Sponsorship is an extremely important part of the Twelve Step programs, both for the newcomer and the sponsor. As the A.A. pamphlet, Questions and Answers on Sponsorship says about the newcomer, "Sponsorship gives the newcomer an understanding, sympathetic friend when one is needed the most. Sponsorship also provides the bridge enabling the new person to meet other alcoholics - in a home group and in other groups visited."
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous points out the importance of sponsorship for the sponsor on page 89, "Practical experience shows that nothing will so much sure insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics." Sponsorship is an integral part of the program for both sponsors and sponsees.
Picking a Sponsor
When picking a sponsor, there are many things that people consider: time, involvement, gender, age, similarities and more.
The Pamphlet on sponsorship reminds us, "An old A.A. saying suggests, 'Stick with the winners.' It's only reasonable to seek a sharing of experience with a member who seems to be using the A.A. program successfully in everyday life." When picking a sponsor, this is a very important issue to consider. Is the person we would like to sponsor us using the program wisely? A most beneficial sponsor will work the program in all aspects of his or her life, and be able to offer experience on how the program can work for us.
Often, newcomers look for a sponsor that shares a similar story and have similar hobbies. Although finding a sponsor who you can relate to may be beneficial, it is absolutely not necessary. The aforementioned pamphlet points out, "Often, a newcomer feels most at ease with a sponsor of similar background and interests. However, many A.A.s say they were greatly helped by sponsors totally unlike themselves. Maybe that's because their attention was then focused on the most important things that any sponsor and newcomer have in common: alcoholics and recovery in A.A." Having a sponsor with a different background may force us to really look at the similarities.
In my humble opinion based on my experience, a newcomer should get a sponsor as soon as possible. Even as a temporary sponsor, somebody with a little more time can be the catalyst for change.
Everyone has different opinions on how the sponsor-sponsee relationship should be. I stress that these are only my opinions, not the opinions of any Twelve-Step group as a whole, and I am not an expert. There are a few points I think are important in the sponsor-sponsee relationship.
First, a sponsor should not be "above" or "better than" the sponsee. Sponsors and sponsees are equals. Yes, the sponsor is sharing his or her experience, strength, and hope with the newcomer, but it does not make him or her a leader or dictator. In many cases, sponsors tell sponsees exactly what to do, and are there only to take people through the steps. However, as the first quote in this piece says, "Sponsorship gives the newcomer an understanding, sympathetic friend when one is needed the most." Sponsors and sponsees absolutely do not need to be friends, but they should absolutely be friendly and compassionate.
Second, if a sponsee has a question or objection, they should always be able to ask. The pamphlet on sponsorship touches on this, saying, "If the sponsor's idea sound strange or unclear, the newcomer had better speak up and ask questions. Theirs is supposed to be an easy, open relationship, in which both parties talk freely and honestly with each other." Openness is essential for the sponsor-sponsee relationship. The sponsee must feel comfortable asking a question, and the sponsor must welcome such curiosity.
Finally, although a sponsor is the newcomer's main bridge into the twelve step program, the newcomer must also have other resources. I found early in my sobriety that although I had a steady sponsor, I needed to add other people to my toolbox. I still have many men I speak with in the program daily; I do not go to just one. I do think it is very important to find a person to be entirely honest with and tell everything to. However, when we are ready, it is beneficial to open up to others. There are millions of Twelve-Step members across the world, and we are doing an injustice to ourselves if we don't explore the knowledge and experience out there. Again, from the pamphlet on sponsorship, "We have many resources when we are unable to contact our sponsors. We can telephone other members; go to an A.A. meeting; phone or visit the nearest A.A. office or clubroom for sober alcoholics; read A.A. books or pamphlets or our magazine, the A.A. Grapevine, to find answers for almost any problem troubling us at the moment."