Sponsorship is Modeling: The Shortcut to Successful Recovery

Sponsorship is Modeling: The Shortcut to Successful Recovery


Early addiction recovery can be absolutely overwhelming.

If you go to an AA meeting and you tell them that this is your first meeting ever, you are going to get an onslaught of advice from the entire group. Every person who shares is going to be giving you a bunch of suggestions, and then you have to sort all of those suggestions out. In many cases their suggestions sound like pithy bits of wisdom rather than actual actionable advice. Worse, in some cases the advice that you get will actually seem to contradict itself at times, leaving you a befuddled mess when it comes time to actually take action and try to recover.

There is a shortcut to all of this, and it is the idea of modeling. Sponsorship is the idea in AA or NA that you can ask someone to be your guide, and that person will “sponsor” you and show you the ropes, so to speak. This can be a bit of a double edged sword because if you choose a poor sponsor then they will be modeling the wrong behaviors for you to follow.

As such, what you might want to do is take the time and the energy to choose the right sponsor. One of the “shortcuts to the shortcut” is to find a person in AA who seems to have what you want in life, and then ask that person who their sponsor is. Then you go to their sponsor and ask them if they will sponsor you.

Be prepared for a large commitment. They may ask you to call them every day for the next 30 days. They may also insist that you attend certain AA meetings. If you are serious about your recovery then you will do these things and follow through. That is kind of the point of sponsorship, of modeling someone else. They tell you what to do, and you do it.

My sponsor made several key suggestions to me throughout my early recovery. The first of these suggestions was that I attend daily AA meetings and make a commitment to do so. This allowed me to build a foundation in early recovery that I never would have done for myself without the added accountability. In other words, going to a meeting every single day was just too hard, but because I had promised it to my sponsor, I was able to make it happen. And looking back I can see how this helped me to build a strong foundation for success.

Second of all my sponsor got me writing about my recovery. He was actually an NA sponsor, not AA, and he had me writing every day out of a step working guide book. He insisted that I write ten sentences for each question that was asked in the book, and there were hundreds of questions. His recommendation was that I do about 20 minutes or so each day, every day.

This got me in the habit of doing exploratory writing, which is a skill that has served me quite well in my recovery. Later on I continued with this skill by simply writing in a journal each day, which was also hugely beneficial for me.

At one point my sponsor suggested to me that I go back to school. I was against this idea because I was focusing so heavily on my recovery, and I was afraid that going back to college would distract me from my meetings and my sobriety. But he insisted that I go back to college and finish up my degree, so I eventually caved in and went back.

After I was juggling school and recovery, he also insisted that I go find employment. Again, I felt overwhelmed at this notion because I felt as though it was all going to be too much for me to juggle: Meetings, school, and work. When would I have time for myself? When would I have time for my friends, my peers, and socializing?

But of course it all worked out, and my life became very full and pretty well balanced actually. My sponsor had a perspective to be able to see the benefits of these things and all I could see was the fear and anxiety that came along with taking on too much. He was right and I was wrong though–which is the whole point of sponsorship. They have more experience and they can guide you in your decisions. If you don’t trust them and follow their direction then there isn’t much point to the relationship. Luckily I was willing to trust my sponsor and therefore I did what he suggested to me, which ended up working quite well for me.

The key to all of this is that the individual that is entering into recovery has to be willing. And in order for them to be willing they have to be in a state of surrender. Which is to say, they cannot still be clinging to any denial in their life. Hanging on to denial will prevent them from being truly open minded.

When I reached this point of surrender in my life I was so baffled as to how I had become so incredibly miserable that I was willing to do whatever it took in order to escape from the misery. This is the level of desperation that is needed to actually trust in a sponsor and do the things that they tell you to do.

It is a bit like doing homework when you are in school. Nobody actually wants to do their homework. Nobody would really do their own homework if they were left to their own devices.

The same is true with something like, say, writing out a gratitude list. The newcomer would say something to themselves like “This is silly…..I don’t want to sit here and write out reasons that I am grateful. I know why I am grateful, isn’t that enough? I’ll just skip the writing out of the list, it is too hard to think of things anyway.”

But if you have a sponsor then that person told you to write out a list of things that you are grateful for, and because you are being held accountable you actually sit there and you make your brain sweat a little and you think up 50 reasons that you are grateful. This is “doing your homework.” Nobody wants to sit there and force their brain to sweat and come up with all of these reasons, but doing so makes you stronger. It is building your gratitude muscle so that you will have the ability to be grateful when you need it most. But nobody would be able to force themselves to do this kind of “homework” if it were not for a sponsor instructing them and holding them accountable.

If you go to a dozen AA meetings and also an inpatient rehab, you will hear about a million suggestions as to how you should proceed in your recovery. You need a way to whittle that information down and actually turn it into usable action.

Get a sponsor and start taking advice and suggestions from that person. This is how you focus your actions and slow down the overwhelming amount of information in early recovery. Model the success of someone you admire in recovery, and you will get results like they got for themselves. Good luck!