What it Means to be of Service to Others in Recovery
If you are among the millions of those in recovery who regularly attend 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings, you already know that the Twelfth Step work involves sharing the A.A. message with other alcoholics – and that such an endeavor can help keep you sober.
But there’s a lot of confusion over how you get to the point of sharing the message – without coming across as an evangelist or pushing an agenda on someone. Just what does it mean to be of service to others in recovery, and how do you do it? Here are some answers.
Words from Bill W.
Why not go right to the source to find out what A.A. means about service? In A.A.’s Legacy of Service (//www.aa.org/lang/en/catalog.cfm?origpage=203&product=62), Bill W. states it quite succinctly: “Our Twelfth Step – carrying the message – is the basic service that the A.A. Fellowship gives; this is our principle aim and the main reason for our existence.” Bill W. goes on to say that is more than just a set of principles. Rather, it is a society of alcoholics in action.
Being Ready to Help – Anytime, Anywhere
The simplest explanation of what it means to be of service to others in recovery – and this also includes recovery from drugs, compulsive gambling, compulsive sexual behavior, workaholism, compulsive spending, substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorder – is that you’re ready to help someone in recovery who’s in need — anytime and anywhere.
Maybe that’s being on the other end of the line when your friend (or 12-step group acquaintance) calls you crying and begging for help. You don’t have to be his or her sponsor to lend your support. Just the fact that you take the time to listen to the person’s concerns is often enough to get them over the immediate issue. Maybe their sponsor wasn’t available and the individual thought to call you because you hit it off together at various meetings or somehow seemed to share a similar background.
It could be offering to pick up and take a newcomer to a meeting or buying the person a cup of coffee during a time of need.
So, one-on-one help is an important part of being in service to others in recovery. But it’s not the only way you can help accomplish the work of Step Twelve.
Become Active in Your Local Group
A.A. isn’t governed like an organization, but it does rely on the combined expertise and volunteerism of individuals in local groups, the local intergroup or central office, institution committees, and general service.
Remember back to when you first started going to meetings, how confused and a little afraid you were? What you were really afraid of was what you didn’t know – how A.A. worked and what was expected of you. Then, someone came forward and invited you in and suddenly this meeting place didn’t seem quite so intimidating after all.
Part of helping out in your local A.A. meeting is as easy as greeting newcomers and helping to put them at ease with a smile, a hearty handshake, and a few gentle words of welcome.
Becoming active in your local group could also involve volunteering to set out the chairs, ensure the coffee is brewed and hot, that the cups are all arranged. By the same token, after the meeting is over, there’s the breakdown of chairs, cleaning the coffee pot, disposing of the cups, taking out the trash, and other duties. Someone has to do this and even if there’s a person who regularly does it, you can offer to help to speed things along.
What do such simple tasks have to do with being of service? Actually, a lot. What happens is that you begin to incorporate being of service in how you live your life every day. Maybe it’s a small thing to help out at a meeting, but it’s certainly a start. From there, many other instances of being of service can grow.
For example, let’s say that your local chapter plans to get involved with other groups to conduct a seminar, or work on state conference details as part of a committee. Maybe your group has a jobs fair or skills training workshop. You can volunteer to help out, lend your expertise, put out literature, make phone calls, whatever.
Ask Your Sponsor
By the time you arrive at the Twelfth Step, you’ll probably have many discussions with your sponsor under your belt about any number of points related to the Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and the Twelve Concepts of Service. But, if you haven’t touched on being of service to any great extent, now is certainly the time to ask your sponsor about how you can get involved.
Chances are pretty good that your sponsor will encourage you to become active in service early on. In fact, some long-time fellowship members refer to A.A. as a kind of 36-point program: 12 steps, 12 traditions, and 12 concepts.
There’s really no mystery about service work. In fact, your sponsor is doing service work when he takes you under his wing and tries to make you aware of what A.A. is as a whole. Think about the things you and your sponsor talk about. It’s very likely that he has made an effort to interest you in service work beyond the group.
Read the Literature
Want to start out as soon as possible? Other long-time A.A. members, sponsors, and those involved in service work advise that you read the Big Book and A.A. Comes of Age. Not only will you “find yourself,” but you’ll also think of many ways that you can start being of service.
There’s also The A.A. Service Manual Combined with Twelve Concepts for World Service (//www.aa.org/lang/en/catalog.cfm?origpage=101&product=100), also by Bill W. The manual begins with a history of A.A. services and then goes on to explain the Conference structure and the importance of its year-round work. There’s also the Conference Charter and General Service Board By-Laws, if you want to get in-depth into that. But most important is the section on The Concepts, as set forth by Bill W. These are the principles of service that have grown out of A.A.’s accomplishments – and its mistakes – from the beginning. If nothing else, reading this publication will prove eye-opening – and inspiring.
Be Active to Stay Sober
There certainly is no requirement that you have to go into service. But many in recovery relate that they felt they were only able to remain sober because they became active in service to others.
How can this be? The truth is that being abstinent takes hard work. You can’t just sit back and say to yourself that you’re doing okay so far, maybe you can skip meetings and still get by. You know where that gets you – a quick slip or major relapse can’t be far off. You know you have to actively work the 12 steps, and you can’t take sobriety for granted. When you do, something will happen that will rock your stability and you’ll be ill-prepared to handle the challenge.
You may have heard the stories yourself, or read about them in the A.A. literature. One member says that he doubted he’d have been able to stay sober for 26 years without being in service. Another proclaims that service is a part of who he is.
Good Intentions are a Good Start
Don’t worry about the right way to do something. Start off by just trying to help – the aforementioned greeting newcomers with a smile, being of assistance wherever and whenever you can.
While some may question whether it’s because they want to be liked, need recognition and approval from others, or just because they like A.A. and being in the group, as long as your intention and motivation is good, you will be okay. In other words, don’t rack your brain looking or waiting for a pure motive. Just get going and start doing.
General Service May Not Be For Everyone
For many in recovery, general service is perhaps going a bit too far. Rest easy on this one. General service may not be for everyone. You don’t need to feel forced or pressured into working on committees or going into intergroup and area institutions – and no one in A.A. will try to push such an agenda on you if you’re not interested or ready.
Sure, they may suggest it, even encourage it. You’d expect that, since Dr. Bob himself once said (more or less in these words) that if we fail to acquire a spirit of service, we will have missed out on the greatest gift A.A. has to offer – the ability to give our sobriety away and so keep it.
For information on the service structure of A.A. in the United States and Canada – including a description of all the elements linking individual members and groups with the General Service Conference, see Inside A.A.: Understanding the Fellowship and its Service Agencies (//www.aa.org/lang/en/catalog.cfm?origpage=185&product=43).
Service is actually the Third Legacy of A. A. – following behind Recovery, the First Legacy, and Unity, the Second Legacy. As the pamphlet states: “Service to others and to the Fellowship reminds us that we owe our sobriety to the work of earlier members, and that our continued sobriety may depend on the hundreds of thousands who still need to learn of A.A.”
That’s it, in a nutshell. Simple and uncomplicated, giving of yourself and being of service to others in recovery is one of the best ways to strengthen your own recovery. In essence, you give and you receive. Twice blessed.