Sponsorship in addiction – what does that really mean and how does it work?
The discussion topic today is targeted more towards sponsors, but my hope is that it can also help sponsees or those that don’t have a sponsor yet. This “must” from The Big Book about sponsorship and recovery is something to consider:
To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends-this is an experience you MUST not miss. (89)
What is sponsorship in addiction and why is it essential to long-term recovery?
From Step Into Action: One, Two, Three:
Getting a sponsor is humbling. Trusting the experience and insights of another sexaholic as we attend SA meetings and go through the Steps can require a big change in our “I can do it myself” attitude…
Doing without a sponsor is like piloting a ship without a rudder. The sailor is at the mercy of whatever current comes along.
What I’ve learned about sponsorship
I had my first sponsor back in 2008 as I was introduced to the 12 steps via LDS ARP. It went well: he had me read some talks, purchase the Big Book from AA, and we met weekly to talk about what I was learning. I also was required to send a nightly email and an answer to the questions in the LDS manual in the morning.
Unfortunately, when I hit Step 9, I slowly stopped communicating with him. This was the beginning of the end and my own invitation to hit a rock bottom I never thought I’d hit…
When I finally came back to the program in February 2014, I was eventually introduced to the ARPSupport.org sponsorship program. This was the start of my “new normal” in recovery. ARP Support is tough. It’s working the steps in 90 days, and it’s strict.
The leader of ARP Support, Mark G., has shared this with me about the ARP Support program:
Abstinence is required to work the program. There really should be NO slips, if someone is serious about recovery. The 90 day program is not meant to do over and over again. Something begins to be lost when that happens. We hope that everyone who starts out has already hit their bottom and will be ready to abstain, work the program, and recover. Sadly, most aren’t. Even more sad is the reality that of those who prove not ready to abstain, a high percentage of them will never be ready. Some will, but not for a long time. We cannot help these individuals “at this time” and there is just not enough sponsors to spend time working daily with men who are nowhere near ready or willing to abstain. I no longer just reassign these men to another sponsor right away. I personally do some in-depth work with them, strictly on step one, in an effort to help them become honest with themselves about where they really are and what they can look forward to one way or the other.
Our hope is that the truth will humble and motivate them, helping them to hit bottom or raise their bottom.
There is one thing they MUST learn, and that is that acting out and working the steps do not go together!
In the meantime, they have meetings, good bishops, meetings, home teachers, meetings, missionaries in the program, did I say meetings, fellow addicts, AND above all, they have a Savior, to find needed love and support as they work at coming to themselves. Until that time, there is very little we can do for them “steps-wise.”
I feel working the ARP Support program, both as a sponsee and as a sponsor, led me to SAL.
ARP Support follows the LDS manual but adds questions that helped me dig deeper.
ARP Support is a structured way of working the 12 Steps of Recovery – something that I didn’t really do that well before.
ARP Support is not the only way to work the steps, but I’m grateful for what it’s taught me about sponsorship.
