Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey that is sometimes punctuated with discouragement or periods of self-doubt and uncertainty. A good sponsor who has been in recovery for a number of years and is familiar with the pitfalls, questions and successes that occur along the way can help lead you to a life free of addiction.
A good sponsor is one who takes the time to listen to another person who is traveling that road, giving advice and encouragement to help them succeed over the long term. A number of special qualities are needed to be a good sponsor to another individual in recovery.
Being Observant and Responsive
Being a successful sponsor requires a variety of skills that come together to help another person maintain sobriety over the long term. It is both art and science.
The science aspect comes in observing and understanding the unique needs of the person who is working on their recovery. The art part of the equation comes in knowing how much support is needed, without expecting too much of the individual at an early period in their recovery nor by allowing them to become too dependent as they progress.1 This ability to balance understanding and interaction is one of the chief skills of a successful sponsor.
Willing to Put Aside One’s Own Needs
A good sponsor must be sufficiently advanced in their own recovery to put another person’s needs ahead of their own. Sponsors must be ready to provide advice and support at any time in the early days of the individual’s recovery, when relapses and setbacks due to the difficulty of adjustment to regular life after treatment are most common. This willingness to be present and available for the other person is a critical factor in helping them be successful in maintaining sobriety.
Listening with an Open Heart
Above all, a good sponsor is a good listener, keeping an open heart. The job of the sponsor is to be an available sounding board, encouraging the individual to become a self-directed and confident person in their recovery process. They must avoid being authoritarian or judgmental, instead simply sharing their own experiences and how they were able to find workable solutions for the everyday problems of maintaining sobriety.
A Good Sponsor Tells the Truth, Even When It’s Difficult
A good sponsor is also willing to tell a person the truth about their behavior or thinking, even when it is difficult.2 In many cases, the person may not be willing to hear the truth. However, the consistent connection to a realistic viewpoint can help the individual to stay on the correct path, avoiding the negative thought patterns and decisions that can keep them addicted. By always telling the truth, the sponsor benefits from the relationship also, by being reminded of the flawed thinking or destructive behaviors that can often lead individuals back into substance use.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, professional treatment can provide the therapies needed to learn new skills to rebuild your life in sobriety. A sponsor can help you to stay on the path of recovery, working out problems as they occur and enjoying the successes as you grow more confident.