How to be a Sponsor

This is a list of frequently asked questions about how to be a Sponsor in SLAA. If your Question is not answered here, go to the Conference Sponsorship Committee’s webpage. Use the Contact Form to request resources and ask questions.

Why be a Sponsor?

“Sponsorship is among the most important tools for continued recovery in S.L.A.A., along with regular attendance at meetings and working the Twelve Steps. 

Sponsorship offers us a powerful tool for gaining clarity about our addiction. We find support and guidance in dealing with our addictive patterns, and begin to realize new options for living in recovery.”

What is a Sponsor?

“A sponsor is a person who gives us individual support and guidance in applying the S.L.A.A. Twelve Step Program of recovery to our lives.

A sponsor is neither a parent, a therapist, nor a confessor.

Accordingly, a sponsor is a person with whom we have no ulterior motive, whom we do not pay, and from whom we seek neither absolution nor judgment.

Our sponsor is, in fact, a fellow addict. As such, a sponsor does not counsel from a pretense of higher moral ground. Sponsors are not “perfect” people working “perfect” programs. Sponsors are human, too, with struggles and confusion, just as anyone else in the Fellowship.

Indeed, seeing the imperfections in our sponsors helps relieve us of our own compulsion to be perfect.”

What is a Sponsor/Sponsee Relationship?

“Recovery rarely is accomplished in isolation. When we incorporate the experience of others into our lives, we begin to experience a broader view of life and recovery.

With our S.L.A.A. sponsor, we learn to become honest and open, asking for love, support, and guidance in our lives.

Through the patience and understanding of our sponsor, our fears of condemnation and shame slowly fade. Gradually we become more able to be vulnerable and open with our sponsor.

This increase in trust allows us to more fully benefit from another’s help.”

(The quotes above are excerpted with permission from “Sponsorship A Return from Isolation” 1990, The Augustine Fellowship, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Fellowship-Wide Services, Inc.)

How do you know you are ready to Sponsor?

SLAA members share their own experience, strength and hope on this topic in the Journal titled “Ready for Sponsorship” you can download for FREE at slaafws.org

What to know before agreeing to be Sponsor?

See the suggested list of Questions sponsees should ask potential sponsors at slaafws.org here.

You should prepare answers to the following and be ready to share them:

1 How long you have been sober from your bottom line(s)? 

2 How long have you been working the Steps?

3 How long have you been in SLAA?

4 How long have you been in 12 Step, if you were in other Programs before SLAA?

5 Do you have your own sponsor or a co-sponsor? For how long? How often do you meet?

6 Did you go through Withdrawal, when and for how long?

7 What are your Bottom Lines? Top Lines? Middle Lines (if any).

8 Do you work a strong program? All 5 Ss: Sobriety, Spirituality, Service, Steps and Sponsorship?

9 Can you share your personal story – how it was, what happened, and what it’s like now?

10 Do you have a good network of recovery friends in SLAA who can share their own Experience, Strength and Hope with your sponsee if you do not have relevant experience to share?

11 Have you and the sponsee got to know one another well enough to work out if you are a good fit?

12 Can the sponsee speak freely and be sure it will be kept confidential? Are you trustworthy?

13 Can you create an emotionally safe connection with the sponsee? Never using a sponsee to meet your own emotional or other needs (13th Stepping)?

14 In particular, are you both certain there is no risk of attraction or unhealthy dependence? Are you both sure you can work together in a healthy way?

15 Can you be sure you will never say “yes” when you really want to say “no” to taking on a new sponsee?

16 In SLAA it is the role of the sponsee to ask someone to be their sponsor. Asking for help can be new behaviour for members and it takes courage. It is an honour to be given the opportunity to work your 12th Step as a Sponsor. Can you say no in a gentle and gracious way?

17 As a SLAA sponsor, your primary focus is to help the sponsee work the Steps. Sponsors are not for external validation, companionship, advice or life coaching. Can you focus on helping a sponsee to work the Steps?

18 In SLAA, one hour per week devoted to going over a sponsee’s Step work is a reasonable amount of time. Can you be boundaried, punctual, available and reliable?

19 Do you know which SLAA program will suit your sponsee and where to find all the necessary literature?

20 Are you cleared by your own sponsor to sponsor in SLAA and up to what Step in which program?

How do we Sponsor in SLAA?

