A cornerstone of the program is service; which can come in many varieties. Sponsorship, chairing or making coffee at meetings and even speaking to another alcoholic or addict on the phone all fall under the umbrella of service.
Recently a newcomer heard an old timer speak at a meeting where he told his story. A few days later the same newcomer heard the same old timer qualify at another meeting and tell essentially the same story. After the meeting was over, the newcomer approached the old timer about this. The old timer told him that in reality he had shared the same story dozens of times. Yet, whenever he was asked to speak he did so without reservation. He explained that we tell our story with the hope that another alcoholic or addict will be able to identify with it and it will help contribute to his or her sobriety. But we also tell our story to remind ourselves of what it was like before we entered the program. As addicts and alcoholics we constantly need to be reminded of what our life was like without a program and without fellowship. In that way we will never romanticize what it was like prior to entering AA, NA, or OA.
Personal Reflection: What parts of my story are important for me to remember?
Many shifts occur when people finally get it and enter the program. Obviously the first major shift was the giving up of our drug of choice. As a result, our lives began to dramatically improve. We started to pay better attention to our health and our doctors were very pleased with the results they were seeing. Our work environment became much more pleasant. Suddenly we were getting along much better with our co-workers. Our home life was on a much more even keel. Many of these changes rapidly occurred once we gave up drugs, alcohol, food or any other substance of choice.
A different series of changes took place over a longer period of time. We began to learn about emotional sobriety. This caused a major shift in both our thinking and actions. In the past the focus had always been on ourselves. We really did believe that we were the center of the universe. We constantly clashed with others who had the same belief system. With sobriety we began to move away from a life of self centeredness to a life of service. The further away we were from being in the center the better our life became.
Personal Reflection: How far away from the center am I?
Mental telepathy would make our lives so much easier. If we could read other people’s minds, we could find out so much information effortlessly. We would know when someone needed our help. If a person had a resentment towards us, we could immediately make amends and repair the relationship. Of course, as of now mental telepathy doesn’t exist. Yet, some people seem to think that it does.
People walk around expecting others to be able to read their minds. When that doesn’t happen, they will say things like, “I can’t believe that she didn’t call me when she knew I was so upset”, or “I’m so annoyed that he didn’t help me clean the dishes. Didn’t he see me standing there at the sink?”
In recovery, we learned early on that we needed to ask others for help if we wanted it. Perhaps our fear of being told no or our perfectionism prevented us from asking for another’s assistance. We also learned that asking others for aid would not guarantee their assistance. However, one thing was for sure. If we didn’t ask, we would be left alone and without help.
Finally, once we began to ask others in the fellowship for assistance we discovered how many people were willing to go to any length to help us.
Personal Reflection: How can I give or receive help today?
12 step programs involve internal and external work. Both are necessary components. Obviously, we need to work on our internal world. When we work the steps we begin to experience real change. The fourth step in particular is the gateway to personal transformation. After we have examined our character defects we are able to let go of them by humbling asking G-d to remove them. Once that happens, we are on our road to emotional sobriety. Rather than leaking our negative energy through resentments and anger, we begin to build a core of serenity. That energy becomes a repository for us to take sustenance from as well as to share.
Sharing is part of our external work. Taking service commitments, having sponsees and picking up the phone when another member of program calls is a big part of the fellowship. On a daily basis we give of our time and energy. There can however be a danger in this. If we ourselves are depleted, there is danger in continuing to to expend energy for others. We can avoid this situation by nurturing our inner life and recognizing when we need to let someone else in program take up the mantle.
Personal Reflection: Do I give from my overflow,or from my reserve?
In the rooms of AA, NA and OA there are many opportunities for us to take a commitment. Doing service is one of the cornerstones of the program. Somehow however some of us always seem to avoid taking a turn as chairperson of a meeting. We are willing to make the coffee, be a greeter or even be a treasurer. When it comes to chairing the meeting we end up sitting on our hands when they are looking for volunteers for this position. This is especially true where the chairperson needs to speak about a topic or a reading each week during their term.
And that is exactly why people should volunteer for this position. By doing so it allows the person to be self reflective on a weekly basis. It builds strength of commitment because we know we need to show up every week without fail. For those who have difficulty speaking in front of groups it forces us to confront those fears. It also allows other members of the fellowship to get to know us on a deeper basis. When we take on the commitment of leadership it helps build our self esteem. After our tenure is over we often feel much more comfortable about sharing.
Personal Reflection: How could volunteering to lead a meeting be helpful to us?
