It is a well-known fact that most people who enter the doors of AA fair much better in sobriety if they choose to have a sponsor. However, most of the direction in regards to sponsorship are given to the folks looking for a sponsor and not a lot of information is given to the sponsor in how to be a good one. Often times, sponsors look to their own sponsors for guidance as well as their own personal experience in the program. This type of set-up can lead a sponsor to veer off course at times. Below are some guidelines to help sponsors know if they are getting off track:
According to the Alcoholism Guide, sponsors should first of all have long-term sobriety themselves. If they are going to walk their sponsees through the steps, then they should at least have walked through all of the steps themselves and had success in not just acknowledging the steps, but in truly putting them into practice. They should have regular time with their own sponsor and not “unload” their own struggles onto a newly sober sponsee.
Their should be a certain level of “social responsibility” that a sponsor should feel towards someone they are sponsoring. If they are not able to devote the time necessary to properly sponsor someone, they should refer the person to another sponsor. On the other hand, sponsors should lay out the boundaries for the relationship with the sponsee, things that they will and will not do. Addicts have the habit of sucking the life out of people and this can happen to the sponsor if proper limitations are not set. This can vary from sponsor to sponsor, based on a sponsor’s own time limitations and their view of what is appropriate sponsorship.
When working with an addict, sponsors can sometimes transgress into some common danger zones. For example, if you find yourself trying to solve people’s financial, legal, marital and emotional problems, you have stepped away from the program. Sometimes, people need more than a sponsor. They may need professional counseling, financial planners or lawyers to help them solve some of these extraneous problems. A good sponsor will recognize their own limitations, refer people to other professionals and stick to their own job, which is helping guide people through the 12 steps of AA.
As a sponsor, you will know you are “playing God” if you are frequently feeling anxious, frustrated or guilt-ridden about how your sponsee is doing. It is natural to be concerned about people and to have the desire to see people do well in their sobriety, but it is imperative for your own sake and for the sake of your sponsee not to ride the addiction roller coaster with them.
Another indication you are in trouble is if you are changing the standard for sober living according to AA principles. If the person you are sponsoring is relapsing again and again or if you are doing work the person should be doing themselves, then you are enabling the person’s “sick” behavior. If someone is relapsing time and again, it is probably wise to accept that this person is not yet ready for recovery and needs to go out and get some more “pain” and hopefully truly hit bottom at some point.