Why get a Sponsor?

I’ll be honest with you, when I first got sober and started going to meetings, I legitimately had zero clue what a sponsor was. The last time I dealt with a sponsor was in grade school when we’d do a walk-a-thon, and some family and family friends would sponsor me by donating money for every lap I did. I honestly wondered if an AA or NA sponsor was someone who donated money for each day that I stayed sober. So if you feel silly about not knowing what a sponsor is or what a sponsor does, just remember that I thought I was going to get paid for staying sober.

I’ve mentioned before that I was very resistant about getting sober, and I was one of the most stubborn people I knew. I wanted to do things my way because I always thought that my way was the right way. Once I actually started listening in meetings, I came to realize that maybe I wasn’t always right, and I should try something new. When I realized that people were being truly honest when they told me that I didn’t have to live the way I was living anymore if I didn’t want to, I decided to follow in the footsteps of the people who were staying sober and living incredible lives.

Although I didn’t have faith in 12-step programs, it was blatantly clear who was succeeding and who was not. Those who were succeeding (the “winners”) were going to meetings, getting a sponsor and working the steps. I was going to meetings two to three times a day, but I heard over and over that it wouldn’t keep me sober, and I could see why that was true because I was going insane in my own mind. I was extremely afraid of asking anyone to be my sponsor because I had bad social anxiety, I didn’t like asking for help and didn’t want anyone telling me what to do.

Sometimes calling is the hardest thing.

My Sponsor Saved My Life Countless Times

It took my stubborn self three months to get a sponsor, which I don’t recommend to anyone because I was just extending my misery. What I did was give myself a deadline, so I told myself by a certain date that I needed to have a sponsor. Being the procrastinator that I am, I waited until the day of my deadline. I was going to raise my hand in a meeting and just say that I needed a sponsor, but something else happened. During the smoke break at the meeting, this guy came up and started making small talk with me. I had heard him in meetings before, and he sounded like he knew his stuff. He was asking me about my sobriety and then asked if I had a sponsor, and then he offered to be my sponsor, so I told him “Yes.”

During that three months of self-torture, I decided that I wanted to work the AA program, and this guy seemed to know the Big Book inside and out. When we first met up, I told him my fears of a sponsor making me do insane things and bossing me around, but he only asked me to do two things: call him every day and read the first 164 pages of the Big Book.

Sounds easy enough, right? For a guy who hates reading and talking on the phone, these were two of the hardest things I ever had to do.

Each day, my mind would race because I knew I had to call him, but I didn’t know what to say. As an unemployable guy in early sobriety, I didn’t have anything to tell the guy. I kept wondering what he wanted to know or what I was supposed to tell him. Most of the time, I’d purposely call him when I knew he was working just so I knew it’d go to his voicemail. When he did pick up the phone, it was typically a one-minute conversation, but I still made up all these crazy stories in my head about how the call might go.

Throughout my first one or two months working with my sponsor, I realized how much I caused my own misery. When I was having a rough day and talked to him, he’d point me to a page in the Big Book, offer me suggestions or share some of his experience strength and hope. Time and time again, the simplest things he told me were what kept me from drinking or using that day. The insanity of my disease kept me from calling him sometimes though. Even though I knew that talking with him helped me drastically, sometimes I’d just sit in my own self-pity for days before finally talking to him. I couldn’t understand why I waited so long to talk to him.

He Made Me Work for My Recovery

We all have different needs from a sponsor, and I didn’t know what I needed when I got mine. Having a relationship with a Higher Power today makes me realize that my sponsor was and still is exactly what I needed. I have a sponsor who made me work for my recovery. He made me realize that my recovery was my responsibility even if it wasn’t his intention.

The first time we sat down, he said, “My only two jobs as a sponsor are to take you through the Big Book and take you through the steps. We’re not here to be friends, but we may end up becoming friends throughout this process. I want you to know that if I’m ever not working out as a sponsor for you, I won’t have ill feelings towards you if you decide to get a new one because this is your recovery and your experience.”

