That was the $64,000 question I kept hearing when I walked into the rooms. I didn’t really know what a Sponsor was, but I was so annoyed that everyone kept asking me that it definitely pushed me to get one sooner rather than later.
In my first week of sobriety I went to my first women’s meeting, as it was suggested for me to do, and that’s where I found my first sponsor. She was a nice lady who said Hi to me in the bathroom. First Sponsor had a nice outfit on, her smile made me feel at home and she was about the same age as me. Also, she had this confidence and air about her that made me feel relaxed and calm. Moreover, when I heard her share at the meeting she shared about her anger towards her husband and how he pissed her off so much she fled the house and checked into the most expensive hotel in town – I knew right then and there, I wanted her to be my Sponsor. I related to that feeling of “F you” and I’ll do whatever I damn well please. She was exactly what I needed in my first year of recovery.
However, no one sat me down and told me how to find a sponsor and what to look for. I didn’t get the crash course in “how to sponsor shop”. I’m over 11 years sober now and I’ve moved at least four times in sobriety -- so I’ve had a few sponsors. I wanted to share my cliff notes on what I look for when I’m “sponsor shopping” hoping I’ll be able to help someone else in their quest for a new, or first time sponsor.
1. You need to want what they have: I was told this early on in recovery and I didn’t understand what it meant until I did. I was probably about 45 days sober when I realized that I was surrounded by very good sobriety, specifically the women. They all had double digit sobriety, there were about 7 of them in our Fellowship, and they exuded confidence, grace, wisdom and God in their daily life - I referred to them as the “Spiritual Goddesses” because I wanted what they had. All those women are still sober today and ladies that I am lucky to call friends.
2. Find out if they have a sponsor: I didn’t know this when I asked my first sponsor. But it’s important to know that your Sponsor is being sponsored and runs a program as well. How can they work the steps with you if they too aren’t being active in their own program? There are many folks in the rooms that don’t work the steps or have a sponsor. Somehow they can still stay sober, but I usually don’t want what they have. I want to have a sponsor who is actively working a program and seems to put her program first – that’s the most important thing to me.
3. How much sober time do they have?: This is another question I didn’t ask my first sponsor – however, it didn’t matter to me at the time. However, I think it’s usually important to make sure they have more time in the program than you do. It’s not a must have, but it makes the sponsor/sponsee relationship more even-keeled. I started sponsoring my first sponsee when I was eight months sober and she had under 30 days. It was kind of a fluke, but I took this young gal under my wing and she started calling every day and within a week or so she asked if I’d sponsor her. It took me by surprise as I didn’t feel qualified to do so, but my sponsor had commented to me that I hmad more time than her and was already mid-way through my steps and that one of the most important pieces of the program was our service to others. It was such a great experience for me as I learned early on the how to be a good sponsor to someone else.
4. Find out how they work their program: Some sponsors like to take you through the Big Book and read it with you and highlight and disucss and do the corresponding step work. Some like to take you through the 12 x 12 (12 steps and 12 traditions) and some have their own methods using AA or even non AA approved literature. This is an important question to find out as it may dictate to you whether or not this person would be a good fit for you. In turn, I would also ask them “What do they expect from you?” Some sponsors like you to call them daily or weekly and meet each week. While others may be more easy going – it’s really just a preference as to what “kind” of sponsor you may need at the time. Some of us like discipline and rigidity and thrive in that kind of relationship. On the other hand, some of us won’t take so easily to that approach and will want a little more softer and gentler approach. Make sure you find what suits your needs for your recovery.
5. Find someone who is a good match with you: This suggestion may seem a bit off base, but personally, I’ve found it easier to bond with a sponsor who has the same life situation that I may have. In the beginning, I was single for a while and felt I had a stronger bond with my sponsor that also was single. Then when I got into a relationship I sought out a sponsor who had been in, or was currently in, a sober relationship so I could go to her with my relationship questions – because let’s face it, getting into a relationship in early sobriety (which for me was a little over a year in) is much more challenging than when we were drinking. Alternatively, I found too when I was sponsoring that it was easier for me to offer my experiences as a single, or now married, woman in recovery. Since I’ve never been a Mom and haven’t had any kids, it’s been more challenging for me to sponsor women that have had children, as I wasn’t able to offer any sober life experiences to them.
Sponsorship is a little like dating. It’s finding that perfect person who will inspire you and lift you up. That person that will make you want to be a better human and push you to the limits of your character. If you have a sponsor who doesn’t want the best for you and who isn’t available to you, I would strongly suggest getting a new one. There is no right or wrong kind of sponsor to have – just as long as you get one. And sometimes the timing could be for a few weeks, a couple of months, or years - it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have one. I don’t feel bad when I have had to switch sponsors either, as each new sponsor is placing different stepping stones along my recovery path. I truly believe that God has put specific woman in my life at exactly the right time.
Each new experience with these women strengthens my recovery and makes me feel like I fit in and belong. And isn’t that what we all strive for? That sense of belonging and completeness? Pretty sure that’s what makes me keep coming back.