Here are a few things I’ve learned as an ARP Support sponsor:
- My job isn’t to fix the sponsee
- My job is simply to share what’s working for me and invite them to do the same or do what is working for them as long as it is within the bounds set for recovery
- Having them call me holds them accountable
- If I have to call them or remind them to do their step work, we need to have a conversation about their level of commitment to recovery
- If they aren’t willing to keep the commitments they agreed to when starting the 90 day ARP program, it’s best for me to let them go until they are ready to truly commit: a common issue with addicts is that we think we can live by our own set of rules and still be ok with God – this isn’t the case and never will be
- When I have questions, I can always ask Mark what his thoughts are
- I need to encourage sponsees to dig deep about their feelings and emotions. If they aren’t willing to dig deep, they may not be ready for recovery yet
- Answering sponsees via email, text or even calling is so helpful, both for the sponsees and for me to continue to live in recovery
- Sharing what I’m learning with my wife is always helpful, even though sometimes it’s not easy and reminds her of where I’ve been in the past
- The spouse of my sponsee needs to be involved in her own recovery and healing if the relationship is really going to heal – it will help her understand what the addiction is and what’s happening so she can recognize when and if he’s falling back into addictive behaviors
- Writing is a great and essential way to heal and surrender – things can come to the surface that never were discovered without writing things out
Sponsorship Tools Worth Considering
Here are a few tools I’ve used as a sponsor that have helped me share my experience:
Books I Recommend to a Sponsee
- The White Book from SA
- Step Into Action Books
- Sitting in a Rowboat Throwing Marbles at a Battleship eBook
- The Big Book from AA
- What Can I Do About
Talks a Sponsee Can Review
- Personal Strength Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ by Elder Scott
- Beware of Pride by President Benson
- Recognizing God’s Hand in Our Daily Blessings by Elder Christopherson
- Yielding Our Hearts to God by Sister Marriott
- Therefore They Hushed Their Fears by Elder Bednar
Practices I Encourage as a Sponsor
- Practicing the Chin-Up Approach to looking at others, especially women
- Daily email check-in
- Daily working the steps via reading and writing about the step you’re working on
- Attending 12 Step meetings,
preferablytwo meetings per week
- Daily, in the moment surrender from sponsee as he feels negative emotions or triggers (can start with text, then a call can happen if needed)
Ultimately, I don’t really know what the best practices are for sponsors and sponsees. To me, it’s just like recovery: one day at a time and a willingness to learn from others.
I look forward to what’s working for you.
Great topic, being a new comer I really look forward to what people comment. I think my biggest hesitation with having a sponsor is not over stepping boundaries. Like needing a contact during the work day or at 9:45 at night. Then what form of reaching out is appropriate, aka text, call, email. Or this may all depend on who the sponsor is.
Hey Josh, thanks for the comment.
For me, the best method for reaching out is this: I write down what I’m feeling and why I think I’m feeling that way (here’s a real example). Then, I may send my writing to my sponsor. I may then ask him when would be a good time to chat on the phone.
If it’s a negative feeling or trigger I have in the moment and I don’t have time to write right then, I text first and share what I’m feeling and ask when we could talk on the phone.
Like you said, it may just depend on your sponsor’s preference as well.
Hope this helps.
For me I am just now realizing how important step 1 really is. For a long time I’ve excepted that I’m an addict and I thought that was enough honesty. I have come to realize that is far from enough. I have done the ARP Support program (all 12 steps) as well and even doing that I feel like I only scratched the surface, especially in dealing with my negative emotions. I am excited to start back over at step 1 and work through the steps with a sponsor again instead of on my own. For me having the daily accountability really helps me to stay grounded and keeps me out of my own head. I am learning new things every day that help me in my recovery that I don’t think I would have learned without a sponsor.
Thanks Devin! It is pretty amazing how the learning never stops. I’m grateful for that feeling. Too often, I feel the culture we live in seems to think there’s a checklist and when I get to a particular point, “I’m good – I got this taken care of.” What I’ve learned is that recovery and surrender to God is never over – it’s a journey, a life-long pursuit to build my relationship with God and with others. Building true, real, sincere relationships is something that has been foreign to me until recently, and I’m so grateful for the discovery.
Are you sponsoring in the ARP Support program? I’ve found that to be a great experience too. Not only following the plan laid out there, but also sharing what I’m learning in SAL too.
Thanks for your friendship and for your comments Devin.
Thank you for your comments Nate! I find that I’m learning new things everyday. I’m not going through the ARP Support program this time. Because of my wife’s health it is very difficult for me to stick to such a strict program. I really like the ARP Support program but for now I have found a sponsor in the SAL program.
And that’s really the purpose of this discussion – to find what’s working best as we work the steps and practice sponsorship in SAL.
Does it need to be strict?
Do we need to hold each other accountable to work the steps?
How do we monitor progress or is that a must?
These are all questions that I have. Some seem pretty easy to answer – of course I need to monitor my own progress; but, as an addict, I’ve thought I was doing that before and completely minimizing what was really happening 🙂
Thanks for being part of the discussion.
