If nobody was doing any service work, the ACA program would simply cease to exist. Without the service work of those who came before us, none of us would be here now. – Arizona Intergroup
Service in Recovery
One of the famous sayings used by Twelve Step groups is that, you have to give it away in order to keep it. What this is referring to is the idea that service in recovery can help the giver as much as the receiver. This giving should not be done in the hope of a reward or praise. Instead the individual does it because they know that it is helping to keep them connected. Numerous studies have provided evidence that helping others in recovery provides great benefit to the helper.
Service in Recovery Defined
Service in recovery refers to work carried out for no financial reward or compensation. This may involve directly helping somebody else, or indirectly helping them by providing services. Some individual do go on to make a career out of helping others, but this is no longer considered service if they receive payment.
The Importance of Service in Twelve Step Groups
Groups like ACA could not function without the voluntary services provided by members. All these meetings around the world are organized and maintained by volunteers. There is usually a collection at the end of each meeting, but this money is used to pay for rent, materials and other overheads. Almost every person at these meetings will provide some type of service, even if it is just sharing a bit of their story, or preparing the coffee or tea.
Other Types of Service in Recovery
There is no need for the individual to be a member of a twelve step group in order for them to become involved in service. There are plenty of official and unofficial ways that those in recovery can help others. Such work is highly rewarding, and it can strengthen the commitment of the individual to their own recovery.
Types of Service in Recovery
Anything that directly or indirectly helps others in recovery could be considered service. Examples of this type of work include:
- Help on the Retreat committee, at the Retreat, or other
- Volunteering to work with homeless ACAs
- Visiting ACAs in prison
- Responding to emails for those looking for help
- Making coffee or tea at a 12 Step meeting
- Chairing or sharing at a meeting
- Giving out chips
- Meeting set-up or clean-up
- Starting new meetings
- Talking to the public about family addiction or dysfunction
- Welcoming newcomers to recovery meetings
- Answering emails from those who are looking for help with their problems
- Being supportive of those who are struggling in recovery
- Taking an official service role within a recovery group, for example treasurer or secretary
- Making time to speak to people who are obviously struggling with problems
- Those individuals who do not hide their past can prove inspirational for those who are dealing with this type of problem.
The Benefits of Service in Recovery
Service in recovery benefits both the giver and receiver. In a lot of instances it will actually be the giver who ends up benefiting the most. Such benefits include:
- It is often easier for an adult child to talk to those who have been through similar experiences. A recovering ACA will have a better chance of winning their trust than a professional. Service is all about one ACA helping another.
- Those people who devote some time to helping others are less likely to suffer with depression .
- Recovering ACAs may have a better understanding of the needs of the practicing ACA. This will often mean that the help they offer is more appropriate.
- Helping others with problems reminds the individual of where they have come from. This will keep the pain of dysfunction fresh in their minds so that they never forget it. This should keep them committed to the recovery path.
- The giver will feel that they are giving back and this will increase their confidence and self-esteem.
- Helping others takes the focus off the individual. This is important because a lot of problems in the recovering ACA’s life will be due to self absorption.
- Providing service ensures that groups such as ACA stay in business. If nobody volunteers their time these groups will disappear.
The Dangers of Service in Recovery
Helping others is always a good thing, but there can be dangers involved. This is particularly likely to happen when the individual is doing it for the wrong reasons. Here are some of the dangers of doing service in recovery:
- Some individuals become so obsessed with focusing on the needs of others that they neglect their own. This is dangerous because it may mean that they are stuck in recovery; their giving is part of the relapse process. There is likely to come a day when they realize that fixing everyone else is not making their life better.
- Occasionally people will use service as a way to prey on the vulnerable. An example of this is thirteen stepping where recovering addicts use service as a means to gain sexual favors from newer members.
- Some types of service involve a great deal of trust. If people break this trust it can cause problems. A good example of this would be the treasurer of a large ACA meeting who steals from the group. Another example is the sponsor who listens to the darkest secrets of the sponsee and then uses this information as a means to blackmail them.
- People can end up taking on too much because they find it hard to say no. This can lead to a situation where all the extra work is causing them to experience a great deal of stress.