How to Give Back During Recovery

“Giving, rather than getting, will become the guiding principle.”

–Page 128, the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous

I have mentored four women during my 15 years of sobriety. There is nothing that makes me more content than to watch these women continue to grow in their sobriety. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to point them in the right direction.

Being of Service

There are many ways to serve. Alcoholics Anonymous generally starts out the newcomers with simple tasks:

  • Arriving early to meetings to help set up the room.
  • Brewing the bottomless vat of coffee.
  • Staying afterward to tidy up.

After a year of sobriety, one may be asked to ‘share your story.’ Talking about your unique experiences, strengths and hope(s) is not only a way to purge but a necessity for the group to grow together. Your first time may be a little nerve-racking, but over time, you will find that you look forward to having another turn.

From there, one may be asked to be the Chairperson.

I recall the first time that I ‘chaired.’ I was nervous to start, but as the meeting progressed I felt more and more calm and competent.

AA/NA calls these duties ‘Service,’ which is an integral part of getting well. One finds out rather quickly that being a ‘giver’ as opposed to a ‘taker’ helps the psyche heal.

What It’s Like Not to Give

During my youth, adolescence and twenties, I was nothing more than an overly indulged, selfish person. I lived an opulent lifestyle and my motto could have been, “I want it now!” (I often wonder if that trait tied in with my not wanting to experience anything uncomfortable—which lead to alcohol and narcotic pills.)

I married a man who took care of all my needs, and the selfish trend continued into my thirties and forties. Reaching my early forties, I was absolutely an addict as I used around-the-clock to numb anxiety, depression, and a sense of worthlessness. Little did I know that those feelings would only multiply when addiction struck.

The Serenity Prayer, Trauma, and Recovery

The Serenity Prayer reminds me to, “Accept the things I cannot change.” There are a lot things that fit into this category for me—namely my personal history of addiction and regret. When I do compulsively contemplate the facts of my past, I find it depressing.

I am learning, however, how some of those traumas have led to my serenity.

I was molested as a child. That event caused significant issues as I kept it a secret well into adulthood. I now volunteer at a local Women’s Shelter assisting a counselor that runs a group for rape victims. We discuss the psychology behind why these traumas happen, how to come to terms with these anguishes, and how to heal our wounds.

As painful as this recollection can be, I can now look at all the wonderful friends I have made and I can find solace in helping others. Life is NOT all about me. Life is about doing your best with the cards you’re dealt.

I see a parallel here with my alcoholism. Certainly, that was a traumatic period of time in both cases. I suffered and I felt confused and out of control. While it is true that no one poured that poison down my throat, the pain was as horrid as was the guilt. (I felt guilty for abusing alcohol, and like many rape victims, I felt as if the molestation was somehow my fault.)

In both instances, I had to confront my angst and I had to decide to cleanse myself. I needed to share my pain and come to terms with a period of adjustment. Not easily done.

The Serenity Prayer then speaks to us about wisdom. We become wise when we know that our past does not have to color our future. We are wise when we realize that, regardless of the specific anguish, we ultimately can control the outcome.

Sharing Your Experience and Hope

Well on my way into a life of sobriety, I became a person with a knack for understanding people. I had, “been there, done that,” and eventually realized that my sobriety was in large part due to being loved by others. It became my turn to give.

Sobriety has taught me a way of living that entails much more than giving up drinking and drugging. Among others, here are a few things I attribute to my sobriety:

  • Tolerant: Others have struggled as I have. I have an understanding of the reason this disease is so insidious.
  • Empathetic: I’ve cried many a tear as I related to personal stories that I’ve heard in meetings.
  • Diligent: I don’t give up when I face hardships that appear monumental.
  • Trustworthy: Keeping confidentialities and autonomies are key in my life.
  • Outgoing: I feel comfortable speaking my mind.
  • Proactive: I’m not a couch potato!
  • Confident: Leaving aside some financial woes, I am proud of my accomplishments.
  • Cooperative: “Two heads are better than one.”
  • Meditative: Each day I gain a higher level of spirituality as I pray and meditate.

I can now say that I am a content and sober lady with this realization in my heart. Of course, being tolerant, kind, and patient with others applies to everyone—not just those who struggle with addiction. Although it does take an extra measure of patience to be kind to an addict.

The bottom line is that I feel better about myself when I reach out to others. The benefits of sobriety are many. Being of service, whether in a physical, emotional or spiritual sense is my personal, and awesome (perhaps even lifesaving) salvation.

“I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.”

–Mother Teresa