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Twelve Step Sponsorship: How It Works Paperback – September 25, 1996

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About the Author

Hamilton B. is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober in AA for more than twenty years. As an AA member, Hamilton maintains his anonymity "at the level of press, radio, and film." He holds a B.A. degree in psychology from an Ivy League college, and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from an eastern University. Hamilton is a recognized expert in the areas of alcoholism recovery and spirituality in organizational settings. He has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Newsweek, and numerous other newspapers and periodicals; he has appeared on CNN, CNBC, Oprah Winfrey, A Current Affair, and numerous other television and radio programs; and he has testified before committees of both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate as an expert witness on alcoholism.Hamilton has served on a variety of corporate and foundation boards, has taught as an adjunct professor at an eastern medical school, and has worked with the National Institute of Alcoholic Abuse and Alcoholism. In addition to the two books he has written for Hazelden, he is the author of a book that deals with organizational issues and a forthcoming book on leadership. His areas of expertise are alcoholism and spirituality in organizational settings.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


When I was new to Alcoholics Anonymous, people in the Fellowship suggested that I find a sponsor. But how was I to find one? And where? And, most important, who would it be? The AA Big Book didn't mention sponsorship, and there were no books written about it. I was scared to ask someone to sponsor me, so I put off getting one. I kept thinking I could do it myself. I couldn't. Now I see how much not having a sponsor delayed my progress in AA.

When I was new to AA and looking for a sponsor, I didn't even know the right questions to ask.

After a while, I did get a sponsor. Then one day, someone asked me to sponsor him. Suddenly, I had a big responsibility. I had dozens of questions that I wanted answered. And quickly. What was I supposed to do as a sponsor? How would I know when he was ready to take a Step? What if he drank? I had nothing to rely on but my own sponsor and what I had heard about sponsorship in AA meetings and from other sponsees.

Twelve Step Sponsorship: How It Works came out of those early sponsorship experiences and out of the fear and earnestness I saw in my own sponsees when they were asked to sponsor somebody for the first time. They had many questions, but AA's only publication on this topic was a thirty-page pamphlet called 'Questions and Answers on Sponsorship.' So when a friend of mine made the suggestion, I decided to write something that would guide Twelve Step members through the sponsorship process.

The result is a guide for both sponsors and sponsees, for both newcomers and old-timers. Its purpose is to help sponsors be the most effective sponsors they can be, and to help sponsees get the most they can out of having a sponsor. Because my experience and knowledge are mostly in AA, the ideas here will reflect mainly an AA perspective. Yet, this book will be useful to people in any Twelve Step Fellowship—e.g., Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Overeaters Anonymous (OA), or Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)—who want to take advantage of the special resource of sponsorship.
This book discusses what a sponsor does, how to find a sponsor, and how to be a sponsor. It also explains how to help a sponsee work each of the Twelve Steps.

This book is a guide to the sponsorship process.

The suggestions in Twelve Step Sponsorship did not originate with me. Everything in the book comes from AA through its members, meetings, and publications, but it is filtered through my perception. The only real authorities in AA are the Big Book (entitled Alcoholics Anonymous), Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, other Conference-approved literature, and decisions of the AA General Service Conference (as AA's elected voice). These sources are largely silent on sponsorship, so most of what is in this book comes from my own experience and from the experience of other AA members. As with AA, the only authorities in other Twelve Step Fellowships are their Conference-approved literature and their equivalent to the General Service Conference.
In the process of writing Twelve Step Sponsorship, I have discovered just how different opinions are within the Fellowships regarding sponsorship. Part of the reason is that there is no authoritative book on the subject that we can all use as a common reference point. Instead, we have relied on what our own sponsors have told us and on what we have heard in meetings. Sponsorship has been a word-of-mouth phenomenon. The result is that the contents of this book do not necessarily represent a consensus of opinion within AA on sponsorship. The book represents my considered opinion and the opinions of those with whom I have spoken while writing it. Twelve Step Sponsorship is not an AA, Al-Anon, NA, OA, or CA Conference-approved book. In the best Twelve Step tradition, use what you can and leave the rest.

In the best Twelve Step tradition, use what you can.

Many AA and other Twelve Step Fellowship members will not agree with the detailed suggestions and commentaries in this book, although I believe they will largely agree with its four major points. Those points are as follows:

1.      The primary responsibility of sponsors is to help their sponsees work the Twelve Steps.
2.      A sponsor and sponsee have an obligation to discuss their mutual expectations, objectives, and requirements, if any, regarding the sponsorship relationship before they enter into that relationship.
3.      A sponsor shares his or her experience, strength, and hope with his or her sponsee rather than trying to run the sponsee's life.
4.      A sponsor must never take advantage of a sponsee in any way.

