who have very little time sober.

If your AA sponsor is doing this, think very seriously about firing them. I have yet to see someone who does this — who is essentially preying on newcomers and putting their sobriety in danger — stay sober long-term.

But I have seen people who 13th step cause immense amounts of harm in a group before they inevitably relapse.

If your sponsor engages in this practice, no matter how much you think you can trust them, my opinion is that you should fire them.

Finally, you should think very carefully about letting someone sponsor you who is taking any mind-altering substance regularly, like Gabapentin, Suboxone, or Adderall.

Though these drugs can be prescribed, I would argue that you’re not really sober if you’re taking them. Suboxone absolutely gets you high, as does Adderall. Gabapentin can also get you high, but only in high doses.

So ask yourself this — do you want a sponsor who is taking these drugs? Do you think it’s fair that you should be asked to be completely sober if they’re not willing to be completely sober?

I think not.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that taking these drugs is something that’s wrong for you. That’s between you and your doctor.

It’s just probably not a good idea to be an AA sponsor if you are taking these drugs.

Learn More About the 12 Steps

If you’re not sure about the 12 steps — if you don’t know how to get started — read my blog posts on the subject.

Read more about the 12 steps here.

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Adam Fout

I'm an addiction / recovery / mental health blogger and a speculative fiction / nonfiction writer. I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional and Technical Communication. I'm a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. I'm a regular contributor to Recovery Today Magazine, and I've been featured on numerous recovery podcasts. I have personal experience with addiction and mental health. I have Substance Use Disorder (SUB), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Bipolar II, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), and Binge Eating Disorder (BED), among others. I have been in numerous drug rehabs, detoxes, and mental institutions, so I understand from personal experience how the mental health system works. I have been published in numerous literary magazines, including December, J Journal, and Flash Fiction Online, among others. I LOVE when readers reach out to me! Always feel free to send me an email at awfout at gmail dot com. I can't wait to hear from you!