We did end up developing somewhat of a friendship over time, but he helped me by being so hands-off with my day-to-day recovery. See, I always thought that I was the most important person in the world. I remember whining to my mom one day about how my sponsor never calls me to see how I’m doing, and she looked me right in the eye and told me, “That’s not his job.” It made sense too. He told me to call him and not the other way around. When alumni come to me telling me how hard it is to call their sponsor when they’re struggling, I tell them that they need to chase their sponsor and recovery like they did the alcohol or drugs.

Once I finished reading the first 164 of the Big Book, he had me read it again with highlighters and pens. When I finished that, we met up to start reading The Doctor’s Opinion together up until the point in Bill’s Story where he does the first step. Basically, I wasn’t able to start on my first step for a few months after him and I started working together. I needed this though. I had to do so much work just to even be able to get started on the steps, and that process helped build me an extremely strong foundation of sobriety.

If I wanted sanity, peace, serenity and sobriety, I had to fight for it. I had to fight against my own laziness and unwillingness. I had to do things I didn’t want to do like read and call him on a regular basis. I had to mess up multiple times to see how my way of doing things only brought me pain, but doing the opposite brought me ease and comfort.

Desert Hope Alumni Timmy B. and Samantha L.

Sponsor Experiences from Alumni

One thing that’s amazing about working a 12-step program is that there are so many different types of sponsor. All sponsors have their own lineage, and they do their best to pass along what their sponsor taught them. Because of this, each person’s experience with a sponsor can be different but similar. I love talking with my alumni to ask them about their experiences in sobriety, so I talked to a few about being a sponsee. Hopefully, if you couldn’t relate to me, you can find something in common with one of our alumni who are working with a sponsor.

I spoke with Abigail M., Samantha L. and Timmy B. and wanted to know what made them get a sponsor in the first place. Like myself, Abigail needed accountability and said, “It was my best way of keeping on track,” and “She reminds me to go to meetings.” For Samantha, it was about learning a new way to live. When we first get sober, we’re like newborns. “I have no idea how to live my life sober, and I need help. I don’t know what I’m doing, so I need someone to guide me,” Samantha told me when I spoke to her.

Timmy B. had tried to get sober before coming to Desert Hope back in 2013, but this time was different. “It was suggested from people with a lot more clean time than me who worked at Desert Hope [to get a sponsor],” Timmy told me. Relocating from Connecticut, Timmy’s sponsor was his first friend. “A lot of [deciding to getting a sponsor] had to do with me being so alone and afraid,” Timmy said when I asked him what having a sponsor meant to him in the beginning. Being in the Las Vegas recovery community, Timmy’s sponsor was able to help introduce him to more people who could be part of his support group.

Like most of us in early recovery, Samantha learned that she couldn’t trust her thinking. “My sponsor doesn’t care about my feelings. It’s a good thing because my feelings aren’t fact. They come and go,” Samantha told me when I asked about how her sponsor continues to support her sobriety. Timmy B. uses his sponsor for accountability as well as checking his decisions. He told me, “[My sponsor] calls me out on my BS,” and “One of the biggest things is he’s someone I can bounce my decisions off of.”

As a way of keeping in touch with her sponsor, Abigail M. meets with her sponsor for 30 minutes to an hour after meetings over a cup of coffee. Her sponsor is there to provide suggestions about living life on life’s terms and helps answer any questions Abigail may have about her steps. The steps are the real work, and we need ongoing guidance. On his second round of the steps, Timmy told me, “[My sponsor] guides me through the 12 steps because he has a working knowledge of them.” Timmy can also turn to his sponsor more often than most of us because they’re currently roommates.

If you’ve had any questions or doubts about getting a sponsor, I hope this piece has helped offer some clarity and motivation. As an Alumni Coordinator, I see many people who are succeeding in their recovery by making the decision to get a sponsor. Those who are resistant are often struggling or relapsing. My hope is that you realize what I did years ago, which is that doing what is suggested can not only help you stay sober, but begin to live the incredible life that you deserve.