Addiction 101
What is a Sponsor?

Simply put, a sponsor is a sober man or woman who has been through the 12 Steps of recovery and can guide you through those same steps. A sponsor is your guide — a mentor in working the steps and living life sober.

The History Behind Sponsorship

When Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, first conceived of the AA program, the word “sponsor” did not exist, but the concept of mentorship did. If you’re not familiar with Bill W.’s story, he was a low-bottom alcoholic who was facing his own death from alcoholism. While in the hospital, he had a white-light experience that alleviated his alcoholism just enough for him to leave sober. He was sober and doing well for a time, but one evening he felt a strong urge to drink. The story goes that Bill was standing in the lobby of a hotel. He looked over at the glitzy bar — people drinking merrily, celebrating and making liquor look glamourous. He knew he didn’t want to drink, but felt a strong pull.

But then a thought came to him as if divinely placed: “You need another alcoholic to talk to,” the thought said. “You need another alcoholic just as much as he needs you!’

Instead of going to the bar, he went to a phone booth. He called hospitals looking for another alcoholic whom he could help. When he finally got through to a hospital receptive to the idea of him coming in to speak with a patient, he jetted over. He was sent to speak bedside with another man who had been struggling with alcoholism in the same way Bill had been. That man was Dr. Bob.

Bonded by their common struggles, Bill W. and Dr. Bob became the first two members of Alcoholics Anonymous. The word “sponsor” was not used, but Bill carried the message to Dr. Bob, who in turn safeguarded his own sobriety by mentoring countless other alcoholics. Through sharing, both of AA’s co-founders discovered that their sobriety relied on them helping others. And, they found, that through serving others, their own sober lives were enriched beyond measure.

Over time the idea of sponsorship became more formalized. Now it is suggested that any individual looking to get sober should get a sponsor to guide them through the recovery process.

AA’s literature describes sponsorship as: “An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through A.A.”

The Role of Sponsorship in Sobriety

In addition to guiding a person through the 12 Steps, a sponsor can serve a variety of roles. In most cases a sponsor requires all of his or her sponsees to call them regularly – even just to check in. This helps keep the sponsees accountable and ensures that they are staying on the right track. It also helps them develop healthy communication skills. The more comfortable they get openly discussing the challenges they face in day-to-day life, the better. It is absolutely essential that people who are in recovery are able to reach out and ask for help when they need it. In this day and age, it is all too easy to send a quick text check-in at the end of the day, “Hey, the day was good. Still sober.” Sending a text message is impersonal, and it can be relatively easy to mask true emotions or skim over any significant issues if you are not speaking with someone directly. It might seem like a small benefit, but learning to talk to someone on the phone is a crucial recovery tool that comes into play time and time again. The sponsor also offers support and guidance whenever necessary. This is why it is important to choose a sponsor who has ample recovery time and who has been through a lot of the situations and circumstances you are bound to face in early recovery.

Reasons to Have a Sponsor:

  • Your sponsor will guide you through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as outlined in AA’s textbook, the “Big Book”
  • Having a sponsor who has maintained sobriety and who has built a life for themselves is a good reminder of the gifts of recovery
  • Your sponsor can help you through tough situations by sharing the ways in which he or she got through similar experiences. A sponsor is living proof that staying sober through the tough times is completely possible
  • If you ever find yourself in a precarious situation, your sponsor will be there to help you through it. No one expects you to be a shining example of recovery over the course of your first year. Early recovery can get messy. Your sponsor will be there to lend a non-judgemental hand when need-be.
  • Your sponsor helps to keep you emotionally grounded. Active addiction does quite a number on our ability to regulate our emotions in a healthy way. This is a skill that is learned over time, but it is always good to have a voice of reason readily available.
  • Your sponsor gives you the tools you need to successfully take other people through the steps, teaching you to pay it forward. Once you are able to take others through the steps you begin to understand just how rewarding and humbling the process can be.

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How to Choose the Right Sponsor for You

When choosing the right sponsor for you, consider the following:

  • First of all, it is recommended that you choose a sponsor who is the same gender — men with the men, women with the women.
  • Choose a sponsor who has qualities that you admire. Avoid choosing a sponsor that drives the nicest car or wears the nicest clothing – when we say “qualities” we don’t mean superficial qualities. Look for a sponsor who seems comfortable in his or her own skin, for example. Someone who consistently treats others with kindness and compassion, or who is actively pursuing his or her personal goals.
  • Look for a sponsor who has worked all 12 Steps
  • Look for a sponsor who has a sponsor themselves. No sponsor should be sponsoring without a sponsor themselves. Sponsorship families can be very helpful too.
  • Look for a sponsor that takes sobriety seriously – someone who you consistently see at the same 12-step meetings and that is of service to the meetings they attend
  • Remember your sponsor does not need to be your perfect idol or even have the same beliefs as you or the same lifestyle you want. A sponsor is a guide. If you trust that a person has worked the 12 Steps and can show you how to do the same, then they are qualified. Don’t overcomplicate your decision.

Our Drug & Alcohol Treatment Services Include

Sponsorship at The Plymouth House

While in The Plymouth House program, individuals form a bond with an individual much like a sponsor. Every guest has what we all a “12-Step Contact” — this is a person who is extremely practiced with taking individuals through the 12 Steps. Many of The Plymouth House’s 12-Step Contacts are Plymouth House alumni who also know exactly what our guests are going through.

The Plymouth House is not a treatment facility in the traditional sense of the term. We are a 12 Step Retreat focused on giving addicts, alcoholics and their families a new way to live. Our staff consists of experienced 12-Step practitioners with diverse educational backgrounds and life experiences. Dozens of facilities have adopted The Plymouth House Model, but the depth of our staff experience, our family programming and our aftercare planning make us unique. For 20 years we’ve been the pioneer in utilizing the power of The 12 Steps in giving addicts, alcoholics and their families hope and healing.

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We know that committing to a long-term program of recovery can seem intimidating when you don’t know what to expect, which is why we are readily available to help walk you through every step of the process. Our experienced Admissions Team will personally work with you from your first contact with us until the day that you arrive at The Plymouth House. We know that in most cases guests and their families have a myriad of questions regarding treatment options, options for covering treatment, our gender-specific treatment facilities and more specific admissions details. With one phone call we will assist families and individuals in making the right choices for their situation.

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Russell Beebe

Reviewed for accuracy by:

Russell Beebe MLADC, LCMHC

Russell is a Master Level Alcohol and Drug Counselor (MLADC) and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with over 11 years experience treating individuals with substance use and co-occurring disorders. Russell was inspired to get into the field after his experience as a resident at The Plymouth House in 2008.