This month’s blog theme is “Being of service while in recovery.” In Alcoholics Anonymous, this sentiment is basically the 12th step: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” What this means is once a person is sufficiently recovered from their addiction by working through the steps and staying sober, it is important to try to help others suffering from the same affliction (and to truly change one’s patterns and behaviors in all areas).
I think there are a couple important things I would like to point out about this advice. The first piece is that this is the 12th step, only to be undertaken after completing the other steps. Recovery is difficult work, and doing it right means a lot of exploring of one’s past and taking a hard look at what part one played in the various conflicts in one’s life. This is emotionally challenging work, and I have seen people start to focus on helping others before they are ready as a way to deflect from having to really look at themselves.
But if one has come to the point in their recovery where they have focused their attention on the process and are strong enough to help others, then being of service can be very powerful in many ways. Addiction tends to be a self-centered disease, and focusing on helping others can change this perspective. Helping others that are struggling with the same issues one has made significant progress on can give meaning to a very painful period in people’s lives and can lend a greater sense of purpose to one’s work in recovery. It can also serve as a stark reminder and incentive to stay sober. I used to work in a detox, and former patients who had a year or more of sobriety would come back to share their story with those newly sober. They would always tell me that they get more out of the experience than the patients of the detox were getting, and that any time they felt like relapsing the experience of being in the detox remained fresh in their mind due to their service there.