This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book" by AAWS. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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What is the purpose of an AA sponsor? How does the AA sponsor help others and themselves?
The AA sponsor is a person who has worked the program. It is part of the program and philosophy of AA to have alcoholics “treat” other alcoholics because only they can understand.
Read more to understand the purpose and role of the AA sponsor.
Who Is the AA Sponsor?
“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.”
A major part of the AA program is to reach out to other alcoholics and to help them recover as you had recovered. So, a recovering alcoholic becomes an AA sponsor.
The work of Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor is more than just helping other people—it helps you stay sober as well. You reinforce the principles within yourself. “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.” Being an AA sponsor is good for the sponsor and the people they help.
(Shortform note: from a practical and psychological point of view, being an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and helping other people has a host of benefits for you:
- Active social engagement and building friendships adds to happiness, which helps counter the urge to drink.
- Seeing AA methods work in someone else reinforces the belief that they’ll continue working for you.
- Helping other people helps make up for internal guilt you have about yourself, adding credit to your moral ledger.
- This provides a cover for your motives when you approach new prospects, who may be skeptical of your intentions. “I’m not doing this for you, I’m doing it for me.”
How to Approach a Prospect
To prepare for a prospect, a potential AA sponsor should:
- Find all you can about him.
- If he doesn’t want to stop drinking, don’t persuade him. You spoil a later opportunity. Never force yourself on him, even if his family pleads.
- Sometimes you may have to wait for him to go on a binge, then for him to repent and admit he would go to any extremes to quit for good.
- If he wants to stop drinking, talk to the person most interested in him, usually his spouse. Get an idea of his behavior, problems, background, seriousness of condition, and religious leanings.
- Put yourself in his place. Were you in his place, how would you like to be approached?
The approach for an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor:
- See the person alone, if possible. Hold a general conversation before talking about drinking.
- When the time is right, turn to talk about drinking. Share your own drinking habits and experiences. Talk about your drinking career up until when you quit. Let him see you know all about what drinking is like, and all the emotions that come with it.
- Then, when you have his attention, start the story of your cure. Start with how you struggled to stop and your excuses for drinking. Then share the principles of AA—how you found willpower wasn’t enough, how alcoholism is an illness, how you were doomed by yourself.
- Let the person draw his own conclusion about whether he’s an alcoholic. Then let him ask the question of how you became sober.
- Outline your course of action, beginning with acknowledging you were an alcoholic, and how you came to believe in a higher power. You may have to deal with common concerns here about religion and faith.
- Make it clear he’s not under pressure—he doesn’t have to see you again if he doesn’t want to. Don’t force AA on him. Just let him know your story of recovery, and how you found a way out. When the time comes, he will seek you out.
- If the person has any complaints, don’t fight them. Simply tell him that you once felt skeptical like he does now, but that believing what you do now was key to your progress.
- If he refuses AA, encourage him to follow his conscience. But point out that we alcoholics have much in common, and you would like to stay friendly. Then let it go.
- Don’t chase someone who cannot or will not work with you. Spend your time on someone you can actually help. Let him come to you when the time is right.
Helping a Prospect
Once a prospect agrees to be helped, you should now feel responsible to help him. Be prepared to spend a lot of time having your life interrupted by the alcoholic and his possible drinking sprees.
Be helpful with money, lodging, and resources as you can—but not to the extent of sabotaging yourself or the alcoholic. Helping an alcoholic too much makes him reliant on you and not his higher power.
Burn the idea into every person you help that he can get well regardless of anyone or anything. He does not need his wife to come back, to hold a steady job, or to have enough money. The only condition is that he trusts in God and cleans his house.
Through all of this, engage the family as they are willing. Share your own stories, especially around how you resolved your family conflicts. Prepare them for a period of growth and possible setbacks. Don’t participate in their quarrels.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book summary :
- How alcoholism is a nearly insurmountable disease that non-alcoholics can't understand
- The key 12 steps of the program, and why they work
- Why Alcoholics Anonymous isn't a cult and why it works