Just like every other kind of relationship, though, it is important to set healthy boundaries with your sobriety sponsor. We know; it’s easier said than done. If you aren’t sure how to go about setting boundaries with your sponsor, here are some talking points to assist you.
Acceptable Guidelines for Communication
It’s okay if your sponsor isn’t available at all times of the day. Yes, they care about you, and they are someone you can lean on. However, your sponsor also has their own life, obligations, and recovery to think about. It is normal and healthy for your sponsor to put themselves first. You want to avoid creating any enmeshment with your sponsor.
Ask your sponsor what is an appropriate amount of communication outside of scheduled meetings. Find out their times of availability. If they tell you not to call at night, don’t call at night. Find out if there are exceptions made for emergency situations. Negotiate the best method of communication for both of you. Then, stick to that.
Undistracted Time Spent Together
Sponsors and sponsees should share a mutual respect for each other’s time. When it comes to meeting with one another, both parties are putting in an effort. Sponsors are taking time out of their day to show up physically and mentally. Sponsees are working through the 12 steps.
Keeping this in mind, it is reasonable to request that you and your sponsor spend your time together undistracted. You can suggest putting your phones on silent. Focus on your sobriety and the 12 steps in your discussions. If there is something in your life that is potentially going to risk your sobriety, it’s okay to bring it up. However, it may not be necessary to talk in excess about your pets.
Hard Limits on Topics
Your sponsor is not your counselor or a mental health professional. They are also on their own sobriety journey. You both may have off-limits topics for the sake of your mental health. If this is the case, discuss it when first initiating a sponsor-sponsee relationship. When uncertain, it is best to disclose trigger warnings and gain informed consent before sharing trauma details. If you don’t ever want to talk about a specific topic, that needs to be said. It goes the other way too. If a core value must be discussed for your recovery, be upfront about that.
Sometimes, this will lead to one party deciding the sponsor-sponsee relationship isn’t going to work. Two people won’t always match up with each other, and that’s okay. It is better to discover any incompatibility early on.
Confidentiality of Sponsorship
There’s a reason “anonymous” is part of the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous names. Confidentiality is a significant part of most 12-step programs. Many people don’t want others to know they are in recovery. While it shouldn’t be shameful to suffer from substance use disorder, other people knowing can sometimes put people’s safety, job, or family at risk.
As such, you should ask yourself these questions about the confidentiality of your sponsorship:
- Do you want to acknowledge your sponsor in public settings?
- Who is allowed to know about your sponsorship relationship?
- Are you comfortable socializing outside of meetings and time spent working on step work?
- Will your family know who your sponsor is?
There is no clear right or wrong answer to these questions. It is all a matter of preference. Once you’ve figured out the answers, you should clearly communicate them to your sponsor. Your sponsor should know and abide by these boundaries.
Understand Your Relationship Dynamic
By discussing mutual boundaries, you’re setting yourself up for a positive sponsor-sponsee relationship. Your sponsor will be your accountability buddy. They will help you to the best of their ability. On difficult days, they can share their experiences to assure you that you’re not alone. They can model what success looks like in the recovery. On good days, they can praise your growth.
Eventually, you’ll find yourself relying on them less and less. You’ll have worked hard. You’ll have pushed through significant struggles. You will begin to rely on others in the fellowship for love and support, not just your sponsor. You will find that you are not strongest on your own, but with others. Then, you take the next steps forward.