Sponsorship is intensely, wonderfully personal. Each of us brings our own ideas, strengths, and weaknesses to it as both sponsors and sponsees. No one is an 'ideal' sponsor and no one is a 'perfect' sponsee. Thank God. But we can all learn to be better sponsors and better sponsees. Undoubtedly, there are certain native talents to the sponsorship art, but there are also some principles that can be brought to bear. Those with a load of 'talent' still need to understand the guidelines. Those with less natural 'talent' can improve their effectiveness by increasing their knowledge about sponsorship. No set of rigid rules could possibly do the phenomenon of sponsorship justice, but it is my hope that the observations in this book can begin to capture its spirit.

As with all teacher/student relationships, it is difficult to tell who learns more: the sponsor or the sponsee.

What Does a Sponsor Do?

In some ways, a sponsor is like a good friend, a wise teacher, a private tutor, a favorite uncle, a seasoned mentor, an experienced guide, and that older brother or sister we always wanted but never had. Sponsorship, which includes aspects of all these roles, is nevertheless unique. A sponsor is someone who has been where we want to go in our Twelve Step program and knows something about how we can get there. His or her primary responsibility is to help us work the Twelve Steps by applying their principles to our lives. Sponsorship is a basic part of belonging to a Twelve Step Fellowship and potentially one of its richest experiences. Sponsorship can be, like friendship, one of life's great blessings.

A sponsor's primary responsibility is to help a sponsee work the Twelve Steps.

But sponsorship can also be a scary experience, at least at first. We become vulnerable whether we want to or not. We take on responsibilities and develop expectations. We take risks. We reveal who we are and unload our secrets. We let another person into our lives in an honest and intimate way. We drop our facade. It can be frightening as well as exhilarating to trust another human being and to build a relationship with him or her.
This chapter describes some of the reasons for overcoming a natural reluctance we have to share our lives and our secrets with another human being. It explains what a sponsor does and, therefore, why it's important to have one. But first . . .

A Brief History of Sponsorship

The idea of sponsorship was born in Alcoholics Anonymous, the original Twelve Step Fellowship. Living Sober, an AA publication, describes how the term 'sponsor' came about.

In the earliest days of A.A., the term 'sponsor' was not in the A.A. jargon. Then a few hospitals in Akron, Ohio, and New York began to accept alcoholics (under that diagnosis) as patients—if a sober A.A. member would agree to 'sponsor' the sick man or woman. The sponsor took the patient to the hospital, visited him or her regularly, was present when the patient was discharged, and took the patient home and then to an A.A. meeting. At the meeting, the sponsor introduced the newcomer to other happily nondrinking alcoholics. All through the early months of recovery, the sponsor stood by, ready to answer questions or to listen whenever needed. Sponsorship turned out to be such a good way to help people get established in A.A. that it has become a custom followed throughout the A.A. world, even when hospitalization is not necessary.1

Sponsorship has since become one of the foundations of the recovery programs of all Twelve Step Fellowships and one of the greatest blessings of membership.

What a Sponsor Does

AA defines sponsorship in this way: 'An alcoholic who has made some progress in the recovery program shares that experience on a continuous, individual basis with another alcoholic who is attempting to attain or maintain sobriety through A.A.'2 Every sponsor is different, just as each sponsee is different, but certain activities, responsibilities, and obligations are common in sponsor/sponsee relationships. The primary ways in which a sponsor shares his or her experience, strength, and hope to help a sponsee are as follows.

A sponsor helps us work the Twelve Steps by providing explanation, guidance, and encouragement.

Helping a sponsee work the Steps is a sponsor's most important function. The Twelve Steps are the foundation of AA and other Twelve Step recovery programs. The Steps require us to take action, but they were not meant to be worked alone. In fact, we cannot work them alone if we follow the way the AA Big Book suggests that we work them. The meaning of the Steps and how they are applied to life require explanation and interaction. A sponsor can help us translate the general principles of the Steps (a set of ideas) into the specific activities of our lives (our behavior).

A sponsor can provide some temporary discipline and motivation as well as the ongoing encouragement that we may need to work the Steps. There are times that call for 'tough love' in spo...


