by Bernard Gonzoles
Step Twelve: 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.
~ Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
Service is the final leg of the three legacies of Alcoholics Anonymous, the first two being recovery and unity. On this three-legged foundation many a life has been saved since 1936 when AA came into existence. Ask any longtime sober alcoholic or addict and they will tell you that it takes willingness and perseverance to unlock the door to lasting recovery. “The key to maintaining it is service,” says Tom Clavell, ten-year Director of the South Bay Pioneers Sober Living Facility. “Service is the manna that feeds sobriety and holds relapse at bay for the alcoholic or addict.”
The nondescript grounds of the South Bay Pioneers is located half way up a hill, entrenched on C Street in the City of Chula Vista, tucked away on a side-pocket driveway, hardly noticeable by most people who drive by. Since 1961 it has stood as a monument to service. The mission, as with so many other sober-living houses, is to provide a structured environment for men and women to focus on recovery from alcoholism. That structured environment includes the expectation that the residents will be of service to one another and to visitors to the facility.
The definition of service, according to the Oxford Dictionary is: the action of helping or doing work for someone, to be of assistance. The word derives from the latin servus, meaning to bind together or protect. So what does service mean in relation to recovery for the addict? Clavell says in order to answer that question one has to understand that, “service is both simple and complicated.” “The Big Book,” says Clavell, “suggests that in order to keep what you’ve been given (knowledge of how to stay sober), you have to be willing to give it away. That means understanding that service begins with short term commitments such as going to meetings, being willing to lead, make coffee, distribute literature, clean up afterwards and talk to other alcoholic/addicts. But there is also longterm service, meaning a commitment to one’s own sobriety by going beyond the confines of a meeting and extending a hand to other sufferers. “Nothing will so much guarantee immunity from relapse than working with another alcoholic,” says Clavell. “You are now equipped with certain experiences that can benefit others down the road. This becomes our primary purpose, to carry the message through service.”
As much as a recovering addict has to adapt to being of service to others, Clavell says, “they must also be willing to accept the service of others.” That can mean working with the very people we once avoided at all cost; police, lawyers, judges, parole officers, probation officers, correctional officers. At other times, it can mean unwanted attention from social services: paramedics, doctors, lab workers, therapists, counselors, social workers, and the list goes on. Those people, most of whom are not members of AA, are many times the first point of service on the gravelly edges of the road to recovery. “I can think of countless individuals in the recovery community who are sober today and grateful for the encounters that they once considered negative,” said Clavell. “Those initial service interventions set them on a path that at first felt like hoops, but eventually turned to hope.”