Our suggestions are to remember that:
● We are not a parent, a therapist, an instructor or a confessor. We are an advisor who recommends.
● We share our experience, strength and hope. What had worked for us. We try not to say things like, “What we do in S.L.A.A. is…” or, “What you should do..”, and instead used phrases like, “What I did was… …and this worked for me”. We find it is best to avoid trying to convince the sponsee of anything. Whether they know it yet or not, they have their Higher Power guiding them. The program and their Higher Power will take care of them in their own timescale. We need not worry about them, merely keep them and their struggles in mind.
● We share our program. As much as possible, we make outreach calls focused around the program, our experience of the program and program literature.
● We share our struggle, avoiding traps of ego, dependence and/or reliance. We and our sponsee know that we are only an instrument of our Higher Power.
● We share our compassion without judgment or criticism. When the sponsee shares they are struggling, feeling the pain of withdrawal, or have slipped – we expressed our compassion. We try to say things like, “That sounds painful..” or, “I remember how it felt when I was in withdrawal…”. We tried not to judge what the sponsee said or did by commenting, “That’s good” or, “That’s bad”. Rather, we acknowledge what they had shared with us. We let them know we had heard them.
● We share our attitude. We convey the importance of service and giving to others. We share the concept of, “Just for Today” as a means of survival.
● We avoid being drawn into philosophical arguments, discussion, or gossip. If we feel we are going beyond our remit as a S.L.A.A .sponsor, we try to stop. We use gentle phrases such as, “I don’t know about that..” or, “If it were me, I would consult my Higher Power”.
● We share our honesty. If we slip or act out, we tell our sponsee; they have the right to know and the right to choose a new sponsor. We do not shame or isolate ourselves from our sponsee. We pick ourselves up and carry on. We showed them how it is done and that we are not “super-human”.
● We share our discipline. Our discipline is, after all, all the newcomer may have experienced as discipline. Our discipline in S.L.A.A.is not, however, about being harsh or lacking compassion.
● We make sure we are familiar with the SLAA Program in which we are Sponsoring as set out in the SLAA literature. As with any fellowship it was possible that anecdotal requirements can become misconceptions about the program. Sponsors needed to be wary of these and ensure they are fully informed.

(adapted with permission from the draft HOW Sponsorship Guide 2018 ©The Augustine Fellowship, S.L.A.A., Fellowship-Wide Services, Inc.)

What should I do if a sponsee stops working the Steps?

Member 1

Thank you for your questions about sponsorship. My first reaction to your question about ‘how to get a sponsee to work the steps’ was that, I can’t, make someone work the steps. However, as a sponsor, I would need to consider if the time I’m spending with the sponsee is benefiting my own recovery? Is it helping me grow? Or, on the other hand, am I being codependent and wanting them to work the steps more than they do? Or, do I believe my time would be better spent working with someone who is willing to do the work?
One brief suggestion is to check in with your own sponsor for guidance.
And also, try these other resources below.

Read the Sponsorship pamphlet – https://store.slaafws.org/ctgy/BP2.html?Sort_By=disp_order&Topic2=Sponsorship

See the Sponsorship Teleseries at – https://store.slaafws.org/prod/AU12D-SPON01-M11.html?Category_Code= and https://store.slaafws.org/prod/AU12D-SPON01.html?Category_Code=
Or possibly attend the Focus On Sponsorship Zoom meeting – https://us05web.zoom.us/j/85635873329?pwd=Nk1DZXdtaVlQTThnalFWVVdGa3QzZz09
Online Meeting ID 856 3587 3329
Phone 9167654361

And finally, see Chapter 6 of the SLAA Basic Text.

James B (Utah)

Member 2

Thanks for the question. I agree this question points out why it is important for a sponsor to have a sponsor –– sponsorship is too challenging to go it alone — even a service sponsor or a good recovery partner would be helpful for the sponsor here.   

The sponsor might suggest the sponsee call several others in program and ask for their experiences in working the steps or how that fellow SLA got over some obstacles in  working the steps.   Some sponsees are asked to make one or more outreach calls a day and this is a good topic for a call.   Then the sponsee can share with the sponsor what was learned. 

Re ” Pleasant but comes to the weekly call without having done any Stepwork that week‘  — rather than asking  if stepwork done — change the question to “what have been your obstacles in working your steps or your program of recovery this week?”  The answers here might be revealing. 

Finally, it seems like there is already an agreement for the sponsee to call every week.   This might be changed so that the sponsor gives a specific assignment and say “please call me when you have written on this topic” or “call when you are able to explain why you are unable to write on this topic” 

Cathy G (Los Angeles)

When do you think members can sponsor in SLAA?

Some have suggested that members can sponsor up to the Step they have completed. Other experienced members of the fellowship have found a good time to start sponsoring may be after we’ve recognized our character defects in Step Seven.

