How To Work the 12 Steps of AA With Your Sponsee

Working the 12 Steps of AA is arguably the best thing that has ever happened to me. I often think about the greatest people I have met in Alcoholics Anonymous. The list is so long it would take me days to write out everyone’s name. Truth is, there are so many wonderful people in AA.  These are sober people trying to live a good life, giving back their time and service to others, and just trying to do the next right thing.

I have been fortunate enough to have some amazing men sponsor me, and show me how to work the 12 steps of AA.  Some in more official ‘sponsor’ roles.  Others, just really great sober friends that have helped me and been there the most when I have needed them.  A simple phone call, a quick coffee check in..those sort of informal relationships that have enhanced my sobriety.

Over my decade of sobriety, I have served as both a mentor, a sponsor, a meeting leader and a friend.  All roles I cherish and am incredibly grateful and humble to serve.

Everyone is different in the way they work their program and the way the align with others inside the program.  After all its a ‘selfish’ program – we take what we want from it and make it our own. That’s the beauty of AA.  So with that being said there are hundreds of ways to be a great AA sponsor.  I am going to share my way and maybe you can take something from it and make it work for you.

How To Work the 12 Steps of AA With Your Sponsee

  • Step 1: We are powerless over alcohol and lives unmanageable.
  • Step 2: We think only a Higher Power can bring us to sanity
  • Step 3: Turn over our lives to the care of God
  • Step 4: Searched for moral faults and character defects
  • Step 5: Apologized for all the wrong we have done while using
  • Step 6: Prepared ourselves  to be forgiven
  • Step 7: Asked God to remove our character defects.
  • Step 8: Created a list of all people we have bulldozed while using
  • Step 9: Made direct apologies to these people
  • Step 10: Continue to take inventory on ourselves and admit wrong
  • Step 11: Grow closer to God and ask for direction to live His will out
  • Step 12: Give back and be there for other suffering alcoholics

My first suggestion of how to work the 12 steps of AA with your sponsee: Go easy.  I’m not a Big Book preacher. I believe the Big Book is a wonderful tool and is a great foundation.  But I’m not the sponsor that is going to say ‘Read pages 135-145 and report back to me next week’  In that respect, I’m easy.  There is nothing wrong with a sponsor that requires that – in fact many many people I know, need a drill sergeant type of sponsor.  Many of us are fragile and unstructured when we first come in to AA. 

I prefer to start with a lot of questions: Have you read the Big Book – cover to cover?  What was your favorite story?  What stands out to you the most? What do you relate to? Why do you want to get sober?  Are you happy?  I start with open ended questions that gets them talking.  I want to assure them that our conversations are private and confidential and anything goes – and that includes the stuff that I share too. 

I put the onus on the sponsee to check in with me.  After all, they asked me to be their sponsor.  With that being said, I do check in with my guys from time to time.  I’m not the kind of sponsor that is going to call and text my sponsee every day.  I tell them upfront; you can call and text anytime you want and I will always answer right away.  We’ll meet each week and dig in to each step and we’ll go to a couple of meetings together each week, and most importantly we’ll become friends.

Friendship and fellowship to me, are the absolute BEST part of AA.  It’s the #1 thing that has kept me sober all of these years.  All of my friends are sober, all of my friends are in AA. Everyone of them has taught me something that has made me a better man.  I believe this is the best gift sober guys with years of sobriety can give a newcomer. Hope and wisdom. My sponsees become my friends. I invite them to coffee, invite them to dinner, I make sure they are loved by the group of guys I run around with.

The basics:  The 12 and 12 Book can be a great  guide.  

I buy 2 books for my sponsees when we get started. The first book is the 12 and 12, it’s an easy read.  This is the basis of how we will work the steps.  I ask them to read a chapter a week and we’ll meet weekly to discuss each chapter.  Every week we’ll dig deep in to what that step means to us, how we came to encounter that step and how we are applying it right now.  

When I work the 12 steps of AA with a sponsee, I first start by explaining what the step means to me. How I applied it to my sobriety and how I am applying right now in this very moment.  Then I ask my sponsee to share his side of it. I ask them ahead of time to highlight any sentences or words from the chapter and come ready to share them. It opens up a great dialogue.  Most sponsees NEED to talk with someone, and have never shared opening before in an intimate private setting. This is their time to explore their feelings with you.  I have found that in a big AA room, it’s often difficult for newcomers to share openly, deep and without reservations..so the one on one time usually opens an incredible dialogue. 

The second book I buy for my sponsors is: Living Sober.  What an amazing book. This gets me pumped and I explain how it should get my sponsee pumped.  It’s an easy read and gives you some great insight on how to live a life of genuine sobriety.   Each chapter is laid out like it’s giving the reader advice.  It too is an easy read and can be a great conversation tool.  I don’t put any requirements on this book. As a sponsor, I love to read it again and again. It reminds me of little things that I can be doing to improve my life. 

