“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop
Kindness can seem hard to come by these days. With all the pressures and stressors so many are facing it can seem challenging to reach out and be kind to others. Consumed with our own lives, responsibilities (that can seem endless), and dealing with personal challenges that each of us face can leave little time to think about others, let alone how to be helpful to them. However, both research and real-life experiences show that being kind to others can actually help you too.
When it comes to recovery and acts of kindness, being in service to others is a crucial foundation for long-term recovery. This has been long touted in the rooms of 12-Step programs as well as in the 12-Steps themselves. In fact, the twelfth step says the following,
“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.”
In this final step of the 12-Steps, other alcoholics are being urged to share their recovery with others who are still sick and suffering. The phrase, ‘we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics” outlines a fundamental 12-Step principle; helping others. 12-Step programs often refer to this as ‘being in service’.
What is Being in Service in Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-Step Programs?
Being in service in 12-Step programs is an essential component for healthy, long-lasting recovery. If you talk to any ‘old timer’ they will tell you that this connection with other alcoholics or addicts and trying to share what you’ve learned is one of the foundational principles of their recovery.
And, when it comes to 12-Step programs, being in service can be pretty easy. An often-heard slogan in these programs is, “you have to give it away to keep it”. This means that in order to stay sober (keep it) you have to give away (be in service) the tools and tactics that help you get and stay sober. So just how do you do this in 12-Step programs? There are a variety of service positions in 12-Step programs. This means you can choose from a simple greeter position to a representative attending local and even national meetings.
Some of the other positions in 12-Step programs are making coffee, setting up the room for meetings, being chair of the home group, being in charge of coins and celebrating sobriety anniversaries, being in charge of clean up after meetings, being an intergroup representative and many more. As you can see, this means you can get involved as little or as much as you like. You can start off in a small service position and then as you get more comfortable move into more involved positions.
The first step is to become a member of a home group and see where they need you. Even though your service position may seem trivial, each act of kindness, each act of service really matters. Not only for others but to ensure your own sobriety.
According to an article, Alcoholics Anonymous-Related Helping and The Helper Therapy Principle, 12 months after a three-month addiction treatment program, 40% of those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) remained sober in that year as compared to 22% of those who didn’t engage in service.
Additionally, Science Daily reported that in a study 94% of those with an AUD who helped others with an AUD stayed sober over a 15-month period. And while more goes into staying sober, it’s heard time and time again in 12-Step programs, in rehabs, and in studies, that those who help others get and stay sober are better able to remain sober themselves–and may even be happier.
Why Be in Service?
One of the claims about those individuals with AUD or substance use disorders (SUD) is that there is a great amount of ego that needs to be overcome in order to remain sober. In fact, getting rid of this ego is a big part of the 12 Steps. Admitting powerlessness, relying on a Higher Power for help instead of oneself, admitting your faults and mistakes, and making amends for those mistakes are all pieces of slowly chipping away at an over-inflated ego. 12-Step programs drive the point home that the ego when left unchecked, can lead to a life of futility, addiction, and misery.
Being in service, engaging in acts of kindness, and helping others is the key to getting the ego back down to the right size. As the ego subsides and those with AUD and SUD start helping others, miraculous things begin to happen–both to the person helping and those being helped. In addition to helping others get sober, being in service can also help to form connections and relationships with other like-minded people.
This connection and these relationships are vital to sustain long-term sobriety. Research shows that having relationships with others and someone to lean on in times of trouble helps you to be resilient. And, being resilient is key in recovery. Life is going to throw challenges your way, when you’re helping others, forming connections, and staying focused on being in recovery, you’re better able to navigate these times. Being in service is key.
Being in Service Outside of 12-Step Programs
As mentioned, 12-Step programs make it easy to be in service and to form connections in the fellowship of AA, NA, or other 12-Step programs. However, today, there are different types of support groups to help those in recovery from alcohol and other substances. And, it’s equally important–no matter what kind of program you’re in–to be of service and engage in acts of kindness towards others. AA has illustrated this clearly by being the longest-tenured support group for recovery from alcohol (and drugs) and supporting being in service as a fundamental component of recovery–particularly long-term recovery.
If you’re in a support group other than a 12-Step program, or just trying to remain sober on your own, you can still engage in service and acts of kindness. This can range from helping an elderly neighbor and holding the door at a store to joining volunteer groups on your own or groups of service where you work. No act of kindness, no act of service is too small.
Today, there are many groups in need of volunteers. You can visit your local food bank, YMCA, church, or other local nonprofit groups and see if they have a need. In addition, you can utilize this resource, VolunteerMatch, to find volunteer opportunities that are interesting to you and get started. If you’re super motivated and have time, you can even start your own volunteer group or event.
Being in recovery and staying sober long-term can present ups and downs. When you choose to be in service, be kind, and help others on a daily basis those ups and downs will be more manageable. And, when you’re in service and doing the next right thing, many joys and surprises will come your way.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with an AUD, SUD, or mental health challenge, Futures Recovery Healthcare wants to help. Our compassionate team has many years of experience helping those who want to get sober do just that. And, our vibrant alumni program stays engaged with clients long after they’ve left clinical treatment offering a community of support to help with long-term sobriety. Contact us today to learn more or call