Along with recovery and unity, service is one of the main tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous, so you know it’s important. In fact, it’s something just about every alcoholic and addict starting recovery is instructed to do. I know I heard about finding some way to be of service in the program when I was in treatment and had very little experience with AA. It was on my recovery plan when I left treatment along with finding a home group and getting a sponsor. And I eventually did it, chairing a meeting once I had six months sober.
I understand the thinking behind picking up a service job within the program. It gets you involved, provides you with some accountability, and helps you meet others within the rooms. Service at meetings can be anything from making coffee, greeting people (especially newcomers) as they arrive, passing out AA literature for step meetings, and cleaning up afterwards, to sharing your story at a speaker meeting and becoming a sponsor. I haven’t done all of those, but I’ve done my fair share.
What I’ve noticed is my idea of service and the way I go about it has changed during my recovery. When I first started attending twelve-step meetings, the service I provided was contained within the rooms. That was good for me, and it was enough. But as I grew in my sobriety, and recovery became my new normal—a way of life rather than a program—I found keeping my service within the rooms too confining.
It’s important to be of service to other alcoholics in AA, there’s no doubt in my mind. But I find it equally important to be of service to others around me—those I’m close to, people I don’t know well, and even strangers. So now, I do my best to be of service to anyone who is struggling with addiction, their own or someone else’s.
It started out slowly, this new way of being of service. From the beginning of my recovery I was open about it with loved ones. If I’m being honest, that had nothing to do with being of service. I did it because I thought if everyone around me knew, it would make it harder for me to relapse. What I learned, though, is that by being open, people who needed help with (or just to talk about) alcohol-related problems began to open up to me. Talking with others helped strengthen my own recovery, and it helped them to have someone who understood. I realized then I was being of service outside of AA.
Fairly early in my recovery, I was asked to speak about alcoholism at an assembly of vocational college students for Alcohol Awareness Week. I was an employee of the school and while my coworkers knew about my alcoholism, most of the students did not. When I gave the presentation, there were a lot of shocked expressions when I told the group I am an alcoholic in recovery. I am not a public speaker by any stretch of the imagination. But when I gave that talk, I held everyone’s attention, saw a lot of affirmative head-nodding and smiles, and received so much positive feedback. That wasn’t the best part though. The best part came in the following weeks as students would come into my office and ask for help or information about alcoholism. I did that talk every year for the next three years, and the results were always the same. I was being of service just by sharing my story.
These days, I am still practicing being of service. I have a personal blog about my recovery, and I write about it for a couple of other blogs and publications. I talk about addiction with others all the time and I help those who need and ask for it. I share my story to show others that there is hope and that sobriety can be achieved. But I also do it because it’s my way of being of service.
If you’re just starting out, I’ll tell you the same thing I was told—find a way to be of service in the program. It doesn’t matter what it is, being of service will help you and others. You may find your idea of service changes over time, as mine did. But even if your service is always making the coffee, you’ll find it’s usually about much more than that.