At your first meeting at a Twelve-Step group, you probably heard someone talking about their sponsor, or about someone they are sponsoring, or the need to have a sponsor.


Sponsorship, like much of the actual organization of AA, evolved from the Oxford Group. This was a highly successful nonsectarian Christian fellowship that flourished in the first half of the twentieth century. Its aim was to return to the spirit of first-century Christianity .

Sponsorship is not the same as counseling. A sponsor shares his or her own experience, strength, and hope with another person, primarily to work the Twelfth Step. A counselor, on the other hand, is a trained professional who uses a body of clinical knowledge, skills, and techniques to help cause a change in a client or patient.

When you ask someone to sponsor you, you are giving them an opportunity to work their own Twelfth Step. You are doing them a favor, more than the other way around. In sharing their experience, strength, and hope with you, they will build on their recovery, and they may avoid having to recycle through the revolving door of early recovery themselves.

Imaginary Sponsor

What if you would like a sponsor, but cannot find anyone who seems appropriate or willing? Have you ever had an imaginary friend? Most people have, as children, but usually we give them up because we somehow got the message we should not keep them as adults. Most of us knew they were not real, but they were good substitute companions.

We know of a number of people in recovery who use this technique of the “spirit” of someone to be with them and guide them through difficulties. It might be a person who has died or is somehow lost to them, like a parent or grandparent. Or a favorite movie or book character. It’s a little like some religious people do “talking” with saints or other religious figures. In the absence of a real sponsor, an imaginary companion might be very helpful in recovery.

Being a Sponsor

If you think of sponsorship as an activity, not an identity, it is likely to be more in line with its true purpose. In some places there is a noticeable difference in status whether you are a “qualified sponsor” or not. We believe this caste system is contrary to the spirit of the Traditions and can be avoided easily. Think of sponsorship without a capital “S” — use sponsor more as a verb than a noun.

Sponsorship, see also: Abstinence, Assertiveness, Codependency, Community, Contacts, Control, Coping skills, Detachment, Higher Power, History of Twelve-Step groups, Humor & fun, Intervention, Judgment, Love & caring, Meetings, Moderation, Other support groups, Priorities, Service & giving, Slogans, Step Five, Steps of AA, Tools of recovery, Traditions of AA, Trust, Unity.

Updated 12 Sep 2015

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