Before I entered into the world of recovery, the only person I was of service to was myself. In most cases I would only help someone if there were something in it for me. I was a self-serving, selfish, egomaniac with a huge inferiority complex. However, within a month of entering recovery all of that began to change.
My wife and I were really close to Tom and Mary (fictitious names), and their two children. Together, Tom and I coached our boys in soccer and baseball and, as families, we would spend a lot of time together at Lake Mead. The funny thing about Tom and Mary is that neither of them drank; yet Tom was crazier than I was after I’d had several beers. What was even more baffling to me was that neither Tom nor Mary said anything to me about my drinking. Then again I was never really out of control around the two of them or the kids.
When I decided to check myself into the Betty Ford Center (BFC) for treatment my wife called Mary to let her know what was going on, that is when Mary told Cathy that her and Tom were alumnus from the BFC. Mary assured my wife that she would be there for her as my journey was going to be hard for not only myself, but for my wife as well. For the fifteen years that we had known Tom and Mary prior to my entering treatment, they were being of service in ways I would never have thought of.
They never revealed to my wife or myself they were not only sober but also BFC alumnus. Never did they say anything about our drinking or judge us. As I look back on it now eleven years later, they were demonstrating how it was possible to have fun in life without alcohol.
Tom knew me fairly well, which meant he knew what it was going to take to help me stay sober. I wasn’t a month into treatment when Tom was put in charge of reigniting the BFC alumni picnic. It was May in the Coachella Valley and the temperature was already in the triple digits. Tom called me up and told me, not asked, that I was going to be on the grill for that picnic. I thought no way, it’s going to be 110 degrees and I’m not going to be slaving over a hot barbecue all day. Well, that wasn’t the case. I showed up and did as I was asked, and in doing so I was introduced to the power of service work.
By helping others that day, my self-confidence issues began to fade away. All day people were coming up and talking with me, not to me, and thanking me for being of service. The next year I was asked to take over the picnic and over the next five years that picnic grew from sixty people to over two-hundred people. In doing so, I was able to introduce several other men and women to the power and benefit of service work. Our friends Tom and Mary had been the pebble that started the ripple effect of service that would help hundreds if not thousand of people in the last ten plus years.
As for myself, since those early years of recovery, I am still doing a lot of service work. I started by cleaning the ashtrays on the patio of our AA hall, then serving coffee and finally being the secretary of my home group meeting. I would pickup Yvonne, a lady dying of cancer, every morning and take her to and from our AA meeting. Becoming a sponsor was and is one of the greatest gifts I have received. Watching broken men turn their lives around is amazing and gives me such joy.
My greatest sorrow has turned into my greatest joy as a result of service work. For the past nine years I have been a part of a group called “It Happens To Boys.” We speak at conferences, high schools, colleges, and treatment facilities about the sexual abuse of boys and how it affects boys who become men. We bring awareness and educate both survivors and therapist on the prevalence of abuse, who the perpetrators are, and correlation between chemical dependency and sexual abuse.
Currently I am the Celebrate Recovery ministry leader at Destiny Church in Indio, CA among many other things. I could write pages, if not a book on how service work has helped me stay not just sober, but helped me recover and change my life. Service work is second only to God the reason I remain sober today. For me, being of service is not work—it’s an honor and a privilege. Remember that recovery is a “WE” program, not an “I” program. We need each other—I need you, too.