How do You Know if You Have the Wrong AA or NA Sponsor? The Top Ten Warning Signs

For drug addicts and alcoholics who are new to recovery and the peer support group experience, finding a good sponsor can mean the difference between success and failure. In some extreme circumstances, it can even mean the difference between life and death. That might sound overly dramatic. But addiction is a life-threatening illness, and the capacity of a highly qualified and compassionate sponsor to act as friend, mentor, and confidant can be a vital life line for a newly-recovering addict who is still clinging to the edge of a treacherous precipice. Unfortunately, every sponsor is not perfect for every addict. In some rare instances, recovering substance abusers may need to go through several sponsors before they find the right one-if they ever do. This is far from an ideal situation, as addicts and alcoholics need qualified help and they need it before it is too late. Relapse is common with substance abuse, and there is little doubt that poor sponsorship can make for a rockier ride on the wagon of sobriety. And while some are able to make it back following relapse, others do not, so access to competent assistance before a potential relapse and after it occurs are critically important for recovering substance abusers. If you have just entered recovery and are new to the sponsorship process, you may not be sure if the person who is acting as your sponsor is really providing the type of service you need. Therefore, the following list is offered for your benefit, and if any of this sounds familiar it is entirely possible that your current sponsor is not the best person for the position. Here, then, are the top ten warning signs that could indicate you have the wrong AA or NA sponsor: Warning Sign #1: Your sponsor spends more time talking about himself than talking about you Even though your sponsor does have his own substance abuse problems to deal with, he should have his own sponsor to help him with that. If he is unloading his emotional baggage on you, that indicates a streak of narcissism and self-centeredness that is inimical to your interests. You are in no position emotionally to help anyone else at this stage of your recovery, and it could damage your healing process if you try. Your sponsor is supposed to be there for you, period. Warning Sign #2: Your sponsor displays a cynical or pessimistic attitude Negative mindsets go hand-in-hand with addiction. However, they do not go hand-in-hand with recovery from addiction. The healing process thrives in the sunlight and withers and dies in the darkness, and any sponsor worth his salt will try to lead you into that bright light at the end of the tunnel, rather than trying to convince you it is really an oncoming train. Warning Sign #3: Your sponsor has trouble finding time for you Granted, everyone is busy with life responsibilities, and everyone is entitled to some privacy and time off the clock. But if your sponsor is constantly putting you off, or coming up with endless excuses explaining why he can’t meet with you today or tomorrow, this is unacceptable and you should not have to put up with it. You might find yourself facing a crisis at any moment, and your sponsor needs to be there for you in real-time on a regularly-scheduled basis. Warning Sign #4: Your sponsor actually agrees with you when you blame your troubles on other people For addicts and alcoholics, the blame game is a road to nowhere. Sponsors should know this, and they should be doing everything in their power to help their charges realize they must take responsibility for their actions and the effect they have on other people. Warning Sign #5: Your sponsor doesn’t return messages promptly Even if your sponsor can’t meet with you, or can’t talk to you, or can’t make it to a scheduled appointment, he needs to let you know about it as soon as possible. Poor communication will bring an unwanted sense of uncertainty into your life, and this is exactly the sort of thing that can disrupt the recovery process in its most sensitive stages. Warning Sign #6: Your sponsor is rigid in his approach Every drug addict and alcoholic is a unique human being, with a distinct history and a singular personality. No approach to recovery from substance abuse could possibly be perfect for everyone, so a sponsor who affects a “my way or the highway” attitude is not going to give you the sort of customized approach you need to bring you back from the edge. Warning #7: Your sponsor should not be trying to psycho-analyze you It is understandable that someone who has fought successfully to conquer his substance abuse problem may feel like he has some valuable insights to share-and he no doubt does. But trained professional addiction counselors are the only people qualified to diagnose and treat the delicate and complicated psychological issues that trouble addicts and alcoholics, and any sponsor who tries to psycho-analyze a fellow addict as if he were a “client” rather than a fellow traveler is over-reaching and could potentially cause a lot of damage. Warning Sign #8: Your sponsor should spend more time listening than speaking Much more time, actually. You need a sponsor who will be a true sounding board, someone who will not just listen to you but who can really hear what you are saying. If your sponsor is constantly pontificating on a variety of subjects, addiction related or not, it means he is not listening to you the way he should be and will not be able to really understand your problems or relate to you on your level. Warning Sign #9: Your sponsor should not have you running personal errands Any sponsor who tells you that picking up his laundry, babysitting his kids, or washing his car will help you heal and maintain your sobriety is exploiting you and has no business sponsoring anyone. This type of despicable behavior doesn’t occur often, but it does happen on occasion, unfortunately. Warning Sign #10: Your instincts are telling you that you need to make a change The best way to know whether or not a particular sponsor is right for you is to simply listen to what your inner voice is telling you. You must ask yourself: do I feel comfortable with this person, or not? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then great, but if it is ‘no,’ or ‘I’m not sure,’ you really need to examine your feelings and ask yourself why you are having doubts. If it is because you are resisting or retreating into rationalization or denial to protect yourself from taking full responsibility for your addiction, then the sponsor is probably making you feel uncomfortable only because he knows your attitude is endangering your recovery and he is trying to do his best to shake you out of it. But if you are sincere in your efforts to change, and are truly willing to do whatever it takes, a sponsor who seems wrong for you most likely is, and you should strongly consider asking for a change.

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