I have never been a Sponsor, but look forward to that opportunity with excitement to be able to share my recovery and what has worked for me. So my comment comes from the perspective as a sponsee. I began the ARP Support sponsorship program early this year with January 3rd as my sobriety date. It was a lot of work. It required a strict routine. I would start at about 5:15am with my running/morning workout, prayer, scriptures, daily step work assignments, and journal writing along with check in with my sponsor morning and night. My day would end with much the same routine. It really was a lot of work. I had hit my rock bottom in Dec 2015 and getting a sponsor was just the beginning of what I was prepared to do to STOP acting out in my addiction. I really wanted change in my life. Somewhere in this process my emotions and lust led me to act out on March 5th 2016 (my current sobriety date). I first shared my relapse with my sponsor, then my wife and bishop, along with my bother who was there as a mentor and a support. I was devasted that I was to start over in the 90 day program that I had begun. I questioned for a day or so if this was worth the headache and having to start over again. My sponsor was stepping down and I felt some initial frustration. Mark (whose program it is), contacted me and we worked together for the past month. He was patient and was seeking to understand my heart and if I really wanted recovery. If so, complete sobriety is where it starts. I came to realize that Recovery is not a race. It is a slow lifelong process that requires a lot of work. It is meant to be painful. Healing and change were not meant to be easy. This has not weakened me, but has only made me stronger. So here I am, at the start. I have been assigned a new sponsor and I am eager to hear what has worked for him. I know he gets it. He understands addiction and what I am going through. It’s been said before, that, it takes an addict to help an addict. So, going forward, a day at a time.
Hey Brandon! I think one of the big issues I’ve dealt with and continue to deal with is the “checklist” mentality. So when a sponsee has to start over on the steps after a slip, it can be pretty frustrating, both for the sponsee and for me if I’m working with them. WHY?
But, what I’ve realized is that, like you said, complete sobriety is where recovery really starts. Recovery isn’t a race and there’s not a finish line. Like JR said recently, “…recovery [is] a way of life and not just as a thing to be done. There is no end to recovery, just as there is no end to emotion or thought. Getting recovery “into the bones,” as Brene Brown puts it, is only something that can be done when desire meets behavior over time.”
Not that I want to start over again, but I’ve been tempted to sign up again for the 90 day program just so I can always be accountable and continue to work steps as part of my way of life.
Such an important topic! There is so much that could be said, and yet it’s all just feelings and opinions – at least from my perspective. I see sponsorship being like any other relationship, very individual and plastic in nature.
There are, however, helpful principles and some tools that can provide a structure to the relationship and guide the sponsee’s recovery progress with greater effectiveness. You’ve touched on several of them. Here are a couple of tools I find helpful for my own recovery and that I’m attempting to incorporate into the few sponsee relationships I have:
– Requesting daily checkins that account for Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual states – including any sexual, emotional, or situational Triggers
– Encouraging sponsees to reach out to surrender any time a significant trigger arises
– Validating all sponsee experiences and emotions (empathy), and encouraging and guiding with personal experiences and soft invitations to try different things (as I feel inspired)
– Lead by example by working the steps
– Ask about the progress the sponsee is making with working the steps
The overarching hope, as it is for my own recovery, is that the sponsee will take recovery as a way of life and not just as a thing to be done. There is no end to recovery, just as there is no end to emotion or thought. Getting recovery “into the bones,” as Brene Brown puts it, is only something that can be done when desire meets behavior over time.
I agree – there isn’t really a “right” way to be a sponsor, but some things definitely help.
For me, having my sponsee’s reach out when they are feeling triggered or feeling negative emotions is a must.
Validating feelings is a must.
Working the steps is a HUGE must, both for me and for my sponsees.
And I agree, there is no end – it’s a lifestyle that has to be part of who I am today. Otherwise, I’m destined to go back to where I’ve been.
Thanks for the comment JR!
I second JR’s comments. I like to borrow the term from the White Book of “progress not perfection.” No one works a perfect program and sponsorship is not meant to be perfect either. If someone knows that they have a friend they can turn to in moments of temptation, it can make all the difference. I would also say that I have had the impression to reach out to men in the program who I no longer sponsor (due to their choice). When I have received those impressions, I have acted on them. I would encourage others to do the same.
That’s a great reminder – “progress, not perfection!” There’s no such thing as perfect recovery or perfect sponsorship. I guess my quest is to find the things that have worked best for others and try to implement them into how I sponsor and work as a sponsee.
