For those who have never had an addiction, the 12 Steps are often the stuff of movies and novels, a plot device when a character is battling addictive demons. But for the many recovering addicts across the world, the 12 Steps are tangible ideas that require thought and action. For those individuals, the 12 Steps are indeed a pathway to a better life.
In the same way, to the uninitiated, the term “sponsor” may be interchangeable with “coach,” “mentor” or even “friend.” But for people looking to overcome an addiction, a sponsor can be all of those and more. In theory, a sponsor is someone who will guide a newcomer through the 12 Steps, answer questions and share their experiences and hopes.
“When someone enters recovery it’s like moving into a new community. Just adjusting to life without drugs and alcohol is a major challenge,” says Melissa Garrison, alumni coordinator for Rosecrance Health Network.
Sponsors are a key part of the 12-step program, a set of principles that outline an addiction-recovery plan. Although originally created by Alcoholics Anonymous as part of its recovery program, the steps have been adapted by other organizations and individuals as well. Sponsors help participants follow the steps and are often essential to the success of the program. In return, the sponsored recovering addicts often play an important role in keeping the sponsors out in front of their addictive tendencies. “Learning what the program is about, the language, the process and meeting new people in recovery are some of what sponsorship is about,” says Garrison. “Having someone available to answer your questions and being available when you’re struggling not only helps the newcomer, but keeps the sponsor clean and sober as well.”
The 12 Steps
To understand the importance of a sponsor and the recovery process, it’s helpful to take a look at the 12 Steps themselves:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
According to Garrison, the 12-step program “works if you work it,” but isn’t without pitfalls. That’s why sponsors are vital to helping recovering addicts get through the rough spots. “Basically, just attending meetings will not keep anyone clean and sober,” Garrison says. “There has to be action. That’s where finding a sponsor, working the steps and helping others come in.”
Rosecrance alumni are a great resource for people currently in the program. “It’s all about support,” Garrison says. “The Alumni Program is a great way to practice Step 12. It’s very clear to someone who is working a 12-step program that you can’t keep your recovery unless you give it away by sharing your experience with others, and that’s what alumni members do.”
Alumni offer assistance, information and support those recovering addicts going through the 12 Steps. At times, the necessary support comes in the form of a phone call or visit from a sponsor. Other times, it can come from reference material or different forms of media. In a contemporary twist on the original, it can arrive in the form of 140-character Tweets, which Rosecrance, as @rosecrance12twe, often sends out as “wisdom for recovery and life.” A recent example focuses on owning up to one’s mistakes: “I am flawed. So, I work to further my emotional and spiritual health. When I am wrong, I admit it and try to fix it.”
Battling addiction and beyond
Garrison says that many people continue to use the 12 Steps even after they learn to overcome their addiction. It becomes part of their day-to-day life and an important toolbox when dealing with others. “When you’re standing in line at the grocery store, someone cuts you off in traffic, your daughter shrinks your favorite sweater in the dryer – these are all situations where one is powerless and can cause emotions to flare,” says Garrison. Applying the first three steps can help you handle the situation without a total meltdown. Looking at your part in these events can help you see you have a choice in how you react. If you do overreact you can choose to make amends and grow from the experience.”
Garrison says continued use of the 12 Steps is also a way to strengthen relationships with others throughout a lifetime. “When we find something that helps us feel better, our natural instinct is to share this wonderful plan,” Garrison says. “The more you practice the 12 Steps, the less stress you experience and the closer you become to others in your life.”