There are many resources available to help those struggling with addiction. The variety of what is available should mean that there is something to suit everyone. Much of this help is offered by people who have personal experience of dealing with addiction. Those ex-addicts who dedicate their time to helping others are not doing this for purely self-less reasons. Instead they have come to realize that by helping others they can help themselves as well. A famous Twelve Step/Alcoholics Anonymous saying sums this up well, to keep it you have to give it away. Regardless of membership in AA or a 12-step approach to rehabilitation, helping others who have drug or alcohol addiction problems can be very helpful to one’s own recovery.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not by any means the only, and far from the first or the last, service-based organization trying to help others in recovery. Still, it is a good example of the value of service as indeed, it is itself founded on that very basis. The group developed after one alcoholic tried to help another. This is the now legendary story of the first meeting between Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1935.
Bill W. had been sober a few months but felt on the verge of a relapse. He felt however, inspired by his membership in the Oxford Group, that if he could help another alcoholic it would help him stay sober too. It was this that led him to hospital bed of Dr. Bob. This approach of one drunk helping another was so successful that it led to the growth of one of the largest community-based self-help movement.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a non-profit organization. It relies completely on the service of its members. Each group is an autonomous unit and it is up to the members to ensure that everything runs smoothly. These groups could not survive if members were not prepared to take on unpaid responsibilities. Newly sober people may be asked to make the coffee or tea, or welcome other newcomers. Those who are sober longer may be giving responsibilities such as acting as the meeting secretary or treasurer. Members will also often take turns as the main speaker at the meeting. Some individuals will take on additional responsibilities such as telephone service or sponsorship. Old-timers provide service by just turning up and sharing their wisdom.
The person who benefits the most from service may be the one offering it. Doing such work can improve their life in a number of ways including:
* It reminds the individual of where they have come from. This should mean they are less likely to relapse. The pain of addiction begins to wane over time into memory. This means that people can begin to wonder if their old life was really that bad. Such thinking can be disastrous if it is left unchecked. By spending time with those who are struggling with addiction it becomes harder to forget the pain.
* Those who help others are less likely to suffer from depression.
* It increases self-esteem because the giver now feels like they have something useful to offer society.
* It allows people to develop new skills and builds their confidence. Many addicts may have a poor work history. Voluntary work can be the first step back into a successful career.
* Addicts tend to be extremely self-absorbed. By thinking about others for a change it allows them to escape this focus on self. Such a change in perspective can be highly refreshing.
* A recent study by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found that helping others improves the lives of people in addiction recovery.
Those who are the recipient of such help benefit because:
* Addicts find it hard to trust other people. They may be suspicious of the motives of “do-gooders” or just feel that such people really don’t understand. It is much easier for the ex-addict to win the trust of active substance abuser.
* People in recovery will have a wealth of experience that will be of benefit to others following the same path.
* It is arguable that a recovering addict will have a much greater understanding of the needs of their fellows.
There are potentially endless ways that people will be able to help others in recovery. Some of the most common ways of doing so include:
* Service in a 12 step or other support group
* Voluntary work with addicts
* Visiting addicts in prison
* Hospital visits
* Creating a website or blog that focuses on recovery
* Joining and online addiction web forum and offering advice and support
* Giving talks in venues such as schools
* Offering phone numbers or email addresses to addicts who are struggling
* Stopping to talk with addicts who are down on their luck. Sometimes even offering a smile can be a valuable service.
Many addicts turned to addiction because they were trying to escape their life. A similar attitude can develop when it comes to helping other people. The individual doesn’t want to examine their own problems so they focus completely on the problems of other people. This type of coping mechanism can lead to dissatisfaction and burnout. The individual may begin to feel that the people they are trying to help are ungrateful. This can lead to resentment and a growing dissatisfaction with recovery. If the person continues to ignore the real problem it can easy lead to relapse.
Helping others is largely beneficial for anyone in recovery, but like with all things there needs to be moderation. Any individual who sets out to save the world is sure to end up disappointed. Helping others is as much about receiving as it is about giving. It is important to stay humble and realistic. The individual has to ensure that their own recovery is strong so that they can be strong for others.
Helping other people in recovery is so rewarding that individuals may decide to turn this into a career. There is no reason why people shouldn’t be paid for this type of work, but it does change the relationship between the giver and the receiver. Those people who do decide to make helping a financial transaction need to adapt to the professional standards of their new role. They will now be far more accountable for their actions and there will be higher expectation of their work. This type of caring can still be quite rewarding so long as people remain professional.