When I first started out in recovery, I heard things from people who had some clean time. These things had to do with getting out of myself and starting to care about others in a way that I had not been connected to previously, a way to uncover a better sense of well-being. Rather than half-hearted attempts of helping out a friend to see what I could get out of the situation, whole-hearted attempts in helping someone out (anyone!) for simply his or her benefit were encouraged. Now now now, wait a minute…Do something… for someone… because I want to…? Not necessarily foreign territory for most people. But for the recovering addict/alcoholic, selfishness and self-centeredness has been the root of one’s troubles. Getting out of self is a daily challenge!
Growing up, I always had a knack for customer service. Early in life, I was blessed with the understanding that helping people helped me feel good. When I was in the third grade, my elementary school had a program called “caring critters.” We were a track school, which meant we had periods of three weeks where we were “off track” while other students were in school. During these “off track” periods, we had the opportunity to volunteer our free time in service to our school. Since my parents were working and did not have the means to put me in any outside activities, I volunteered my time as a “caring critter” to the school library. This began my love affair with service work.
No matter how many ways you spin it, selfishness is a reality of the human experience. Doing things for yourself helps make you feel good, and I like feeling good! The wonderful thing about community service is that you’re helping others while you help yourself. An added bonus to it all is the happiness we see in others benefiting from our service work. It always seems to come full circle. If I do something for someone without an objective, it somehow always adds positively to my experience! In the depths of my alcoholism, I was all but turned off from any kind of community service. Heck, I did not even care to take proper care of myself. It was when I started to comprehend the connection to myself and all other sentient beings that I found happiness and joy in caring for others.
Now don’t get me wrong, to some degree I’m still a pretty selfish person. It is a dialectic we must recognize. Without first helping myself, I have no way to offer any kind of help to my fellows. The giving and receiving relationship must have a balance. Without it, we fall prey to co-dependent behaviors, building resentment, and find ourselves right back where we started. This is “no bueno” in my book.
So, where do we start? How do we know what kind of service work to involve ourselves in? Early in sobriety, I started with simply dropping off and picking up friends in sober living at their IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) groups in the morning. I was the only one with a vehicle, and though at the time it felt like it was putting me out, it got me up and going in the mornings. Getting my day started early enough to hit a morning meeting, I then got commitments at those meetings. Helping out as a “chair person,” I stacked chairs at the end of meetings first, which then led me to asking for a more permanent commitment: becoming the literature person and eventually a secretary. Holding a commitment at a meeting puts you in a place where you can be of service and talk to the newcomers. Armed with facts about yourself, you can speak to the people coming into the meeting. You can relate to them on a level no one else can.
Starting small with a service commitment you can handle is ideal. Attempting to change the world in the beginning may be a task you are not ready to handle early in sobriety. Picking up trash, working at a food bank once a week, or using skills you have to help someone in need (writing resumes, sharing your story or even just listening to a friend in need) takes you out of self during difficult times. Being in recovery doesn’t mean your service work has to pertain strictly to recovery. Whatever moves you to help make a difference, or whatever you can find passion and joy in, will ultimately feed your spirit! Create a happier, healthier YOU!
It’s always interesting to hear what kind of service work is possible depending on each individual’s passions. What are some service work opportunities you have had? What are some service work ideas you have that do not currently exist?
Dream big, fellow travelers—we are in this together! Love and light, Adventure Vanessa