How to mentor an addict OR find a Mentor in addiction recovery
It’s National Mentor Month! How can YOU find a healthy role model?
By Jessica Kantor
The word “Mentor” can take on many different shapes and sizes:
- Someone in a business suit who offers insight into an industry.
- A sponsor in the 12-step program.
- A volunteer in an afterschool program.
- A parent.
There are dozens of different types of Mentors, in addiction recovery and outside of it. As January is National Mentor Month, we’ve asked Nicole Vasquez, National Alumni Manager at American Addiction Centers more about what it takes to Mentor someone in addiction recovery.
Here, she discusses what Mentorship is, why people do it, how Mentorship benefits those both in & out of addiction recovery, and more! If you have additional ideas or comments, we invite both at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all real life questions with a personal and prompt response!
Finding a Mentor for addiction recovery
JK: When you hear ‘National Mentor Month’ – what do you think of it? Have you heard of it before?
NICOLE: I had not ever heard about the month before now. Honestly, when I hear ‘Mentor’ or ‘sober Mentor’ the first thing that comes to mind is a ‘sponsor’ like in the 12-steps, although not everyone who has a Mentor follows the steps. Mentorship is very important to me and has definitely changed thousands of lives.
JK: You mentioned ‘sober Mentor’ which brings up the 12-step approach of addiction recovery. Do you see them as one in the same? Can you have a Mentor without being a part of the steps?
NICOLE: For me, personally, I would say that a sober Mentor would probably be my sponsor. I definitely look up to other women in addiction recovery that have a significant amount of [sober] time, but for me, I’m heavily 12-step involved so I equate a sober Mentor to a sponsor.
That is not the only way to do it, though! There are sober coaches and Mentors that are not in addiction recovery, as well.
JK: What are some skills that addiction recovery Mentors should have or someone should look for in a Mentor?
NICOLE: Find somebody that you can relate to! Find someone that you feel that you can trust. What is mainly important about the Mentor-mentee relationship is that you have someone that you can confide in. Essentially somebody that has what you want.
For me, that was someone whose addiction recovery I wanted to model. Someone who was very involved in addiction recovery communities. Somebody who looked happy. That was very important to me.
When I got clean, my only goal was literally to be OK. I looked for somebody who exhibited joy and happiness. I was drawn to my first Mentor because she exhibited all those qualities, her nickname was ‘Sunshine’!
Look for somebody that has what you want, not in a materialistic item sort of way but somebody who has some personal qualities that you want. Someone who is good with money or good with relationships, if those are the areas you are lacking in.
So, you have to figure out what you, yourself, are looking to build up in yourself and find that in another person.
JK: Would you suggest having a Mentor that is not in the same location as you?
NICOLE: I think it is a very important quality to be face to face with your Mentor. The main reason for that is accountability. If you’re someone in addiction recovery, like me, you can be good at masking feelings. If we are on the phone, I can make it seem like everything is OK, everything is going great.
In reality, everything is falling apart around me.
So, I think it is important to have that face to face contact – sharing more openly comes with eye contact, body language, etc. It is more than just communicating with words.
JK: Should someone be looking for a Mentor if they want someone to keep them clean and sober or should one seek out a Mentor when comfortable in sobriety and looking to grow as an individual?
NICOLE: I was just having this conversation with someone else The stigma associated with addiction is that we have a substance abuse problem, that’s not true for me. The substance abuse was just a symptom of my problem.
I am my problem; I have to focus on fixing myself and in order to do that I need to get down and dirty with all my problems, not just the drinking or using.
I would argue that it is more important to find someone that you can really work on yourself with, not just the substance abuse. Sooner or later you will find out that drugs are not the problem, they never were.
JK: What are some sober activities you can do with your Mentor/mentee?
NICOLE: There is definitely a friendship aspect to the relationship. You have to have someone that you can tell everything to. In order to foster this, you can
- go for coffee
- eat dinner together
- meet up after a 12-step meeting
- attend sober holiday parties
- go to random little get-together
It is so important to find sober activities because it is key to know that you can, and will, have fun in addiction recovery. Cultivating that relationship with someone that you can really tell your darkest secrets to is really important.
JK: Choosing your Mentor is a special process, almost like choosing a significant other or therapist You have to really ‘get’ each other. So, does it take away from the relationship when you have multiple Mentors or mentees?
NICOLE: Not at all – I think it enables someone who is in the Mentor position to have multiple different outlooks in order to help their mentees.
You may have 1 mentee that is going through a situation that you have helped them through and a couple weeks later you have another mentee that is going through the same thing that you can help them with as well.
They tell you in ‘the rooms’ to get a sponsor who has a sponsor who has a sponsor. If there is a question that you don’t know the answer to you can ask your Mentor/sponsor and they can even ask theirs if it needs to go that far up the line.
Have multiple relationships, if that is what you can handle! Stick to what you are comfortable with, take on 10 mentees if YOU WANT but don’t feel obligated because you need to have self-care first and foremost.
JK: So, that brings up a good point. If you have had a Mentor and suddenly you feel like you are ready and want to BE a Mentor, that doesn’t mean you no longer need guidance, correct?
NICOLE: Absolutely right. I feel like then is when you need a Mentor most of all.
We will never have all of the answers to all of the questions in life, so you need others that you can reach out to in the event that you may not have the answer to a question someone else has asked you for guidance on.
JK: Do you think having a Mentor that isn’t in addiction recovery, while you are, can be beneficial?
NICOLE: I really do!
For instance, I just got a new position within my company and it is a leadership role; it was suggested to me to get a Mentor in leadership, not sobriety. Not replacing, but adding on.
Although I probably could, if I really searched, find someone in the addiction recovery community who is also a leader, I have chosen to go outside of that realm and find someone that I look up to in a leadership position. I believe there is value in seeking outsiders’ opinions too.
JK: How do you know when you are ready to Mentor someone?
NICOLE: It is a personal journey. I think it is something that you should already have a Mentor and you should ask them if they think you are ready and just bounce ideas off each other. It isn’t cookie cutter.
JK: Any tips for first time Mentors? Or even a Mentor that has been doing it for years, but something you find important?
NICOLE: For people who are new Mentors: just make sure you are retaining your relationship with your Mentor. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure you are in a position where you know you can pour out to someone else.
For others: make sure you are still available and you still have time for everyone that you Mentor.
The value of Mentorship, whether you are in addiction recovery, or not, is so important. To be able to have somebody that you can bounce ideas off of and learn from their experiences. Whether it is in your work space or home life, don’t wander around aimlessly; others have experience and you can & should take advantage of it!