Is it absolutely necessary to have a sponsor in addiction recovery?
This is a good question because if you meet lots of different people who are in the recovery process you will notice that a good portion of people have a sponsor, but a sizable portion also does not have one.
So what gives? Are they critical for the recovery process, or not?
Here is my experience and also my opinion. When I was in early recovery, I really did not rush out a get a sponsor right away. Instead, I relied on daily AA meetings and having a therapist in order to guide me through early recovery. I did not really get a sponsor in AA until after several months of recovery, and even then, I really did not use that sponsor in the way that you are supposed to. In other words, I did not work through the 12 steps of AA with that sponsor, at least not initially.
Later on I actually did work through the steps with a sponsor, but that was largely beside the point and after the fact. In other words, I don't feel it was really necessary because I had already done the work in early recovery and built a foundation by using peers, AA meetings, and a therapist to help me in that regard.
So do you need a sponsor? Yes and no. You need to do the work in early recovery and build a foundation. Meaning that you have certain character defects that hold you back from living a successful life in sobriety, and if you don't do the work and identify and eliminate those defects then you are not going to do well in recovery.
Having a sponsor is one way to work through these character defects so that you can be successful in recovery. But it is not the only way.
In my opinion if you have a therapist and you are willing to be honest with yourself and do the work on yourself then this is better than if you have a sponsor in AA but you are not quite as willing to look at all of your character defects.
In other words, the function of a sponsor is important. Their function is to help to do the work, to work through the 12 steps, to free yourself from your negative blocks in life. The function of a sponsor is critical for someone who is stuck in their learning process and they are hung up on guilt, shame, resentment, fear, anger, or self pity.
If one of those things is holding you back from living your best life then you need to figure that out and do the work that is necessary to break free from it.
Let me give you an example. When I was very early in recovery I realized that I was constantly engaging in self pity as a way to justify my drinking and drug use.
This was not obvious to me at first. I had to recognize this behavior before I could take steps to eliminate it.
After realizing what I was mentally doing to myself with self pity, I had to ask people in recovery for solutions to this problem. How did they get over self pity? What did they do in order to help themselves with this particular problem?
It turned out that their solution was to A) Make a decision to do something about the problem, and B) Practice gratitude every day, especially when they noticed that they were feeling sorry for themselves.
So in order for me to resolve my own problem I had to take positive action and make the decision to do something about the issue.
Note that it was not necessarily a sponsor that was the entire key to this healing process. Instead, the key is to make the decision, seek out the solution, and then take action and implement that solution.
The sponsor is just one possible delivery system for the information that you need in order to fix your problem. But perhaps more critical than that information is the decision to fix the problem, as well as knowing that the problem exists (breaking through denial).
Having a sponsor can help you with the guidance so that you can learn new information, but you can potentially get that information from other sources. You still have to break through denial on your own, and you must also find the willingness to fix the issues yourself.
Now having said that, if you are lacking in information sources right now, then it probably will not hurt you to find a sponsor. My recommendation would be to attend various AA and NA meetings until you notice someone who is living the sort of life in recovery that you would like to be living yourself. At that time you can ask that person how they achieved the life that they are living, and perhaps you can eventually ask them to become your sponsor. But again, the important thing is that you decide that you want to achieve that life for yourself, and then you also have the willingness to put those positive changes into action.
I think a lot of people could definitely benefit from having a therapist in their recovery journey. Of course a sponsor and a therapist are not identical, and they both fulfill different roles, although I think it is worth pointing out that there is a definitely some overlap between the two. As mentioned, if you are serious about making positive changes in your life and you are actually taking positive action and following through with these changes then it doesn't necessarily make a huge difference who your mentors are in life. You need sound advice and direction, sure, but you also need to execute.
In fact, recovery is nearly all about the execution, which is why someone can have all of the knowledge in the world about recovery and still manage to relapse. It wasn't that they lacked the knowledge, it was that they failed to apply it. A sponsor is one way of getting that knowledge, but they are not the only path to the solution.
If you are serious about changing your life then my number one recommendation is to get yourself to an inpatient treatment center. Your second priority, in my opinion, would be to dive into a support structure such as daily AA or NA meetings. A third priority would be to follow through with your aftercare recommendations from rehab, which is likely to involve counseling, IOP, or therapy of some kind. Finally, getting and using a sponsor would be a priority following these things. Certainly useful but not the most essential part of the recovery journey.
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