Wisdom of Sponsorship

A Starting Up

Years ago, a newcomer named Jim showed up in our Wednesday night meeting. He was a rough-cut character with a salty tongue and over a decade of experience in another Twelve Step program. One night the topic turned to sponsorship, and after hearing what a few group members had to say, Jim stated his views. He said, 'The job of a sponsor isn't to love you or be your friend or buddy. You may not even like your sponsor. The most important job of a sponsor is to guide you in working the Steps." Chris C PBR June/July 2000

A.1 Why should I sponsor someone?

I had been in twelve-step recovery for many years and had worked the steps with a sponsor in another program when I finally got honest enough to admit that my sexuality was a twisted wreck and decided that I had to do something about it. I came to SAA with serious self-image issues, including the idea that I had nothing of value in terms of recovery to offer anyone else. Why would I even consider sponsoring someone?

Still, like so many people coming in from other fellowships, I thought of myself as a twelve-step expert. I didn't need a sponsor. However, sobriety eluded me. After struggling with the program for some time, my honesty and humility increased, and I became willing to share vulnerably with others about how I was doing. I worked the steps with a co-sponsor and at retreats. One day, I realized that I was sober, and was in the midst of an ongoing spiritual awakening.

But still I didn't have a sponsor. Although I had worked the steps with a sponsor in another program, that particular relationship had ended painfully and badly, contributing to my reluctance to get a sponsor in SAA. Because I have such difficulties in my relationships involving authority, including one with a sponsor, being a sponsee was difficult, and I didn't even want to attempt to sponsor anyone else.

However, I did start getting involved with service work, and first one, then another person asked me to sponsor them.

At first, I really struggled with how to help my sponsees work the steps, because my own approach to them had been somewhat erratic and disorganized up to that point in this program. Because I was afraid to reach out and ask for help from others about how to sponsor my sponsees, I found it difficult to develop a plan for sponsoring them. In my codependence, I struggled with putting a particular approach out to them strongly. I was recovering, so I could just share that, right?


One sponsee relapsed and quit the program, despite my best, desperate efforts. Another got frustrated with my style. I got discouraged and thought "See, I'm not the perfect sponsor, so I just can't do this."

In time though, I learned from both situations. I learned from the sponsee who relapsed that I can't get or keep anyone sober or in the program.

The sponsee who was frustrated had been working a good program in another fellowship, and taught me how to sponsor her. I had experience, strength and hope, and could offer support, but I needed to learn how to help someone work the steps.

What we did was start reading through the Green Book, discussing each paragraph, each sharing from our experience, strength and hope. I asked questions about the points raised in the book. By doing this, I was actually able to help my sponsee work the steps and grow spiritually. Not coincidentally, she was also able to weather some particularly rough patches with her sobriety intact.

She also gave a formal First Step presentation, did a column-based Fourth Step and shared it with me, which in turn helped her come up with a good Step Six list of character defects, and so on through the other steps.

I gained three key lessons from that experience:

Not long after, the relapsing sponsee came back, and was able to dig much deeper into the steps. He did some work using outside material, and we did some worksheets, lists, etc. and read from the Green Book about the various steps. Through that process, I went from feeling dismayed and helpless to being thrilled to see, and even better, be a participant in his spiritual awakening. I wouldn't have missed that for the world!

Both sponsees are starting to be of service, and are now working with their own sponsees. These situations are deeply satisfying to me personally. I have grand sponsees, and some of them are doing well!

Finally, as I have worked through the Steps with these and now with other sponsees, I have been able to gain intuition on what the unique needs of each sponsee are at the moment. I have also gained a much deeper understanding of the steps, how they work, fit together, the role surrender plays in a successful program, and what surrender does and doesn't look like.

Often, my sponsees have acted like mirrors to let me see where my own program is weak and needs work.

All this and more have been my gifts from being a sponsor. Far more than I could ever have imagined! As it says on page 75 of Sex Addicts Anonymous, "The paradox is that service helps us to stay sexually sober ourselves, regardless of the benefit that others may receive from us."

For me, this is because I have had to grow to be able to sponsor others, learn and work the steps better myself, and connect deeply to my fellow addicts to be of service to them. I'm so glad people asked me to sponsor them, and that I decided to give it a try. I would like to encourage others who are hesitating to give sponsorship a try too. Mike K OTC Vol 12 Issue 6 Nov Dec 2018

A.2. When to start sponsoring?

