Sponsorship for People in Recovery Programs

Most support groups encourage recovering people to find a sponsor.   In addition, “mentorship” is a solid Biblical concept. The relationship between Paul, the seasoned veteran apostle, and Timothy, the young, gifted, upstart preacher is an excellent example.

Still, for people involved in a long-term residential programs,   it is best to delay the process of finding a sponsor until they get near graduation.   While still in the program, the staff serves essentially as the “sponsor”.   Having an outside sponsor too early in the program can actually be counterproductive, especially if the sponsor gives guidance that is at odds with what the program’s staff.   It can also place the staff in a difficult situation in regard to confidentiality.

As I have often said, the primary goal of any long-term residential recovery program is to “work themselves out of a job.”   In other words, we succeed with troubled people when they no longer need us.   As we begin the process of planning an individual’s exit from a structured long-term program, careful aftercare/discharge planning is vital.   There must be a formal plan that includes church and support group participation, educational, housing and employment arrangements.   Finding an outside program sponsor should be a non-negotiable expectation for graduation from a residential recovery program.

How can we benefit from having a sponsor?

A. Establishing Accountability – Having another man in my life who knows enough about me to ask the hard questions has been a vital dimension of my personal walk of recovery. To be honest about it, there are times when I’ve actually walked away from temptation more because I did not want to be embarrassed by confessing it to a sponsor, than because it was the right or best thing to do.

B. Keeping Pride in Check – Ego, grandiosity, and self-centeredness are all issues with recovering people. The Bible is full of admonitions about this – “Pride goes before a fall, and God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble, etc.” Ultimately, a sponsor helps me to keep from getting trapped by my own false sense of “powerfulness” and keeps me in reality (which is another word for “humility”).

C.   Staying Honest – It’s really easy to fool others, and even myself. I’ve learned how to look really good outwardly, while I’m doing terribly inwardly, even in support groups. Here again, if I’ve been open with my sponsor about my personal issues, he will hold me accountable and “nail me” when I’ve slipped into dishonesty. It is my firm conviction that no one with a clear conscience ever relapses.

D.   Maintaining Objectivity – “Stinking thinking” is a real trap. Having a person committed to being a “sounding board” for me gives me someone who can say stuff like, “I don’t think you are perceiving that correctly” or “Have you considered this might be what’s really going on?” This is especially helpful in the always difficult area of relationships in which all recovering people struggle. Most others in our lives have some “vested interest” in how we behave or how well we do in our lives. It’s hard for these folks to be very objective. So, we need someone outside of our primary family, work, etc. relationships who doesn’t have as much at stake to help us to steer a clear course.

E.   Finding Encouragement – I find I am apt to get down on myself at times, often because of things over which I have little or no control. Having an objective, supportive person who understands the process of recovery helps me keep a healthy perspective on things. Usually, I find I’m doing better than I might think. And, even when I’m not doing so well, my sponsors have provided the hope and support I’ve needed to move forward and do the often difficult things that are necessary to keep growing.

How to Find a Sponsor

Look for a person who is:

  • Of the same sex (an absolute must!).
  • Growing and solid in his/her own personal program of recovery.
  • Trustworthy and able to keep what is shared confidential.
  • A good listener and non-judgmental encourager.
  • Available when they are needed.   This usually means able to meet at a set time on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

A good starting place for finding a sponsor is to look for people at support group meetings who seem to be solid and take an interest in newcomers.   It might be wise to find out how other participants in the meetings see this person.

Since establishing a sponsorship relationship is really an informal arrangement, it starts by simply asking a trusted individual – “Would you be my sponsor?”   And, it’s perfectly acceptable to fire” a sponsor if the arrangement does not seem to be working out.   So, there are definite advantages to starting this process while still in the program so staff members can provide support and feedback until a suitable sponsor is found.

Who Needs Recovery?

You probably need to consider seeking help if:

  • The last thing in the world you want to do is talk about your possible areas of “stuckness.”
  • Your life is getting to be a repeat of one disaster after another.
  • You are finding you feel less and less in control over problems you once thought were under control.
  • You have noticed an increase in the frequency of the behaviors that you believe are a problem (lying, stealing, drinking, eating, gambling, etc.)
  • You have family members that have begun to show concern about problem areas in your life.
  • You feel that you are getting more of the things that you don’t want and less of the things you do want.
  • You have unresolved issues from your past that periodically resurface, much to your discomfort.

