What's Too Many Sponsees?

By ginelletesta 07/01/19

I LOVE sponsoring. It’s my favorite part of my 12-step program. It’s a magical way to share my own experience and just show up to another person who might be suffering. Sponsoring is great, but how do you decide how many sponsees to have? I’ve seen two major camps in AA: take care of yourself/be careful not to take on too many sponsees and there’s no such thing as too many sponsees/God will make room for them.

Sponsoring is a big commitment. They say you’re putting your sponsee’s hand into the hand of their higher power. If you’re not familiar with exactly what it is, it’s essentially when someone with more time and/or experience in a 12-step program becomes a guide for someone with less time and/or experience. It’s a unique relationship and according to the Big Book of AA: “Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.” I’ve certainly found this to be true.

Everyone sponsors a little bit differently, but for me, being a sponsor means taking them through the steps and being a resource for them in their daily lives. I have had sponsees that call every day and others who call twice a year. I sponsor newcomers differently than I do people who have a few years and have already been through the steps. I suggest daily calls to people in their first year whereas those with more time I suggest a once a week check-in at the very least.

Most of the time, sponsoring energizes me. It provides me with inspiration and gratitude for my own program. Once in a while, it can be draining, but I’m only human. I think the point is that while it seems I’m helping to build them up, they’re actually building me up, too. We say that they’re helping us more than we’re helping them. We definitely need each other.

My experience of being sponsored has been amazing. All of my sponsors have been compassionate, non-judgmental, available, relatable, and kind. They’ve shared their experiences along the way, validated mine, and made me feel as though I was a worthwhile person. I relied on their help on a daily basis to get through tough times and the normal twists and turns of life. I’m so grateful to those women who supported me and the one who continues to!

I honestly thought I’d never be capable of being a sponsor. When I was sitting down going through my fourth step with mine, she was pointing things out to me that I had missed and was spewing wisdom like “what other people think of you is none of your business.” I thought to myself, “there’s no way I could ever do this for another person.” Here I am, though, being a sponsor years later. Turns out I have something to offer.

I still have my struggles. Now I try to balance having just the right amount of sponsees for my schedule and life. It’s tricky because I’m trying to hold space for the ones that I do have. I worry that they’ll all need me at once, that they’ll all have a crisis at the same time and I’ll explode from trying to be there for all of them. Logically I know this is unlikely, but on a less dramatic note, some of my sponsees do phase in and out of calling or needing me. So, it’s not a totally irrational concern.

I also am concerned about my own life. I’m a super busy gal and I need to be able to fit everything like grad school, full-time work, and playing hockey. I want to make sure I don’t stretch myself too thin by taking up more than I can handle. When I have a certain number of them I wonder how much more I can take on without saturating my life. It happened once that I said “yes” to someone who I really had no room for. I had to quickly tell them that I couldn’t work with them. Then, another sponsee ended the relationship that same day so I was able to sponsor this new person.

There’s a degree of magic or spirituality that occurs when working with people. Some say God has a way of making room when it’s right. I sometimes find myself putting my hand up when the meeting is asking who’s available to sponsor even though I think I’m too busy. Several times that’s resulted in a new sponsee. It’s like my hand goes up without my consent. I end up surprising myself. Some would say that this is God or a Higher Power, doing for me what I can’t do for myself.

There are also some parts of this idea that just aren’t good. I’ve had people tell me that there’s no such thing as too many sponsees. This is just ridiculous and totally irresponsible. I’m a human being with my own needs and boundaries. A sponsor once said that there are many stray cats in the world. Just because you want to doesn’t mean you should adopt them all. I only have so much bandwidth.

I think the solution lies in the middle of these two camps. I’m not so superhuman that I’m capable of taking on everyone. Rather, I have an idea of how much I can handle and sometimes I can stretch a bit beyond that to surprise myself. I need enough time available to meet the needs of the sponsees that I have and I also need to be able to have a full life on top of this. I feel passionate about this because I have friends on both sides and I never fully identify with either. There’s a lot of room for gray thinking here.


At the end of the day, it matters that I’m carrying the message as well as caring for myself.


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