"It has been noted that the most successful among us, who are sponsors, are those members who have worked the program long enough to have an understanding of the 12 Steps. We who have been "working" the program for years are usually, but not always, able to work as sponsors more effectively. Length in working our program is not the only measurement for success as a sponsor. Equally important are our capacity for honesty, dependability, understanding and patience, willingness to devote time and effort and being a personal example of an SAA member at work." Indiana Intergroup

A.3. How do I go about becoming a sponsor?



Anonymous PBR July Aug 2003

A.4 Starting to be a Sponsor

A.4.1 Initial parts of Sponsoring

"I currently sponsor eight people. Having this many sponsees makes my time precious so I began to utilize requirements for my sponsoring members. The most important is Step work. I tell prospective sponsees that if they want me to sponsor them, then they will have to work the Steps. If not, then I tell them I cannot sponsor them. And if along the way they discontinue working the Steps, then I can no longer sponsor them. As for Step assignments, I pass along the Step assignments which my first sponsor gave me to work on-I can only give away what was given to me. If sponsees want to do a workbook, which there are plenty of in the recovery scene, they're welcomed to do that, but I tell them to do the assignments that I hand out. Again, this is a matter of giving away what was given to me.

The second requirement I need from a sponsee is regular check ins. This was one of my saving graces in my first year of sobriety. I called my sponsor everyday just to check in. This behavior was so habitual that during an acting out dream I wanted to call my sponsor-and, yes, I memorized his phone number in the dream. Calling my sponsor became a good habit because when I was sexually triggered I would call him and check in with what had happened. This dissipated the reaction as well as the feelings of guilt and shame. I tell my sponsees that if you're unwilling to check in when nothing is going on, then you're more likely not to call when something does happen, placing you in a very slippery and often times dangerous place. Making regular check ins is a practice in taking care of ourselves.

Lastly, I require my sponsees to attend meetings. This is very basic. Not only can they listen to other members' experiences, they have an opportunity to carry the message of recovery and sobriety to others as well. As an SAA member and a sponsor, I'm a major proponent of Step Twelve, "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to other sex addicts and to practice these principles in our lives," and Tradition Five, "Each group has but one primary purpose-to carry the message to the addict who still suffers." I suggest to sponsees to share about the topic and how it relates to your recovery. "Don't dump at meetings," I would caution them. Then I would add, "That's what you have me for." In this way, we are contributing to the group recovery by practicing Steps Twelve and Tradition Five." Joel D PBR Aug Sept 2000

A.4.2 Initial Sponsoring

"I ask my sponsees to begin with the basics: call me or someone else in the program daily, go to as many meetings per week as possible, obtain and read program literature daily, pick up some kind of spiritual activity and begin Step work. I also make sure that the sponsees actually want to quit acting out all their sexually addictive behaviors. If not, I suggest they find another sponsor. Stopping addictive behavior is ultimately a gift from one's Higher Power. Since it helps to know what to ask for when seeking a gift, I suggest sponsees begin by recognizing the extent of their acting out. Usually there are a few manifestations of the addiction that are most prominent and are causing most of the problems. Still, there are others that can easily replace the most conspicuous ones and cause just as much pain. So I ask sponsees to make a written list of all the manifestations that they recognize. One tool they can use is to listen closely at meetings when others check in and ask themselves, "Have I ever done that?" If so, put it on the list. Another is for them to look at the survey in the appendix to Don't Call It Love and to review their lives for these (and other) behaviors. I encourage them to take some time and to focus on being honest and thorough in their search.

Next, I ask them to look at the "Three Circles" pamphlet and begin to figure out which of the behaviors they have identified belong in their inner circle (the "compulsive behaviors from which we feel it is necessary to abstain"). Then I ask them to review the list again and identify which of the behaviors fit into their middle circle ("those sexual behaviors which fall neither in the category of demoralizing addictions. nor of ideal behavior"). I encourage them to connect middle circle behaviors to inner ones; that is, to identify the pattern of behaviors that lead up to acting out. Usually this helps them begin to identify more of the middle circle behaviors, too. At this point, we spend little time on the outer circle; most just aren't ready to see that there is such a thing as healthy sexuality.

