While you’re going through the taxing and difficult process of recovering from an alcohol addiction, choosing an AA sponsor is one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make. A great AA sponsor wears many hats. Depending on your needs, your AA sponsor will be your confidante, guide, advisor, teacher, sounding board, comrade-in-arms or shoulder to cry on when times get tough. But be forewarned: there are some AA sponsors out there who simply aren’t up to the task. They may mean well (in most cases), but they lack the background, temperament and/or dedication to do the job thoroughly and correctly. Needless to say, you should try to avoid these individuals at all cost.
Five Tips for Selecting the Right AA Sponsor
Choosing an AA sponsor is like hiring an employee for a business. After contacting promising candidates, you’ll have to conduct initial interviews, review credentials and arrange for follow-up interviews with the people who interest you the most. As you go through this process, here are five of the most critical characteristics or qualifications you should look for:
- Experience in AA and the eloquence to explain how it works.
An AA sponsor is asked to play the role of expert, and they can’t be expected to do so unless they have an extensive background in the program. But you shouldn’t automatically assume someone is qualified to be a sponsor simply because they’ve been in the program a lot longer than you have. You should ask them to demonstrate their knowledge and prove they have the capacity to help you steer your recovery on the proper course.
- A clear commitment to sobriety with no recent history of relapse.
Everyone who participates in Alcoholics Anonymous has ongoing issues with alcohol. But AA sponsors should have their act together and be firmly locked in on their quest to maintain their sobriety. This doesn’t mean you should eliminate every candidate who admits to having fallen off the wagon in the distant past. What you want is a sponsor who’s learned from their previous mistakes and now understands how to recognize and manage relapse triggers. These are the people who will give you the best advice.
- Is of the same gender as you are (or the opposite sex if you are gay).
Men and women in recovery are psychologically and emotionally vulnerable. Occasionally this can lead to sexual or romantic entanglements between people who meet in peer support groups, which is a complication you don’t need and aren’t ready to handle. Even if an AA sponsor of the opposite sex was highly responsible and respectful of boundaries, that wouldn’t necessarily stop you from developing feelings that could ultimately undermine your recovery. So the best way to avoid trouble is to not go down that road.
- Knows and understands his or her own limits.
The best AA sponsors act from empathy and compassion. But their sympathetic intentions can sometimes get the best of them. They say “yes” to everybody and end up sponsoring more peers in recovery than they can possibly handle. While this dedication is admirable, you’ll be better off if you choose someone who has the time and energy to dedicate to you and your recovery.
- Is absolutely sincere in their willingness and desire to support and assist you.
Many recovering alcoholics who’ve found sobriety with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous choose to become sponsors because they feel obligated to give something back. But obligation is not the same as passion and commitment, and these are the characteristics you need from your sponsor. If you sense a lack of sincere interest, or receive a lukewarm response when you approach someone about being your sponsor, you should thank them politely before quickly moving on to other candidates.
Respect Your Sponsor, but Respect Yourself First
No matter how careful and thorough you are, there is no guarantee you’ll select the right AA sponsor. If the person you’ve been working with makes you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, you aren’t required to continue and should respectfully request a change. Your sobriety is your primary responsibility and you can’t put it at risk because you’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Source: Alcoholics Anonymous: Questions and Answers on Sponsorship