Most people who go through inpatient rehabilitation treatment or get assistance through outpatient services experience some type of 12-Step program. Others might attend a group meeting before seeking professional care because they recognize there’s a problem and are ready to make a change.
Why a 12-Step Program?
Addiction scientists are continuously making advances that shine a light on what helps people reinforce recovery habits and enjoy fulfilling lives. But there are still some traditional practices, such as 12-Step programs, that provide an important sense of connection, support, and accountability.
The history of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is known to many. After nearly 100 years, the organization is famous for formulating the 12-Step program to help people achieve sobriety. While not an actual treatment program, it’s often one component of a continuum of care plan that helps reinforce lasting recovery.
The 12 Steps start by asking members to admit to an entity higher than themselves that they are powerless over alcohol and how unmanageable life is as a result. Each step provides an introspective journey through an individual’s life to help them understand aspects of their condition, address their shortcomings, realize how their alcoholism impacts others, make amends to anyone harmed and finally, use proactive methods to come to an awakening.
While not a religious organization, AA is rooted in spirituality, seeing it as a source of strength for recovery. Christian tenets were used in the beginning of AA, but the organization stresses that it doesn’t preach or follow a particular dogma, and members are welcome to assign meaning to a higher entity any way they choose.
In the past decades, other groups have emerged using the same step philosophy:
- Al-Anon and Alateen
- Eating Disorders Anonymous
- Gamblers Anonymous
- Heroin Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Overeaters Anonymous
How 12-Step Sponsorship Helps You
Most 12-Step programs incorporate a sponsorship method to help guide people entering recovery through the inevitable twists and turns of this new state of being. This is one of the primary reasons why many people believe following a 12-Step philosophy is successful for achieving sobriety: you’re never alone in the process.
While some individuals might have a therapist, spiritual advisor, or another influential person in their lives who will listen and provide comfort, that person might not comprehend or relate to the unique challenges of alcohol or drug addiction.
To have someone in your life with an inherent understanding of what you’re going through was the initial intent of Bill W. and Dr. Bob when they established AA. The larger community provides connection, but having someone to not only rely on but also hold you accountable for your choices is what prompts effective change. More importantly, “through sharing, their own sober lives could be enriched beyond measure.”
A 12-Step sponsor has already “done the work,” as they say. Usually more than a year or longer into recovery, a sponsor volunteers to:
- Provide instruction through the program
- Be available as a resource to help with its readings and homework
- Extend daily contact to their sponsees in the early stages of recovery
- Offer relapse prevention solutions
- Acknowledge sobriety achievements but also hold sponsees accountable for their wellness
Because a sponsor has overcome personal struggles and other challenges in a quest for their sobriety, they’re often quite familiar with many of the negative behaviors and actions associated with addiction. So this means many will be tough, but fair, like a coach or mentor.
Your relationship with your sponsor may be one of the most honest interactions you’ve ever had. Their sponsorship role isn’t to be your best friend—it’s to help you strive for the life you want.
Choosing a 12-Step Sponsor
To begin a sponsored relationship, you’ll reach out to members of your group who are open taking on the role. Sometimes, a longtime member who knows enough about both of you— including your experiences, addictions, traumas, and other important factors—might suggest a partnership.
You both have particular responsibilities in the relationship, so usually people meet for coffee to see if they mesh and how the sponsor can assist the sponsee with goals and intentions. Sometimes, two personalities don’t seem like a good fit, and that’s fine.
Remember: your sponsor might not come across as a friend, at least not a first. When it comes to 12-Step sponsorship, you’re looking for someone who can relate to your challenges but provide the additional support you need to overcome them. If you don’t seem to have a lot in common but the sponsor has traveled a similar path, that connection might be more important liking the same college football team or types of music.
Here are some other tips we suggest for understanding the roles and boundaries in your 12-Step sponsorship.
Not Sure the 12 Steps Are Right for You?
Some people don’t align with the practices of a 12-Step program, and that’s okay. There are other sobriety support groups, such as:
These organizations also provide community engagement, member encouragement, and guidance for accountability.
What’s critical to a successful recovery journey is that you recognize there’s no need to be alone: you can find a group that inspires and supports you as long as you make the effort.
Find Community at Willingway
At our continuing care community groups throughout the Southeast, you’ll meet other people moving through life one step at a time. We invite you to join us and feel the energetic power of many people in pursuit of the same goals.