— Tim Timmons from his tape set “AA means Anyone Anonymous”

Admitting Powerless – a Defeatist Attitude?

powerlessnessIsn’t   admitting “powerlessness” over drugs and alcohol a defeatist attitude?

At first glance, declaring that one is powerlessnesss over alcohol sounds like a sad resignation to a lifetime of battling with the urge to drink.   Fortunately, the truth is just the opposite.   Both clinically and spiritually, this admission is the key to a lifetime of victory for the struggling addict.

A.         What “powerlessness” is not — Because there have been are some misapplications of this concept, we need to recognize that   the concept of powerlessness has nothing to do with:

  • Which drug or type of alcohol an individual uses.
  • How often or how much he or she drinks or takes drugs.
  • The will power to stay from taking a drink or ingesting drugs.
  • The determination to stay away from drinking friends, the liquor store, crack house or any other place he or she   and drink or finds drugs.

These are all choices that are within the addict’s ability to control — and for which they must be held responsible.

B.         What “powerlessness” is — The type of   “powerlessness” we are focusing on what happens when the addict uses his/her drug of choice (which may be ethyl alcohol).   In the beginning, anyone who starts using drugs or drinking alcohol has a lot of control over their using experiences.   They means they can still decision hen they will use, how much they will use, and when they will stop.   However, once an addiction progresses to the chronic stage, they lose the ability to predicate any of this.

C.         Loss of Control: the Hallmark of Addiction —   Some alcoholics have told me that they can’t be powerless because they can just stop for one or two beers and go home without it turning into a prolonged binge.   For them, I like to use the illustration of playing Russian roulette.   Just as every chamber of a gun does not contain a bullet, not every using experience ends up in days of out-of-control use and behavior.   Some alcoholics switch from beer to wine to hard liqour in hopes of gaining control over alcohol in one form or another. Others actually get into exercize, change their eating habits, lose weight, or even stop spending time with certain acquaintances in order to get a better handle on their use. Eventually, addicts will find themselves out-of-control while under the influence. When an addiction has progressed to the point of the loss of control, it is a “point of no return.”

D.       “The Illusion of Controlled Use” — This notion is at the very bottom of the addict’s denial system.   Some may be willing a admit that they “have a problem with alcohol” or that they “drink too much.” But, real recovery only begins when they are fully able to accept that they have totally lost the ability to control their alcohol or drug use once they start.   Destroying this illusion, forever,   is one of the most important tasks to complete in a recovery program.   If this does not happen, all the addict learns and experiences in the program will not be enough to keep him or her sober for very long.   If drinking or drugging again is even a remote option, they will eventual do it.

E.         A Personal Word – I am a Spirit-filled born-again Christian.   But I know in my “heart of hearts” that if, today, I were to introduce chemicals into my body, I would have no idea where I would end up.   This sure knowledge of my powerlessness over alcohol and drugs keeps me from gambling with my soul and my eternal destiny.   Just like any other alcoholic or drug addiction, the victory for me is won or lost over the first drink.     I am convinced that taking it would launch me into a dizzying, downward spiral and only God knows how or if I would ever emerge from it.

F.         Powerless: the Key to Spiritual Power — In 1 Cor 6:12, Paul makes an interesting statement, “Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything.” A true sense of powerlessness enables the addict so see that he or she will not overcome addiction simply through force of will.   Success will only be found by looking outside of themselves for the power to change.   This relates very much to the words of Paual in 2 Cor. 12: 9 & 10.   Paul said he would rather boast about his weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on him and that God’s power is “made perfect in weakness.”

G.       The First Step Exercise — This is an effective group exercise to help addicts grasp their own personal powerlessness over their drug of choice.   To begin, ask members to create a list of twenty examples of life experiences that illustrate how they   are powerless over their “dug of choice.” Then, have them share their lists with the group to get their feedback.   The counselor leading the group must be prepared to hear lots of excuses and blameshifting.   So, he or she must be prepared to keep the focus on the individual, their use, and the real life events that following the use of alcohol and drugs.   With the help of the counselor and their peers, the goal is to help progrm participants gain enough self-insight to see that only one thing led to their hardships; the use of alcohol and/or drugs.   Take this factor out of the equation and none of the rest would have followed.