Sponsors play a vital role in the recovery process for those who are participating in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-Step programs. However, the relationship is entirely voluntary. Either you or your sponsor are free to end the arrangement at any time.
How to Tell If It’s Time to Let Go
Every sponsor/sponsee relationship is unique, but the following are examples of times when continuing the relationship isn’t in your best interests:
- Your sponsor doesn’t have time for you. Being a sponsor is a big commitment—and sometimes sponsors find themselves stretched too thin. If your sponsor is too busy with work, school, family, or other personal obligations to provide the help you need, it’s best to move on.
- Your sponsor isn’t trustworthy or respectful. For the relationship to be effective, you need to feel as though you can confide in your sponsor without fear of judgment or a breach of confidentiality. If you’re not comfortable opening up, the relationship isn’t working.
- Your sponsor isn’t a positive influence. Your 12-Step sponsor should be a recovery role model. If they aren’t encouraging you to continue to work towards your recovery goals, it’s time to look for a sponsor who is better equipped to help you become the best possible version of yourself.
- You’re sexually attracted to your sponsor, or your sponsor has expressed interest in pursuing a sexual relationship. It’s a well established 12-Step guideline that your sponsor should not be of the gender you’re sexually attracted to. Being in any sort of intimate relationship with your sponsor puts your recovery efforts in jeopardy if the relationship doesn’t work out.
- Your sponsor is heading for a relapse. A sponsor should be firmly established in their own sobriety and familiar with what it means to work the 12 Steps. If your sponsor is getting complacent, they’re putting your recovery at risk.
Consider Letting Minor Disagreements Go
You should consider giving your sponsor another chance if you’re simply upset about a minor disagreement. No relationship is perfect, and the nature of the sponsor/sponsee dynamic requires your sponsor to push you to explore topics that might make you uncomfortable at times. It’s your sponsor’s job to hold you accountable for your actions when you’re making decisions that aren’t in your best interests—and receiving that type of feedback isn’t going to be easy. In a case like this, journaling about your feelings and seeking the advice of your treatment team can help you determine the best way to proceed.
How to End the Relationship
Breaking up with your sponsor is similar to breaking up with a romantic partner or ending a close friendship. You should strive to be calm, honest, and respectful.
Do not end things with your sponsor via text or email. Even though conflict might make you nervous, this is a conversion you should have in person in a quiet, private, and distraction-free space.
Just as you don’t owe anyone the full details of your recovery story, there’s no need to provide an elaborate explanation of why you don’t think the sponsor/sponsee relationship is working. All you need to say is that you think it’s best to move on, but you’re grateful for the time and energy that your sponsor has invested in supporting your recovery efforts.
It’s possible you might continue to see your former sponsor at 12-Step meetings, but there’s no reason you should feel guilty or embarrassed. Anyone participating in a 12-Step group knows that you need to put your sobriety first. Making choices that set you up for a successful recovery is a sign of maturity and personal growth.
We’re Here to Help
Mountain Laurel Recovery Center’s Pennsylvania drug and alcohol addiction treatment program encourages clients to incorporate peer support into their recovery plans, but we understand that it can take some time to find a group that is a good fit. As part of our continuing care services, we are happy to answer any questions you may have about being a member of a 12-Step group or navigating the sponsor/sponsee relationship. Or, if you believe the 12-Step approach isn’t working, we can assist you in finding an alternative such as Celebrate Recovery or SMART Recovery. Our program is based on the belief that recovery is possible for all who desire it, and we’re committed to ensuring you have the resources necessary to be successful in building a brighter future.