A big part of the fellowship is service. One alcoholic or addict helping another. Sometimes we get immediate verification that something we said or did had an impact on another person. Someone comes up to us after a meeting and tells us that they had a lot of identification with something we said. Getting a smile out of someone as we hand them a cup of coffee. Calling someone and have them tell us they are so grateful because they were feeling a bit lonely and sad. These are times that we immediately know that we’ve touched someone
Then of course there are actions we take which affect others in ways we are totally unaware of. Maybe that ride we gave to someone to get to a meeting helped keep them from going out that day. Perhaps that heartfelt welcome we gave to a newcomer helped them to decide to come back to another meeting. Maybe we encountered someone at a party who was drinking, using or eating compulsively. During the conversation we broke our anonymity and informed them there was a better way of living. Even if they continued to use after our conversation, we never know what seeds were planted. Many of us have seen those very people walk into a 12 step room months or years later.
Personal Reflection: How have you impacted others?
Imagine you found yourself in a deep dark hole. It was so deep in fact that there was absolutely no way that you could just jump out or pull yourself out of it. The only way you could get out of the hole was if there was a ladder you could use to climb out with.
Addiction is similar to that deep hole. Left to out own devices, we found it impossible to extricate ourselves from it. We tried many strategies but we always seemed to end up back in that hole once again. The programs of AA, NA and OA provided us with a ladder to help us depart from the hole of addiction. Each of the rungs of the ladder represented a different aspect of the program to help us climb out. Some of those rungs included going to meetings, getting a sponsor, working the steps, taking service commitments, practicing daily prayer and meditation and helping another member of the fellowship. By climbing the rungs we found that we could extricate ourselves from that dark pit. We also found that when we neglected various aspects of the program we began to slide back into the hole. It was not something we could say we were ever free and clear off.
Personal Reflection: Am I going up or sliding down the ladder?
These days there is much greater awareness about heart health. People are altering their diets and eating cleaner and healthier food. There is far more awareness about issues like stress and obesity. The American Medical Association recommends aerobic exercise and walking 10,000 steps a day. All of these will definitely aid in the improvement of cardiovascular health.
There is another type of heart health, that is often neglected as well. We are talking about emotional heart health. What is the prescription for those suffering from a heart that is pained by guilt or loss. Or even a heart that is so covered over that almost nothing can penetrate it’s hard lacquered veneer. Of course talking to a friend or a therapist can be helpful. Beyond that, we have found that helping another person who is suffering is often the best course of action. This might seem counter-intuitive. When we are immersed in our own problems, the last thing we want to do is go help someone else. We would rather stay in bed watching television and nursing our wounds. That is exactly the time we need to reach out and help another member whose heart is also emotionally under attack. When we are able to get outside of ourselves and help another, a little bit of sunlight can pierce the hearts of our fellow. We have also found that some of the veils covering our own heart are lifted in the process as well.
Personal Reflection: How do I exercise my heart?
Every generation has had people that were considered spiritual. In the 19th century Henry David Thoreau left the hustle and bustle of the city behind and went to live on Walden Pond. More recently, in the 1960’s thousands of people flocked to Ashrams in India. Today, large numbers of people attend gatherings led by people like the the Dali Lama. If queried, almost all of these people would probably categorize themselves as spiritual.
We in AA, NA and OA identify our programs as spiritual as well. Yes, we also spend time in self examination, meditation and prayer. However, we define a large aspect of spirituality as something quite different. For us, spirituality, involves us stepping out of ourselves. For all to long we were obsessed with the world of I. We really did believe that the world should revolve around us. Now we see things very differently. A big part of our program is to extend ourselves and help others. When we do so, some of that arrogance of self is burned away and we begin to experience the joys of service. Helping others is a beautiful thing. When we do so, our minds quiet and we can forget about that world of I for a few hours. Those hours have become a precious commodity to us.
Personal Reflection: Do I exercise spirituality thru service?
Whether you are in AA, NA, or OA; there is a commonality of experience. People that you barely know will go to almost any length to help you. It starts with sponsorship. Where else can you get someone who will mentor you on a daily basis for FREE. A man or a women who will share their extensive life experience with you in total honesty and provides a venue for you to do the same. Then of course there is the fellowship itself. Many of us have collected the phone numbers of other people in the program that we can call whenever we feel the need to talk. It is a comfort to know that there is always someone available at the other end of the line day or night. We have also discovered that when we need it, whatever the problem, a member of our fellowship will offer his or her assistance. Whether it’s helping us find a job, driving us to a meeting or taking us to the Department of Motor Vehicles, we know help is just around the corner. As we grow in our own sobriety, we join the ranks of those who freely give back what they have so freely received.
Personal Reflection: Am I doing enough service?