As a reminder, it is important to use your support system of sponsorship and others in the program to help with this
decision. When a sponsor has a sponsee, they get to practice relating, setting boundaries, and learning what to do (and not do) in relationships.

What can a sponsee reasonably expect from a SLAA Sponsor?

A sponsor is a person who gives individual support and guidance, in applying the SLAA Twelve Step program of recovery, from the standpoint of their own experience. A sponsor is a fellow addict with imperfections of their own and is not a parent, therapist, or someone with moral authority.

You should be able to meet with a sponsor on a regular basis, to discuss SLAA material and your own self-examination, in order to grow and find contentment in your sober life.

What do you suggest if boundaries are crossed?

This may be discussed with a sponsor if there are matters the sponsee is uncomfortable with. The sponsee may also choose to consult with mental health professionals or other experienced sober SLAA members. Ultimately, the sponsee may choose to discontinue the relationship if they are unable to find peace with the sponsor.

How should Sponsees raise negative feedback (complaints) with their Sponsor?

A mature sponsor will be open and welcoming to honest discussion. Just ask the sponsor to set aside some time for this. Sponsors work with others as part of their own program in order to grow themselves. The sponsor will be given the opportunity to grow as
much or more than the sponsee.

What should Sponsors do about complaints?

Sponsors are encouraged to use their own network of resources in the program. With the help of others they can decide if there is something they need to change about themselves. Or, if there is an issue they feel strongly about, they can provide feedback to the
sponsee as what they see are important boundaries.

What are reasonable requirements Sponsors may have of Sponsees in SLAA?

A sponsor may require a certain amount of time and dedication from the sponsee that shows they are serious about doing the work necessary to stay sober in order to improve their lives, and not stay in old routines or habits.

A sponsor will expect the sponsee to be on time for scheduled meeting appointments and to complete step-work when agreed to.

Sponsors are not necessarily there to be a friend or confessor. They may need to maintain certain boundaries with their sponsees for their own recovery and well-being, and to not use up their
time and energies that could be spent helping others that really want to overcome their addiction.

Each sponsor has their own way of sponsoring. There is no conference approved way of helping others to recover. It is suggested that you ask a variety of sponsors for their Experience, Strength, and Hope.

When is it time to end the Sponsorship?

SLAA members share their own experience, strength and hope on this topic in the Journal titled “Breaking Up With A Sponsor” you can download for FREE from slaafws.org

Some good reasons to end a Sponsorship

The sponsee wishes to pause working the Steps- the sponsor should be free to sponsor someone else.
The sponsor is having problems with their own sobriety. It is a terrible idea to sponsor while slipping or breaking your own bottom lines – you could take the sponsee down with you.
There is any type of “crush” or romantic or sexual attraction developing – this can be disastrous.
Any attempt at thirteenth stepping (as defined in SLAA) is reason to instantly end the relationship.
If the sponsor and sponsee have vastly different views how the steps should be completed. For example, if the sponsee wants to do things strictly by the book, a more laid back sponsor is not a good fit.
Either turns out to have negative or intolerant attitudes inconsistent with the values of the other.
Either is disrespectful, too bossy or interfering.
Either feels unable to develop trust in the relationship.
If people move to a new location it may be more practical to get a new sponsor.
The sponsor is ill or has too many other responsibilities in their life.

Some bad reasons to change sponsor

The sponsee has expectations of sponsees that are too high.
They want a sponsor who is never going to challenge them.
The sponsee wants a sponsor who enjoys being cynical about the program and the people in it. This type of negativity will just hold people back.
It is not a good idea to change sponsor over just one minor argument. No sponsorship is going to run completely smoothly. There will be disagreements along the way. Learning to resolve conflict is essential.
Wanting a more popular sponsor.
Wanting a more attractive or “cool” sponsor..
Changing sponsor to try to gain some type of financial or career advantage.

Any other Sponsorship Resources?

The pamphlet, “Sponsorship: A Return from Isolation” may be purchased at your local meeting or through the F.W.S. store at http://store.slaafws.org/prod/PAM-005.html.

The Sponsorship Topics TeleSeminar Series (2011-2012) is available as a 3 CD set ($11.35) or MP3 download ($7.00) at http://store.slaafws.org/prod/AU12-SPON01.html.

One selection in the series entitled Sponsorship Self-Care is free and available at: http://store.slaafws.org/prod/AU12D-SPON01-M11.html. This is a great resource to those interested in challenges of sponsorship.