I agree that, if the impression comes to reach out to someone, I need to just act on it and let them know I’m here.
Thanks for the comment Mathew – que te vaya regio!
Awesome comments. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for stopping by Kolby. Look forward to your insights and experience.
Sponsorship and how, and what, and why, has been on my mind a lot lately. I went through the 90-day program as well, and now currently sponsor through it. But sometimes I’ve wondered, and still do, if it’s the best approach. What it did for me was really jumpstarted me into working the steps. The accountability was a must. And for me the idea that I needed to work the steps everyday, and having specific work for me to accomplish, was also so helpful. Eventually that turned into me making that my new normal. Which I think is the hope. That it becomes less of a task, and more of a part of our life. As I learned in the White Book on page 146, working the steps and living in recovery is unnatural to me as an addict. I went to meetings, worked the steps, precisely because I didn’t want to.
“We are filled in the giving.” (pg. 148)
I have a big fear of failure. It’s one of my core negative emotions. And so I feared the 90-day program big time! How can I all the sudden just say, “Okay, I’m good to go! No more of this! I’m gonna be perfect form here on out!” It was scary, but what I learned was that’s not what the program is asking at all. The program is saying that if I work the steps, truly and sincerely work the steps, and take it one day at a time, I can live in recovery. For the rest of my life. One day at a time. Giving up my right to lust, or to act out, or to run away from my problems forever. One day at a time. I can do this for the rest of my life. One day at a time. Stop and stay stopped. One day at a time.
Anyway, I realize that this is about sponsorship and not the 90-day but I think that’s where I naturally go at times because of my current association with it. I’ve had concerns with it as a sponsee, and as a sponsor, but ultimately, it’s just one tool we have to help us learn what it means to work the steps. That’s all. And it’s not for everyone. We all have to find what works for us. But ultimately whatever route I take, it has to lead me to stop using lust, staying stopped, working the steps, going to meetings, and making connections. That’s the approach. And whether you’re a sponsor or a sponsee through SA-L, 12-Step, the 90-day, this approach probably shouldn’t be much different. I’m still very much learning what all this is and I’m so pumped that I can do that with everyone here. Thanks guys.
I feel just like you Sean, that the 90 day program was a great kickstarter for me to get out of myself and live a new normal. Working the steps everyday, being accountable, nightly check-in’s and building a friendship with my sponsor and then with sponsees, all of these things have been positive. Like Mark said, the 90 day program isn’t for everyone: there definitely has to be a commitment to “stop and stay stopped.” I feel like, if I have a problem with how that program works or what the rules and commitments are, I need to check my motives and surrender any frustration or negative feelings.
I too liked having a structure to get me started, and, at times, I’ve thought about going through the program again based on where I am today.
ONE DAY AT A TIME! That’s the key.
One of my biggest fears in any program is that, without accountability and a plan, the steps will never really get worked and I’ll lie to myself by saying “I’ve tried that and it didn’t work for me…” Well, what will then? NOTHING! Because “it WORKS when I WORK IT.”
I feel the 90 day program has been a great tool for me as a sponsee and even as a sponsor in SAL. Although I don’t follow it with SAL sponsees, I’ve learned things that I feel work well in holding others accountable to work recovery.
My equation for recovery has looked like this: Admitting that I was an addict > Full disclosure of my rock bottom to my wife > LDS ARP meetings > UCAP > Finding SAL > Starting the 90 Day Program as a sponsee > going to LDS ARP and SAL > reading recovery literature > Writing, writing, writing > Becoming a sponsor in 90 Day Program > Getting a new sponsor in SAL > More writing > Learning one day at a time what I need to do to connect with God and others in healthy ways.
Thanks for contributing to the conversation – great feedback!
I have two quick thoughts:
First, in regards to finding a sponsor, I think it might be worth looking for a sponsor who has a similar program of recovery work to your own, as there are so many different ways to go. I don’t think he has to be your buddy, or even share your interests, although I don’t see anything but a benefit there too. I say this because from the constant conversations I had with my sponsor through 90 Day ARP, it was very clearly that surrender was very different to him than it was for me. (as a result of what I learned in SAL) He would always be there for me no matter I what I needed, but when I reach out with specific questions related to things I had learned through SAL, or various recovery blogs etc. from guys who work SAL and similar 12 step groups, I really got nothing back. Maybe it doesn’t matter I don’t know, for me he was there for daily accountability, and that was what I needed more than anything as I start my journey toward long term recovery.
