Falling into codependency is a real danger for both sponsors and sponsees in recovery. First, some definitions to clarify what is being discussed here:
Sponsor: a mentor, an accountability partner, someone with whom you can share and ask questions and get guidance regarding recovery, the tools of recovery and the 12 Steps. A sponsor guides, teaches, advises, helps and encourages–always keeping the sponsee on track in recovery. A sponsor promotes genuine growth and change in the sponsee by holding them accountable. A sponsor provides a model for the sponsee to follow, helps them to reach their recovery goals more effectively and helps them grow spiritually. Sponsors must be well grounded in recovery, spiritually mature and have a long track record in recovery. Sponsors are *not* professional counselors and must never act as such. They must only share their own experience, strength, faith and hope.
Sponsee: someone who is looking for direction in recovery, desires to grow, wants to learn the tools of recovery and is willing to be accountable to a mentor. A sponsee can be brand new to recovery or someone who has been in recovery a long time.
Codependency: depending on another person or people to meet your needs, “fix” you and/or to make you “happy.” Codependency is the inability to be fulfilled and/or feel good about yourself without the approval of another person. Codependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy (codependent) themselves. The codependent person may try to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continued unfulfillment. This creates problems that continue to recycle–the problems continue into each new relationship.
To avoid the pitfalls of codependency and promote true, lasting recovery both the sponsor and sponsee must learn to set healthy boundaries. **Use the tools of recovery not your sponsor. Sponsors can not “fix” sponsees or make them recover. They can only share their own experience, strength, hope and faith. It is up to the sponsee to learn what the tools are for recovery and then to use those tools (not their sponsor).
Many people who are only a few months into recovery become excited about their new life and want to share what they have learned. They want to help and sponsor others. They are like race horses out of the starting gate. They want to “fix” everyone around them. Becoming a sponsor too early is damaging to them and to those they are trying help.
Recovery is all about the 12 Steps and God. It is not your sponsor or sponsee. It is about developing a healthy relationship with yourself, others and above all God. No sponsor can fix you, meet your needs or make you feel better about yourself. Only you, working with God, can do that. There is no substitute for prayer, meditation, reading and studying God’s Word.