The History Behind Sponsorship
When Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, first conceived of the AA program, the word “sponsor” did not exist, but the concept of mentorship did. If you’re not familiar with Bill W.’s story, he was a low-bottom alcoholic who was facing his own death from alcoholism. While in the hospital, he had a white-light experience that alleviated his alcoholism just enough for him to leave sober. He was sober and doing well for a time, but one evening he felt a strong urge to drink. The story goes that Bill was standing in the lobby of a hotel. He looked over at the glitzy bar — people drinking merrily, celebrating and making liquor look glamourous. He knew he didn’t want to drink, but felt a strong pull.
But then a thought came to him as if divinely placed: “You need another alcoholic to talk to,” the thought said. “You need another alcoholic just as much as he needs you!’
Instead of going to the bar, he went to a phone booth. He called hospitals looking for another alcoholic whom he could help. When he finally got through to a hospital receptive to the idea of him coming in to speak with a patient, he jetted over. He was sent to speak bedside with another man who had been struggling with alcoholism in the same way Bill had been. That man was Dr. Bob.
Bonded by their common struggles, Bill W. and Dr. Bob became the first two members of Alcoholics Anonymous. The word “sponsor” was not used, but Bill carried the message to Dr. Bob, who in turn safeguarded his own sobriety by mentoring countless other alcoholics. Through sharing, both of AA’s co-founders discovered that their sobriety relied on them helping others. And, they found, that through serving others, their own sober lives were enriched beyond measure.
Over time the idea of sponsorship became more formalized. Now it is suggested that any individual looking to get sober should get a sponsor to guide them through the recovery process.
AA’s literature describes sponsorship as: “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.”