“Selfishness and self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles,” states the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, as it details out the problem before suggesting a solution to the plight of the person affected by a substance use disorder. In recovery, we learn that while the immediate problem seems to be the action of using substances, the key to lasting recovery is understanding the causes and conditions under which we did. For most of us, the egocentric thinking of the disorder often caused us to act out in selfish ways, thinking more of ourselves than others. As we learn more about our substance use disorders and begin to heal our pasts, we turn our thoughts to others and seek to turn our behavior from self-seeking to altruistic. Service to others becomes a top priority and we seek to give back what was given to us in our own recovery. We find many ways to do this in our everyday lives; but many of us choose to go a step further, committing to volunteer roles within the 12-Step and recovery community. 12-Step programs are entirely self-supported from within the communities they serve and many rise to the occasion to help keep programs alive for the next person that desires a space to recover; but in doing so, one has to remember to keep balance. Life gets full when we recover. It’s important to balance the life-saving tools we learn with the life we gain as a result of using them.
The Balancing Act
It can be a truly difficult task to find the right balance when it comes to service. As each of our lives looks different and continues to grow and change, there is no way to measure what too much or too little might look like. A good place to start, so there can be an accurate appraisal, is to recognize what service to others truly is. Those that choose to build a life around recovery using 12-Step programs are called to help “keep the lights on” for the person who is still out struggling with substance use and has not found recovery yet. What this often looks like is volunteering to help keep a specific meeting going by leading it or making coffee, being part of a committee that helps a specific group such as young people or women recover by hosting events and conferences, or even representing a local area at regional assemblies that make large-scale decisions for the group. In more personal ways, it might look like taking another individual through the 12-Steps as a sponsor or giving newer members rides to meetings as they work to rebuild their lives. However, being of service to a specific recovery program is only one among countless ways to serve others. As we grow in recovery we are often of service to our own households, extended family, friends, and even strangers. Some of us discover passions that include volunteer work, and most work to practice gratitude with daily actions to give back. It takes seeing all of this to take accurate stock of how much we are giving out in service, and to take a reasonable look at how much we are capable of giving, before raising our hand to volunteer for more.
The struggle most face when learning to set boundaries with service is that when we learn that selfishness has perhaps caused us much of our trouble, it begins to feel as if every “no” is selfish. It might feel like if no one else volunteers to fulfill a need that one must make themselves available, lest it goes undone. How can there be too much of something that’s been suggested to help save one’s life? An important thing to remember is that we do work in recovery that is sometimes emotionally taxing, time-consuming, and inconvenient. We face fears and amend our wrongdoing so that we get to have a life beyond substances. If our commitments begin to give way to feelings of stress, resentment, and exhaustion, we may put ourselves in a precarious mental and emotional space. While service is not always convenient, it should bring about a sense of joy and freedom; and if our feelings turn from positive to negative, we should take a step back and evaluate the balance in our lives.
Those of us who have struggled with a substance use disorder often struggle with compulsive actions, especially towards things that make us feel good. After we get sober, it feels good to support others and some of us chase that good feeling with gusto. While helping others is a much healthier habit than ones we formerly had, in seeking the opportunity, we might take on more than we can reasonably do without much forethought. As with so much in recovery, this is where a support network and the advice and perspective of others are of incomparable value. Others who may have more experience or practice can help shift perspective and serve as a reminder that saying “no” to over-committing is a valuable form of self-care. Sometimes self-appraisal isn’t what we need. Others might assess how much we are already working, in order to give advice and help affirm decisions to balance service.
Everything is a learning experience as we continue the journey of recovery. We will often need to change and shift, as we are able to learn new things about ourselves and about how to live a life free of substances. Service is simply one more thing we get the opportunity to incorporate into our lives and practice balancing. Awareness of how much stress things add to our lives and the perspective of those who’ve walked the path ahead of us can help us learn how to show up for others and care for ourselves in harmony.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.