A few workable tips on the actual steps themselves.  I have a great sponsor that reminds me of these things as I go in to work with my guys:

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Don’t forget there is a second part of this step and two important words.  The first step  – is powerless over the drug and alcohol.  The second part is ‘our lives had become unmanageable’  That second part often gets overlooked.  It’s important to open dialogue about that second part: What does unmanageable look like to you?  How unmanageable was your life when you were drinking?

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Who is your Higher Power?  Mine is God.  Let’s discuss God and His implications here.  This is NOT a religious program.  This doesn’t say you have to believe in God.  It suggests that you have come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could bring us to sanity.  So what does that ‘Higher Power’ look like to you.  It’s also a good place to talk about what insanity looks like.  What was your life like when in active addiction?  How insane was it, talk about the gross elements of your life when drinking.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

This step is the washing of the hands, for me.  I’m washing my hands of my insane life and turning it over to God.  It’s His will, not mine.  I remember on my way to treatment, I literally put my hands in the hair and said I’m done.  I can’t live like this way anymore.  Talk with your sponsee about the difference between ‘our will’ which was alcoholic control vs. ‘God’s will’.  And the thought of things might getting better if we accept His will, since ‘our will’ was a complete disaster

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This step is where we start to work on ourselves.  There are plenty of worksheets online to help guide you through this.  I work with my sponsees using the 7 deadly sins: pride, resentment, gluttony, guilt, lust, envy, sloth, fear.   Some newcomers might think this is a ‘drunk-a-log’.  Maybe it is for your sponsee, but dig deep and find out what troubling characteristics have caused those drunken activities.  This is when we start to use the words ‘character defects’   Ask your sponsee to be fearless in compiling this list and uncover these defects with them.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

I remember going through this step with my sponsor and as he was reading some of my defects and seeing the harm that I caused, after getting through the list he looked up and said  “That’s not that bad, I’ve seen worse”  I was terrified and relieved at the same time.  Terrified that someone was worse off than me (but isn’t that the beauty of this program) and relieved that there I had finally uncovered my character defects and there was comfort to it.   I ask my sponsees if they truly admitted to God and to themselves their defects list.  It’s so important that the sponsee can see their wrongs and be ready to forgive themselves for it!

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

We as sponsors are not priests and we don’t have the authority to forgive sins.  But if we are ready, willing and genuinely humble about our defects of character, God will forgive and remove.  He wants us to get better, God wants us to be free and live a better life without the struggle of drugs and alcohol

Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Our God is a forgiving God, and one that will help clean our side of the street.  Watch him perform the miracle of getting your sponsee sober through these steps.  Our shortcomings are just that, times when he just didn’t show up, or showed up and were nightmares.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Who did we hurt with our character defects along the way.  Who did we lie to, cheat on, steal from.  Who did we bulldoze through, trample on, and kick out of our way to get drugs and alcohol.  Ask your sponsee to write down names, places, events, dates and times

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

‘except when to do so would injure them or others’ – this is important.  Because while you are trying to clean your side of the street, you do not need to bring someone else in to and dirty their lives back up again.  So if you believe that bringing up an old resentment is going to hurt someone – do NOT do it.  Pray to God to have him remove it. Otherwise, get out there and start making amends to people you have hurt.  Let them know that things are changing in your life, and you did some thing that you were not proud of and may have caused some harm and that you would like to say that you’re sorry. It can be as simple as that.  Do not expect a forgiveness right away…

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

This is the ongoing work.  Tell your sponsee that the steps don’t end when we are officially done walking through them.  It’s a daily deal.  I take personal inventory on my stuff and immediately call myself out when I am wrong.  I am not perfect, we are not saints, our best thinking got us in to rehab and or AA rooms.  We are going to be wrong, but now we have tools to inventory it, categorize it as a defect, work on it, admit it, apologize and get better at it.   I’m a hothead, always have been, always will be.  But it’s through this program that I don’t freak out, I don’t go from zero to hundred all that often  – but when I do, I recognize it immediately and offer up my apologies to everyone around me.

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Encourage your sponsee to spend 15 minutes each morning in prayer and meditation.  There are hundreds of meditation prayers out there.  Asking to understand God better, and admitted that this is His world and asking for direction to carry His will out is a pretty awesome way to start the morning.  I meditate each morning for about 15 minutes.  And while I don’t feel an immediate rush (like a jolt of drugs or alcohol), over time I feel a deeper sense of connection to my Higher Power and a bigger sense of serenity throughout the day.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

You have to give it away in order to keep it.  It’s that simple.  How many guys were there for you when you needed them the most.  How many AA friends reached out to you to help.  Your sponsee must do the same.  They must get involved and give back.  Whether its service work, volunteering, picking a friend up to take him to an AA meeting, or meeting someone who is struggling for coffee.

There is this saying:  When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible. It was written for the 1965 A.A conference in Toronto




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