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hazelden; Hazelden edition (September 25, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568381220
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568381220
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By L. G. Parkhurst on December 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
I read this book after reading "A Sponsorship Guide for 12-Step Programs" by M.T. Both are very good books. The book by M.T. offers a more casual approach, IMO, to Sponsorship than does this book by Hamilton B. It also offers a variety of viewpoints. "Twelve Step Sponsorship: How It Works" gives very specific and direct answers to many questions that Sponsors and Sponsees have about their Fellowship and how to maintain a Sponsor/Sponsee relationship while working all of the 12 Steps together. The second half of the book does present a meeting study guide for a Sponsor to use, with suggested readings for the Sponsee, suggested questions, and even offers a discussion of the questions the Sponsee should answer prior to a meeting with the Sponsor and at the meeting. As far as a manual for a Sponsor of any 12 Step program, this is the book to use. The author primarily targets those in AA, but is very sensitive to the needs of those in other recovery programs and the Appendix includes the 12 Steps of other Fellowship Groups. I can highly recommend this book, which also gives guidance on how you, the Sponsor, will know when your Sponsee has completed a Step and how to procede with them to the next step. Hamilton B. also offers advice on how to help your Sponsee move to the next step if they become reluctant to move to the next step.

L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.
Author: Prayer Steps to Serenity The Twelve Steps Journey: New Serenity Prayer Edition [Paperback]
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne C. on May 12, 2007
Format: Paperback
I have been sober in AA for 31 years and have been going to AA daily for that length of time. I recently was given this book and was totally amazed at how ''right on target'' all the information was! It's 'tried and true AA' ....I purchased 6 books to give to each of my sponsees so they get get the rewards I have gotten from the book.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 13, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is very useful and easy to understand. It's very helpful and has documented years of success in sponsoring other who are in recovery. THe author shares his "experience, strength and hope" in this practical guide to working the 12 Steps. It's adaptable to any 12 Step program. I use it often and continue to find answers to questions as a re-read and study the contents.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By emm on June 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
Unfortunately, there will always be people who attempt to dissect and dispute the success of Alcoholics Anonymous, of which sponsorship plays a vital part. Alcoholism is a deadly disease. Because of the anonymity of the twelve step programs, no "success rates" can be researched or documented with any validity or reliability and cannot be taken seriously. However, members of AA are not particularly interested in proving anything to anyone, except to be a living example of the program.

This book explains clearly and succinctly how sponsorship works in leading sponsees through the twelve steps. The benefit of being a sponsor enhances one's spirituality even more than actually doing the twelve steps. I can honestly say that the twelve steps have saved my life and being a sponsor helps me keep which has been so generously and freely given to me.

I do not believe that Mike McF has any personal experience with the twelve steps, other than perhaps observing meetings. Recovery does not lie in attending meetings and attempting to dissect the steps intellectually. No wonder his understanding of the steps is so skewed and hateful!! The steps must be experienced. Being powerless ends the battle that is so self-defeating and it opens the door to finding where we truly have power. Seeing others with years of successful recovery (stopping drinking is not successful recovery because as Bill Wilson says "our alcohol is but a symptom.....we must get down to causes and conditions") is inspiring. I believe that a casual observers unfortunate distorted explanation of what a higher power really is in one's life indicates the desperate need to find a higher power.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Douglas M. Hammett-Lair on December 16, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is nothing new when it comes to sponsorship, it simply uses the "Big Book" and the "12x12" but gives a sponsor a "lesson plan" to use when sponsoring a new-comer. So ... get your Big Book and your 12x12, and use this book in conjunction. There is also information for your sponsee in this book. So it is good for both people. I highly recommend this book if you have never sponsored or don't know how to sponsor folks. It gives you a good plan and is based firmly in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous! Consider it a Sponsorship "How To: guide.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. Halsey on December 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
First let me say - I have read this book and think it is excellent. It is helpful to me as a sponsor and as a sponsee. The first part talks about what sponsorship is about and also what it isn't. The first half of the book is for someone looking for a sponsor and what they should look for. The second half of the book is for Sponsors and has some good guidelines for being a sponsor culled from the experience and wisdom of numerous people besides just the author. I was a little skeptical at first because it is not AA literature, but it is a Hazledon book which is acceptable. Being a sponsor in AA is not a professional role, so having a book like this can be helpful because what most people know about being a sponsor they learned from their sponsor. As AA as a community continues to evolve and grow, and old timers die, it's good to have additional wisdom for guidance. This is just my opinion, I do not speak for AA.
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