Working a Program with a Sponsor
For those who participate in a 12-Step program as part of their recovery journey, the relationship between an individual and their sponsor—a person who supports them as they move through the steps—can be quite meaningful. In some cases, the relationship may continue for years and benefit both parties.
But it is equally possible—and appropriate—for a sponsorship relationship to have a much shorter duration. Sometimes the relationship ends naturally, when both parties agree that the sponsee is ready for independence.
But sometimes, if you are not on the same page, ending the connection feels very difficult, almost like a “break up.” You may feel that sort of dread you feel when you break up with a romantic partner who is perfectly nice but not a great fit. Rather than comparing sponsorship to a romantic relationship, it might ease some discomfort to think of your sponsor as a coworker.
Sometimes, It Is Time To Move On
Have you ever left a job because you have gotten a new one? Maybe the new gig pays better, or has more appealing hours, or offers more opportunity for advancement, or is better aligned with your values and goals. So you tell your boss and your coworkers you are moving on.
In general, leaving a job is not as emotionally fraught as breaking up with a romantic partner. It may be difficult to share that news, but everyone involved will likely understand. The best of them will even be happy for you as you pursue something new for yourself.
If you think of leaving a sponsor as changing a job–trading something that worked for awhile for something that will better fit your current needs–the conversation may feel a little easier.
Kindness Still Counts
Just as you wouldn’t use email, text, or phone to tell your boss you’re leaving the job, you shouldn’t ditch (or ghost) your sponsor without having a face-to-face conversation. After all, your sponsor has undoubtedly seen you through some tough times, and they deserve to hear from you in person if you decide to end the sponsor relationship. Be kind, thankful, and clear. Ideally, your sponsor will respond in kind.
Remember, you are not necessarily banishing this person from your life forever. Just as you might still see your old coworkers from time to time, you may find that you and your former sponsor want to get together for a cup of coffee now and again. And of course, you are likely to see each other at 12-Step meetings. There’s no reason you can’t be casual acquaintances or even good friends after sponsorship ends.
Someday, You Might Find Yourself in the Other Role
Another reason to keep kindness and honesty at the forefront of your conversation with your sponsor is that someday you may well be on the other side of the conversation. You may find that you are the sponsor and that your sponsee wants to end the relationship. Take a few moments to imagine how you would like that person to handle the conversation. Then, use that same approach with your own sponsor.
A Word of Caution
We want to be clear: if you feel your relationship with your sponsor is no longer of benefit to you, it is perfectly appropriate to end the connection. But be sure you are doing so for the right reason.
For example, it would not necessarily be appropriate to move on from your sponsor just because you find it annoying when they hold you accountable for your actions or encourage you to stick with the 12-Step program. It’s also not a good idea to ghost your sponsor so you don’t have to admit you are struggling to maintain your sobriety or have relapsed.
If you believe you can maintain your sobriety without a sponsor, that is a reason to celebrate. Just don’t lose your sponsor if it means you will lose all the ground you’ve gained during recovery.
The Road to Recovery Starts Here
Sponsorship and 12-step programs are generally most helpful for those who have already begun the recovery journey–a journey that starts with detoxification and rehabilitation of the kind we provide at Safe Harbor Recovery Center. We will help you overcome your substance use disorder, address any co-occurring disorders, and provide personalized care that will set you up for success in recovery. If you need help—or love someone who does—we hope you will reach out to learn more about how we can help you “break up” with drugs and alcohol.