Recovery isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the challenges that can make the early weeks and months so difficult. Sponsors of young men in recovery can make an enormous difference in their sponsee’s long-term success. Here are some tips to help ensure you’re the most effective sponsor you can be.
1. Always be honest with your sponsee about what you know.
As sponsors of young men, we want to have all the answers and immediately help our sponsee through difficult and complicated times. There’s no doubt that in the course of sponsoring, you’re going to hear questions that you simply had never thought about or have no idea how to answer.
Don’t freak out, because this is an excellent opportunity for you to work together. Be honest and tell your sponsee you don’t know the answer. Then, start looking for the solution. Your own sponsor and other long-sober individuals may be able to help.
2. View your relationship as a collaboration.
Some sponsors of young men believe that a good sponsor is strict and authoritative, laying down the law and expecting his sponsee to obey without question. But many others believe that a more collaborative, holistic approach to sponsorship is best. Viewing your sponsorship as a partnership and allowing your sponsee room to grow on his own will help him develop a higher level of self-confidence and self-awareness. At the same time, a more collaborative relationship gives you more opportunities to learn from your sponsee and grow from the experience.
3. Listen carefully.
The first task of a sponsor is to listen. It may be tempting to tell you own story or to relate what your sponsee is saying to your own life and experience, but try not to.1 It’s important to give your full attention to what your sponsee is saying and give it your quality attention as well. This means listening with respect and kindness, a positive attitude and an ear to intention.
4. Ask the right questions.
Sometimes, asking the right questions can be more powerful than giving the answers. As you’re listening to your sponsee, ask clarifying questions like, “Are you saying that…” or “What do you think that has to do with…” Taking the time to ask questions and fully understand the answers ensures that you’re able to offer the most helpful response possible.2
5. Take care of yourself.
While it’s important to give your sponsee the attention he needs, it’s also important to take care of yourself and your own spiritual and mental health. Some sponsors of young men end up devoting a great deal of time and energy to their sponsee, and this can take a toll on their own well-being. If your sponsee is particularly challenging, it’s okay to set boundaries and limits. For example, if you tend to have extremely long phone conversations that cut into your family or leisure time, let your sponsee know that you’ll need to limit some calls to ten or twenty minutes.
6. Talk to other sponsors of young men.
Sponsors can be of great help to one another, both in their effectiveness as sponsors of young men and in their own personal growth. Talking to other sponsors can give you ideas for communicating with your sponsee, and it can help increase your own confidence and ability to lead. Your own sponsor is an invaluable resource, and reflecting on the ways in which he helped you recover can help you do the same for your sponsee.
Remember that no sponsor is perfect. But staying focused on helping your sponsee in meaningful ways and maintaining your own good physical and mental health while you’re sponsoring will ensure a healthy, productive relationship that will lead to greater strength in recovery for both of you.