How To Be A Role Model To A Recovering Addict

Most of us know from our childhoods that a role model or a mentor can come from out of the woodwork almost anywhere and at almost any time.

Suddenly, we find ourselves taken in by our English teacher, a friend’s father, a sports coach, a television star, musician or a star athlete. It seems the role models with the most positive impact at the ones we see every day — a teacher, coach, a friend or a older student in the same school. We copy their manners, gestures and speech and dote on their every word.

The impact of a role model can be even more meaningful than a smart teacher, because we only learn what a teacher tells us to learn or from the books they point out. But a role model is a 3-D embodiment of who we want to be. We try to absorb their morals and emulate their goals. We try to dress like them, behave like them, think like them.

Role models offer us tangible hope that our lives can improve. A teacher might say, “you can do it,” but where’s the proof in that? A role model is living proof that a human being can thrive and achieve greater things. How marvelous is that?

Needless to say, we tend to gravitate towards role models who are like ourselves — men choose male role models, while women choose females they admire.

All of these dynamics are consistent among people in addiction recovery, men and women alike. Knowing this, 12-Step programs, treatment centers and many other recovery programs make use of role models or mentors to befriend and guide persons in early recovery.

For men, of course, our first role model is our fathers. Fathers are made-to-order role models, but boys growing up don’t always see it that way. Father-son relationships can be too complicated for a youngster to see all of the ready-made advantages. By the time we are teenagers, we begin to question authority figures and parents are vulnerable to a child’s criticisms if only because we know our parents too well. We know their positive traits and their flaws and role models are, by nature, romanticized versions of people. We see their good sides, not their negative traits.

Of course, role models are not perfect, either, but idolizing someone isn’t such a bad thing. We all need people to admire, whether we have addiction issues or not. It gives us a chance to see the possibility of better things. Role models provide us with templates for that.

Still, here are some tips geared toward men for how to be a great role model for recovering addicts:

Be honest, be real

Nobody’s perfect, so don’t try to be, but the next best thing is to be honest at all times. Be comfortable with your faults. Remember, you are modeling behaviors, composure and morals for someone else. Be your best, but don’t get lost in the flattery and forget to just be honest and real.

Be humble

You have your own flaws, so there’s no use pretending otherwise. Be humble, so your flaws aren’t too much of a shock to the recovering addict when they suddenly become clear.

Take care of yourself

For a recovering addict, a fair share of their struggles could be described as failure to take care of themselves emotionally, financially, physically, and spiritually. As such, if there’s a recovering addict out there looking to you for signs on how you get through the day, set a good example in this score.

Be friendly, but don’t be a friend

We all need friends, but we also need fathers to be fathers and role models to be who they are. A recovering addict needs to learn where to find and how to make friends who are clean and sober. Don’t try to be everything to someone in recovery, or you risk cutting them off from lessons they need to learn.

Be a sponsor

The world is full of great mentors or role models for recovering addicts and the concept so universally accepted that 12-Step programs have a name for them. They are called sponsors.

Sponsors are not meant to be friends, but they are expected to be friendly and accepting fellow addicts in recovery who can guide a novice through the 12-Step process. 

Sponsors are an almost formal way of looking at mentoring in a system that does not recognize a hierarchy. Instead of calling them “mentors” (people we look up to in some fashion), they are called “sponsors,” which merely implies they have more experience with no particular authority that goes with it.

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