Secondly, in regards to sponsoring, I definitely think that a sponsor should be a good source of recovery information, and I hope to be that for others as I work as a sponsor in the future. Also, Nate, I totally 2nd that the spouse should be heavily involved in recovery, and a sponsor should encourage that involvement, as well as ask the sponsee what he is doing to help his spouse with her betrayal trauma. I was disappointed that not once has my sponsor in ARP ask me about how my wife was doing, what her recovery plan was, make recommendations for her etc. This is NOT a bag on him, I think it is simply a show of my first point that depending on our recovery directions, programs, backgrounds etc., we are going to get and give differing sponsorship.
Cameron, great thoughts.
I’ll respond to the 2nd thought 1st: the hardest thing about getting a spouse involved is that, for many of them, especially coming from their addict husband, it could be perceived as a blaming or justification strategy. And depending on where the husband is in recovery, it may even be that. So I don’t know the best way to handle it.
One thing I’ve done with sponsees, after talking with my wife, is tell them my wife would love to talk with their wife and share her story. My wife’s story is pretty straight forward:
– She found out I had a problem but I told her it was just a little one and that I was talking to the Bishop to get it taken care of
– She thought, “That’s great. I’m so glad he’s on top of the issue.”
– “Little” things happened but again, not a “big” deal – no worries (the lie I always told myself and believed)
– A few years later, the problem repeated itself as our 2nd child was born
– This time it was harder for her emotionally and she suggested I go to the LDS ARP meetings
– I started going to those and things seemed much better
– She felt like this was my thing and that I was taking care of it and she didn’t want or need to be involved
– Ultimately, the problem got progressively worse, I made terrible choices, and we nearly ended our marriage
– She was blown away by the feelings of fear, anger, trauma
– She started going to recovery meetings with LDS group, she got a sponsor, they worked the 12 steps together, and some healing started
– We started reading literature about addiction and recovery
– We went to UCAP together and met Rhyll and Steven C. – they invited us to the SAL meetings close to where we lived
– The next level of recovery began for her, dealing with the betrayal trauma I’d caused
And the journey continues today, one day at a time. Pretty much all we talk about is recovery and what we’re learning about ourselves, about feelings, and about how we can share what we’re learning at the right time with our kids.
So, that was a long answer but I agree, a spouse needs to be involved, but how we as addicts get them involved is the dicey situation.
I also agree that working with a sponsor can be a tricky thing. I have naturally adapted what I’m learning in SAL into my 90 Day program sponsorship. And vice versa, some of what I’ve learned from 90 day I’ve adapted into sponsorship through SAL.
I do understand that being buddies can be a bit risky – fear that calling them out on red flags will hurt the relationship or offend.
I don’t know the best answers but I do know that talking about them causes me to think through how I’m doing right now, in this very moment, and that, to me, is what recovery really looks like.
Thanks again for your insights.
I have never been a sponsor but hope to be in a place someday that I can and share what I have learned from my sponsors and step work. While working my recovery I have had several sponsors, 2 that have been a great blessing in my life and have guided me in my recovery… they worked. The other (lives in another state) struggled to remember my name and a relationship of trust never was established, it just didn’t work for me personally. The 90 program has been talked a lot about and how it works for some and not others. I have attempted to complete it but struggled to get past step 4. I am not currently doing it and never completed the 90 days but do not consider it a waste or that it didn’t work for me. Because of working that tool I was able to form healthy habits that I never ever thought were possible for me. The accountability and structure of the program motivated me to change and get up early every morning, work the steps, study, and be accountable on a daily basis. It also connected me with a great sponsor, who then directed me to SAL, which lead my wife to SAL, a sponsor and working her recovery. Every tool, every sponsor brings a different view I just have to find what works best for me and keep working the steps
Thanks for the comment Adam. I agree, every sponsor and connection brings a different view and different experiences. Keep up the great work and taking things one day at a time. Talk soon.