Sponsorship: Benefits and Challenges

I began sponsoring when I was almost 18 months’ sober and was working on Step Six. I was hesitant because there was, and there remains, no formal guidance on how to sponsor, but my mentor told me it was time for me to step up to the plate. 

I owe that sponsor, who died shortly afterwards, an incalculable debt because guiding others has played a huge role in my continuing recovery. In fact, I am sure that I would not be almost 11 years’ sober if I had not accepted the challenge to do some heavy lifting. And sometimes it is heavy lifting, but the rewards far outweigh the effort.

I am a strict sponsor and I will only work with someone who is committed. More generous sponsors seem to be prepared to work with anyone who asks them. I admire their generosity. 

I place a strong emphasis on character defects because that was how I became sober. It is of course vital that we stop acting out but it is equally vital that we don’t become dry drunks and it was my experience over more than 50 years of acting out that my character defects were feeding my addiction and vice-versa. In other words, it was a vicious cycle.

It has been my experience as a sponsor that perhaps the greatest stumbling block to ongoing recovery is a failure or unwillingness to address pride. When I came into the program I was not even aware that pride was an issue for me but my sponsor very soon alerted me to that fact. I was not offended. I wanted recovery more than anything else and I was willing to do whatever it takes. 

I have chosen to let some sponsees go because they were unwilling to address their pride which consequently was preventing them from any solid sobriety. And it must be said that some of my sponsees have chosen to discontinue working with me as is their right.

I do not expect perfection but I do require absolute honesty and absolute commitment. 

My two most successful sponsees have five-and-a-half years’ and six years’ sobriety. Their recovery has had a hugely positive impact on their marriages and family relationships. If I had had the courage to come into SA a few years sooner my own marriage may have been saved. I am not divorced and pray daily that my wife and I may be reconciled.

I am a better person now because sponsorship has reinforced for me the importance of putting others first. When I give of myself I get far more back. There is a great joy in seeing a fellow sexaholic in solid recovery. 

For the most part, when I am working with someone who is serious about recovery, who is willing to follow my mantra DO THE THINGS YOU DON’T WANT TO DO and who works the Steps, I do not encounter any serious challenges. On the contrary, I experience joy and gratitude for the opportunity I have been given to help a fellow addict. To then witness those sponsees become capable sponsors themselves is even more rewarding.

The challenges of sponsorship are largely confined to those members who want to do things “their way”. As I have already indicated my fuse for that sort of behaviour is very short. I will, and do, still listen and talk to them, still take their phone calls and make calls to them, because I understand their struggles and I want to see them recover but I will not sponsor anyone who does not exhibit that commitment that I believe is vital to lasting recovery.

My strong preference for sponsoring is to do so in person. Covid has forced us all to make changes but in an ideal world I need to sit in a room with someone and take note of their body language as well as listen to them. I also have a severe hearing loss which, especially on the phone or on Zoom, presents its own challenges, hence my preference for sitting face to face.

Nowadays I also commit in the first instance to a temporary sponsorship to see how we fit with one another and also to suss out just how serious my brother addict is.

Do I ever get tired? Exhausted even? Yes of course. Do I ever want to run away from SA and all that it entails? Of course I do. Would I do it? A better question is this: Do I want to go back to a life of misery, shame and guilt, a life of self-pity, envy and resentment – and at least another dozen character defects?

No need for me to answer that. And being a sponsor will always be a huge part of my ongoing recovery. 

Thank you, my Higher Power, thank you SA, thank you, my fellow travellers.

Bill F., Sydney, Australia

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