The final part of this exercise is to begin setting boundaries around the middle circle behaviors. While it may seem we should be focusing on the inner circle, it is the behaviors that lead up to acting out that need to stop. Understanding that we are trying to get abstinent from both inner and middle circles, I explain that the middle circle is the beginning of the addictive rituals and that if they intervene early in the process then they usually don't get to the inner circle." Oct-Nov 2000 PBR

A.5. Helping Sponsees with their Three Circles

Many times newcomers are surprised to find that in SAA each of us is trusted to define our inner circle or bottom line-acting out behaviors. This was certainly the case for Mark, a new sponsee who came to us with three years clean in another 12-Step fellowship. He had developed a solid recovery from his substance abuse problems and found that his sexual issues had escalated. Things got so bad that his acting out endangered his marriage and work. When someone informed him that there is a program-SAA--for sex addicts, he jumped into SAA with great enthusiasm. At his first meeting he was given a copy of the Three Circles pamphlet and assigned a temporary sponsor. His pain from getting caught was so fresh that he was not acting out and was not even having any sexual feelings; he was also smart enough to know that this was temporary and that he needed to get to work. We started to work with the ideas in the pamphlet; I assured him that he didn't have to do this exercise perfectly and that he would probably refine it as he progressed in recovery. When Mark looked at the outer circle, he questioned whether he had any healthy sexual behaviors that would fit. He acknowledged that he usually sexualized even the healthy behaviors that are suggested in the pamphlet. We decided that he might want to wait on putting anything in the outer circle in that case; he accepted assurances that as his recovery progresses, healthy sexual behaviors will emerge. To help him identify what behaviors belong in the middle and inner circles, I gave him a checklist of addictive behaviors and asked him to identify which ones were part of his addictive patterns. We discussed how to figure this out. The suggestions I offered went like this: first, go for the easy ones--check the behaviors that are regular acting out behaviors. Then look at those sexual behaviors that he occasionally indulged in and would do more often if he could. Next, identify the behaviors that he had tried a few times or had fantasized about. Finally, I suggested he look at all the behaviors he had checked and ask himself, "Which unchecked behaviors led me to these?"

It was only after he had completed this checklist that we began to assign behaviors to the middle circle (those that would lead to acting out) and inner circle (those that are acting out) behaviors. After doing the above exercises, Mark had very little trouble recognizing which behaviors went into which circle. As with most newcomers, he was surprised to find how extensive his list of acting out (inner circle) behaviors was. Then Mark came to his moment of truth: there were some behaviors that he did not want to have in his inner circle. He wanted to "save" certain addictive behaviors so that he could indulge in them occasionally. His main difficulty centered on masturbation; he knew that if he put it into his inner circle then he would have to give it up and he didn't want to do that.

This has come up many times, even with long-term members of the fellowship. They reason (as Mark did) that since each member of SAA defines his or her own circles then it is simply a matter of defining masturbation (or another behavior) as a middle circle or even an outer circle behavior. This way they aren't acting out, right?

Mark struggled with this question for a few days before he talked to me about it. This line of reasoning sounded to him like addictive logic, not honest recovery. He was right; it was his addiction talking. He was honest enough to recognize that even if he limited himself to an occasional go at masturbation then he would focus all of his addictive energy on that one act; he realized that he wouldn't really be recovering. But he still felt tempted.

When we talked, I suggested he recognize that his inner circle has already been defined--BY HIS ADDICTION. In other words, we in SAA don't define our inner circle by choice; it is already defined for us in our addiction history. The reason we say that each sex addict defines his/her own inner circle (or bottom line) is that we recognize that the addiction has taken a different shape for each of us. There is no single definition that fits everyone. However, that is not a loophole for some to get by with addictive behavior re-defined as middle circle or healthy behavior. The honesty necessary for a healthy recovery forces us to see what behaviors are already in our inner circles. Otherwise, we are still active sex addicts who now have told ourselves one more lie to cover up our behavior.

Mark accepted that explanation very openly. He recognized that surrender meant facing the truth that masturbation belongs in his inner circle. It also led us into one of the most fruitful discussions on 12-Step spirituality that we have had. Mark recognized that by being completely honest about what behaviors belong in his inner circle he was completely surrendering his addiction to his Higher Power. Holding back even one behavior would interfere with his recovery and whatever gifts his Higher Power wanted to give him. When he looked at it from that perspective, he said that it was much easier to be honest about the addictive behaviors that are already in his inner circle. Anonymous PBR Volume 15 Issue 5 Sept-Oct 2003

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