Roughly 88 years ago, two men got together and determined that there were only two ways that they were going to get, and stay, sober. One was to find a Higher Power of their understanding and give themselves over to it. The other was finding and helping another person struggling with addiction. These two men were Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, the co-founders of the first 12-Step recovery group, Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). This was one of the founding moments of that program, as well as one of the founding moments of 12-Step service and the sponsor/sponsee relationship.
12-Step Service: What Exactly Is the Sponsor/Sponsee Relationship?
The sponsor/sponsee relationship is nothing new, though it has gone by many different names; master and apprentice, teacher and student, and mentor and mentee, for example. It can be seen all the way back to when Socrates mentored Plato and Plato taught Aristotle.
Of course, in recovery, the sponsor/sponsee relationship takes on a different special meaning. It is a relationship that is made between one person who has recovered as a result of doing the Twelve Steps and another person who wishes to recover.
Also, it is how people in recovery stay honest with themselves and accountable to others. Both are critical keys to staying recovered in the long term and avoiding relapse. If these two elements remain strong in a sponsor/sponsee relationship then the chances of recovery go up exponentially.
12-Step Service: What Does a Healthy Sponsor/Sponsee Relationship Look Like?
A healthy sponsor/sponsee relationship is going to look active. Many sponsors ask their sponsees to check in with them on a daily basis. This ensures that they are remaining sober, and also helps them stay connected to their ultimate mission of recovery.
A healthy sponsor/sponsee relationship is also going to look focused. The key to a good sponsor/sponsee relationship is that it remains focused on the Twelve Steps of recovery. It is important for this relationship not to veer off into other avenues, because that can distract from the goal of an initial “psychic change,” which is what happens as a result of doing the Twelve Steps. Also, it is essential to experience this change to fully heal at the cellular level.
There will be plenty of time to shift the sponsor/sponsee relationship into a more mature mentorship later on, but in the beginning, it should be focused on achieving “step work.” Besides, there are other people for those types of issues such as clinicians, therapists, psychologists, and counselors.
12-Step Service: The Importance of Becoming Part of a Recovery Community
The sponsor/sponsee relationship is also an excellent way to get connected to the broader 12-Step community. It is important to become part of a recovery community because it continues the focus on accountability, and it shows us that recovery is possible.
“Shared experience” is also a big part of recovery. Being able to relate to other people who have gone through, or are going through, the same experiences as us can be a critical component of one’s recovery. It also gives us an essential feeling of belonging.
12-Step Service: The Importance of Helping Others
Working with other people in 12-Step recovery is a big part of the program (of which there are many 12-Step offshoots of A.A.). There is even a chapter in the primary text of 12-Step recovery (known most commonly as the “Big Book”) dedicated to it entitled, “Working With Others.”
The chapter begins, “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other [people in, or seeking, recovery]. It works when other activities fail… You can help when no one else can.” This is the unique gift of being in recovery. What was once our biggest shame has now become our biggest asset. Our experiences can help save someone else’s life. That is pretty powerful stuff.
Helping others also helps us. The truth is that when we focus on someone else’s issues, it makes it virtually impossible to focus on our own. We cannot do it. That is why they say the sponsor/sponsee relationship also helps the sponsor as much as it does the sponsee.
Our Treatment Mission at Lantana Recovery
Here at Lantana Recovery, our treatment mission is simple; to help as many people struggling with addiction and mental illness recover as possible. We believe that the sponsor/sponsee relationship can help to make that happen, not just in the immediate moment, but in the long term as well.
Bill Wilson also famously said, “How dark it is before the dawn!” We understand that before getting help it can feel utterly hopeless. But, we are here to tell you that there is hope. Anyone can recover if they want it. Yes, it may feel dark now. But, we’ll help you make it to a new dawn.
The sponsor/sponsee relationship is one of the foundational elements of a 12-Step program. Many would consider it the lifeblood of their program because it is how they connected to the Twelve Steps in the first place, and remains the way that they stay connected to them. It also ensures that the cycle of recovery continues, because without people who have succeeded in sobriety showing newcomers how they did it, the foundation of the program falls apart. If you feel like you or a loved one are struggling with issues of addiction, or mental illness, we can help get you onto the road of recovery. For more information on the benefits of a sponsor/sponsee relationship, call Lantana Recovery at (866) 997-2870.