A Guide to Sponsorship

Sponsorship is an informal, voluntary relationship in which a more experienced member helps guide a newcomer through recovery. Members can also match as accountability partners or co-sponsor each other to support each other in working the steps.

If you are looking for a sponsor or a co-sponsor, the best strategy is to attend meetings and listen to more experienced members share. If you find yourself thinking “I want what they have”, then reach out to them directly to ask whether they would be open to sponsoring you (or being a co-sponsor or accountability partner). You can also ask publicly whether anybody is available to sponsor at the end of meetings. We are a young and fast-growing program, so there aren’t always enough sponsors to go around; you can also attend one of our stepwork meetings or co-sponsorship meetings listed on the meetings schedule.

If you have more than 30 days of sobriety and have taken the first step, you may want to consider sponsoring others. Sponsoring others is one of our greatest tools for maintaining personal sobriety: “We only keep what we have by giving it away.”

If you would like to explore sponsoring, you can offer yourself as a temporary sponsor to a newcomer for 30, 60, or 90 days. You could reach out directly to somebody who is looking for a sponsor, or you can also publicly announce after a meeting that you are open to being a temporary sponsor. Depending on how temporary sponsorship feels, you can see whether you would like to continue on a longer term basis.

It can be helpful to reach out to other ITAA members who sponsor and to ask for their advice and experience with sponsoring. You can also read through Tomas’ Guide to the Twelve Steps of ITAA and Marco’s Step Workshops for additional material to bring to your sponsee. And this AA Pamphlet on sponsorship is also a great resource on understanding how sponsorship works. The most important thing to remember is that as sponsors, we are not experts, and we are not responsible for carrying our sponsees – we are simply fellow addicts who share our experience and suggestions.

It is a good idea to set a regular schedule for speaking with our sponsees, whether that’s weekly, bi-weekly, or daily. We may also set some expectations around the relationship (not missing appointments without prior notice, time length of conversations, whether any stepwork is expected outside of calls). It is commonly suggested to maintain appropriate boundaries for our choice of sponsee/sponsor in order to mitigate the possibility of sexual attraction interfering with our spiritual growth. For some members this might mean only sponsoring others of the same sex, and members of different sexual and gender identities may have different boundaries.

Here is one ITAA sponsor’s reflections on how they sponsor:

Here’s my general approach to sponsoring:

I am first and foremost open to supporting my sponsees in whatever way that they feel is most helpful, including not working the steps in a structured way (if they are not certain or ready, or if they are focused on working the steps in another program). I do ask that my sponsees prioritize their recovery while we’re working together, but I’m open to what form that takes. Generally, my sponsorship centers around compassionate listening.

As first steps I often recommend writing out top, middle and bottom lines and doing a step one inventory: when the addiction started, how it changed over time, and how it is today.

During each call, I try to listen sensitively to what my sponsees are grappling with or experiencing without interrupting. Afterwards, I will often ask what they would find most helpful from me – reflections, suggestions, or simply being heard. If they would like reflections or suggestions, I try to share my own experiences and the tools that helped me. Sometimes though, I do not have any relevant experiences or suggestions, and I just express my gratitude and empathy for what they have shared with me.

Depending on my sponsee’s goals, I will suggest stepwork questions or writing exercises that will help them engage with their recovery in a deeper way. Each step is a rich opportunity for interpretation, and I try to ask questions tailored to my sponsee intended to help them develop their own personal understanding of each step. I try to avoid any sense of there being a ‘right’ way of working the steps – particularly as I am still working them. So I try to adopt a student mentality. I also share transparently about my own struggles and vulnerabilities (when appropriate), in order to encourage my sponsees to be open to their feelings and to not worry about doing things in a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way.