This guide has been written by ITAA’s Web Content Committee and has not yet gone through a Conference Approval process, which our fellowship is in the process of developing. A printable PDF of this guide can be found here.
What is sponsorship?
Sponsorship has a long-standing tradition in 12-step fellowships. A sponsor is a more experienced member who can help guide a newer member through the 12 steps and towards recovery. A sponsor may also help define top, middle, and bottom lines or make suggestions about how to establish sobriety or reestablish it after a period of relapse. In this informal and voluntary relationship, the sponsor shares their experience, strength, and hope. Having a sponsor gives the sponsee an opportunity to ask questions and receive support and accountability. Many of us have found that our recovery became more stable only after we found a sponsor and worked the twelve steps with them.
How do I find a sponsor?
One of the best ways to connect with a sponsor is through outreach calls with other members. When attending meetings, we listen for individuals who “have what we want” and reach out to them. We ask them how long they have been in the fellowship, if they have a sponsor themselves, and if they have worked through the steps or are actively working through the steps. After getting to know them a bit through outreach calls, we may decide to ask them if they are available to sponsor us. In our program, we focus on progress, not perfection, and we will likely never find the “perfect” sponsor. What is important is that the potential sponsor is honest about their own recovery and has gained some stable sobriety.
It is important to have a good rapport with our sponsor so that open and honest conversations can take place. Different people need different things from a sponsorship relationship – some need a gentler approach while others need someone who can push them. Some individuals find it important that their sponsor used IT in similar ways. These needs may change over time as we grow in the program. Exploring the expectations of both the sponsor and sponsee is vital for a healthy relationship. This is a confidential relationship that also needs strong boundaries. It is good to know that after a few meetings, if it doesn’t seem to be the right match, both individuals are free to say so and to part ways amicably.
Because there are not yet a great number of sponsors in ITAA, some members have found sponsors in other twelve-step programs. In these cases, it is important that the sponsor is open to the idea of internet and technology addiction. It is often not feasible for many of us to navigate life without some use of technology, so sobriety in ITAA usually is not as absolute as it is with alcohol or substances. Because of this, it may be helpful to seek a sponsor with experience recovering from an addiction such as food, sex, or love. Many tools we use in ITAA are similar to tools in those programs.
Historically in 12-step fellowships, it has been suggested that members pay attention to gender, sexual orientation, and any feelings of romantic attraction when choosing a sponsor / sponsee. For example, a straight woman might avoid sponsoring a straight man. If there is even a small possibility that we might develop feelings for the other party, it is cause for seriously considering whether to go ahead.
What is co-sponsorship? How does it work?
In co-sponsorship two people sponsor each other in working the steps. It usually helps if one or both people have had experience working the twelve steps in another program. A member may be new to ITAA but have years of sobriety in other twelve-step fellowships. These members have valuable experience, strength, and hope to share with others and to bring into their own ITAA recovery.
What if I begin developing feelings for my sponsor / sponsee?
Romantic attraction or a relationship between sponsor and sponsee can be distracting, confusing, painful, and even damaging. It is important to establish and maintain strong boundaries in the relationship, to minimize the chances of doing harm. If at any point either the sponsor or the sponsee notice that there is a romantic attraction developing, it is recommended that they discuss this with a trusted fellow. Often in such cases, it can make most sense to amicably end the sponsorship in a supportive manner. Honest discussion is important to see how this can be handled without it interfering with either person’s recovery.
When am I ready to sponsor someone else?
It is okay to start sponsoring before we feel fully ready. It can feel intimidating and sometimes we may feel like we don’t know enough, or we are still struggling. Talking it over with our sponsor before starting to sponsor others can be helpful in gaining clarity. Typically, we let others ask us whether we are available to sponsor, rather than reaching out to individuals and volunteering ourselves.
We may try being a temporary sponsor to someone for a period of 1-3 months to see how it feels. As we begin sponsoring, being upfront and honest about where we are with our recovery and our lack of experience can help reduce the pressure we may feel. As sponsors, we are not perfect, and it is okay not to know all the answers. We can always turn to other members who have experience sponsoring in this or in another fellowship and ask for help or ask questions. It is important that we have a sponsor or strong co-sponsor relationship before we start sponsoring. We also should be far enough in our own step work that we can help guide the one we are sponsoring through the steps.
As we get more experience sponsoring others, we’ll become more confident and sensitive to what ways of sponsoring are most natural to us. Taking outreach calls, especially with newcomers, can be a way to start learning how to be of service through empathetic listening and sharing our own experience.
In the 12th step of ITAA, we try to “carry this message to internet and technology addicts”. Sponsoring strengthens our own recovery. This has been proven through the histories of all 12-step programs as well as in ITAA. In sponsoring others, we examine our own program, and this keeps us working and moving ahead. While it is a commitment, the reward of the experience is worth it!
What if my sponsee relapses?
It is vital to remember that we are not responsible for the recovery of the person we are sponsoring. Our only responsibility as a sponsor is to offer the ITAA program as we understand it and share our own experience. It is important to let go of expectations and to be vigilant against codependency or trying to “fix” the other person. It is not our role to carry the one we are sponsoring or to be their Higher Power. Their recovery experience is their own; we can witness and support them, but we can’t recover for them.
In what ways can I help newcomers if I don’t feel I am ready to sponsor yet?
Doing service is a central principle of 12-step fellowships. Being willing to talk with newcomers by staying after a meeting or giving them our phone number for further questions is a wonderful way to be of service. Listening, sharing our own experience, and offering suggestions based on what has helped us are all vitally important for a newcomer to ITAA. It also gives our own program and recovery strength and keeps it fresh. There is also a list of open service positions on the ITAA website. It is often heard in 12-step rooms: “We only keep what we have by giving it away!”