What Are the Signs of a Good Sponsor?

1989 movie about Bill W. and Dr. Bob
1989 movie about Bill W. and Dr. Bob (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What Are the Signs of a Good Sponsor?

That the man who is making the approach has had the same difficulty, that he obviously knows what he is talking about, that his whole deportment shouts at the new prospect that he is a man with a real answer, that he has no attitude of Holier Than Thou, nothing whatever except the sincere desire to be helpful; that there are no fees to pay, no axes to grind, no people to please, no lectures to be endured – these are the conditions we have found most effective. After such an approach many take up their beds and walk again. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 18– 19)

In discussion what the signs are of a good sponsor, I am looking at this from the perspective of a newcomer (or anyone for that matter) that would need to know what to look for before you are working together for awhile and suddenly realize that your sponsor is not good for your recovery.

So on initial or early contact the signs of a good sponsor are

  1. Is making the approach (went looking for sponsees and did not just sit around waiting for sponsors to come to him/her).
  2. Is a person who has had the same or similar difficulty.
  3. Is a person who clearly knows what he/she is talking about
  4. Is a person with a real answer
  5. Has no attitude of holier than thou
  6. Only wants to be helpful

 

 

  1. Is making the approach (went looking for sponsees and did not just sit around waiting for sponsors to come to him/her).

First, this should be a person who is eagerly looking for people to sponsor.  

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

If a person truly understands Twelve Step Principles and has taken them to heart, that person must believe that “intensive work” with other alcoholics/addicts is a huge key to remaining sober.  Any person who is not seriously motivated to sponsor others does not truly understand the things that are important according to the Twelve Step process and cannot give you an understanding that he/she does not have himself/herself.

 

  1. Is a person who has had the same or similar difficulty.

It is hard to truly understand the discomfort, fears, pain, anger, lies, confusion etc. that a person has to walk through, be brutally honest about and overcome in the recovery process.  It is even hard to understand how hard it is to truly start the process and take it as seriously as one should unless you have been through it.  

I am not one of these people who believes only and alcoholic/addict can ever work with another alcoholic/addict, but I do think there are man reasons why this is often the best way to go.  For example, there are some things that are simply seem ridiculous and possibly outright stupid that only a person who has been through it can understand what it is to see such things as perfectly sensible and what it really takes to be free of such things.

 

  1. Is a person who clearly knows what he/she is talking about

Oh, if only I had a nickel for every person at a Twelve Step meeting who was some kind o self proclaimed expert and Twelve Step guru that could talk a good game but when just listened to not only had no idea what he/she was talking about, but behind the smoke and mirrors really had no solution to offer.  

These people may be able to talk a big game and find lots of stuff for you to do while filling your head with quotes etc. that make you also able to talk a good game, but if they cannot offer you the ability to remain sober, what is the point.

The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 164)

How are you going learn Twelve Step recovery and be guided through the process by a person who does not know the Twelve Step process properly.  If he/she doesn’t have it or doesn’t get it, how is that person going to give it to you?

 

  1. Is a person with a real answer

This is tied to the last point.  If a person is not offering you a solution that he/she understands and is at the least going through, then that person is just going to put you in a recovery holding pattern.  Kind of like a hamster on one of those running wheels, they may have you doing a lot of work, yet you will still be getting nowhere.

 

  1. Has no attitude of holier than thou

Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?  Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

All of these guys who proudly talk a tough and strong sponsorship speech and who have this aura of being better than everyone else at a meeting etc. are the poster children for the problem not the solution.  

I am astonished at the self focus and outright arrogance of some of the supposed experts in Twelve Step recovery when the materials clearly state that this is in actuality the expression of the central problem we must overcome.

How are you going to show me the solution when you are an obvious example of what not to be and what not to do?  If that person is going to take you through the steps there is one concept that you have to keep in mind before you make that commitment.:  THE FRUIT DOES NOT FALL FAR FROM THE TREE.  The sponsor tends to reproduce in kind.  If the sponsor is an arrogant fool that has missed the main point, you are likely to become an arrogant fool who has missed the point.

 

  1. Only wants to be helpful

This is also tied to the last concept.  A person who has all kinds of strings attached is still selfish and self-centered and has not truly realized that simply doing this is a huge benefit not only for you, but for them to.  In other words, this is a person who does not get it.

 

I did not write this as a list of legalistic rules that you have to check each box or dump a sponsor and go after new one after new one.   This is intended to give you not only food for thought, but a clearer idea of what a sponsor should look like.  You probably wont find a whole lot of perfect sponsors running around (especially with the state of much of the Twelve Step world these days), but how much are you willing to sacrifice and more importantly what results can you expect.

 

Stay Sober My Friends,

Wade H.

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