A sponsor is a volunteer position. People who offer sponsorship in twelve step programs are not professionals. They are neither therapists nor counselors in this position, though they may be licensed in life outside ‘the program’. Sponsors are volunteers who have completed the twelve steps and who have maintained sobriety consistently for a long period of time. You do not sign a contract with a sponsor and you are not obligated to them in your relationship with them in any way. The primary purpose of your relationship with your sponsor is twofold. First, they are to successfully guide you through the twelve steps and help advise you on staying sober. Second, they are to equip you with the tools you need to guide another individual through the steps so you can become someone else’s sponsor. Once you have completed the steps with your sponsor, there is no need to continue a close relationship with them, according to the original format of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many people maintain a relationship with their sponsor for years, doing the steps with them repeatedly, and seeking advice from them when needed. Sponsors can offer accountability, insight, and guidance from their experience and wisdom gained through their years in the program.
Sponsors are, however, just people. Moreover, sponsors are addicts and alcoholics in recovery, meaning they are still prone to their imperfections and character deficits. There may come a time when your relationship with your sponsor no longer serves you and you are ready to move on. Mistakenly, people refer to this as “breaking up” with your sponsor, which automatically creates an assumption of guilt. There is nothing to feel guilty about if you decide to move onto another sponsor. Unless, that is, you do it in a disrespectful way.
What to say to your sponsor
You want to arrange a time to talk, either on the phone or in person. Sponsors tend to be keen on when someone they are sponsoring is going to transition out of the relationship. Let them know that you are grateful for the time and energy they willingly gave to you. Describe to them the difference they have made in your life and what you have learned from them. Express your gratitude for the experience of your relationship. Then simply let them know it is your wish to move on and continue your recovery. When you see them at meetings, be friendly and cordial, always be grateful, and never feel that you have to be ashamed of moving on from that relationship.
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