One of the most interesting aspects of recovery is what support groups often referred to as “service” or, simply, step 12 (the non-secular version reads: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”). It’s not necessarily that we all turn into saints once we get sober and clean, but the principle of helping others is crucial in how we manage to maintain our sobriety. I think this can be applied to situations other than addiction—communities of relinquishees, for example, benefit greatly from camaraderie, and people assist each other through exchanging information, resources, advice… Those two I’m familiar with personally, but there are many other societies that rely on resources within in order to support themselves.
In my experience whatever deviates from “normal” is often going to get ignored if not shunned by the general public, so we must support people like us because nobody else might. Our society still shuns people with substance use disorder, people with various mental-health issues still have to “keep it to themselves” in order to blend in. This is why, within our own circles, the help that we offer others is crucial. And we’re the experts on our own experiences.
What does that mean in practical terms? It could be something as small as referring someone in need to local and online resources, talking to a new member of your group on the phone, taking someone to a meeting, lending them some reading material, sharing your own story of recovery or discovery (in case of relinquishment). It could be offering someone a ride if they have a hard time getting to a meeting. It does not mean giving money—that will always complicate things and cause resentments down the line—or jobs, but making suggestions to help those things happen is one way to helping a newcomer in a financial crisis. It also doesn’t mean marriage counselling but offering our own experiences with the matters of relationships might be useful, too.
People have a tremendously difficult time asking for help—at least I know that from my own experience. I thought I was self-reliant and strong for a long time and it almost killed me. It wasn’t until I reached out to others that I really started to get better. Asking for help is not humiliating, nor does it mean that you’re a failure—it is an act of courage. And offering help brings great joy even if it sometimes means that you won’t be available to those who normally expect you around (such as your family). Sharing our knowledge and experience is what gets us out of our own heads, what brings meaning to recovery in the way that no other action does. When I’m feeling blue or anxious or overwhelmed with things, the best way for me to distract myself, other than meditation, is to be with the people who might need me. But that’s not the only reason I do it—I don’t offer help just to make myself feel better. I offer it because it has been offered to me and because there’s joy in this action. I talk to people and I talk to their families if that’s an option, and I try to share what information I have. My understanding of the 12 steps has not been spiritual (for myself, but I understand how it can be for others) in the sense that the traditional members of those groups understand it, but my experience has been that of believing in Reality. I can share that experience. I understand that sobriety requires diligence, discipline, connection, and it’s a life-long process. It might sound daunting to someone who’s just starting out their recovery, but this is why people like me are there in the recovery rooms—we’re hopefully useful enough to offer some guidance, make it a little easier, simpler.
It is through that kind of service that a person in recovery builds her own resilience and strength as well—responsibility to help those who struggle is one of the principles of recovery. It is the special loop of recovery that keeps our connection growing strong—I’ve been helped and now I help and when I, too, ask for help, again, I hope that there will be people out there who will show up for me.
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