It is often suggested that those who have entered recovery from addiction should get involved in some type of service. This is a way to give something back, but there are also other great benefits to engaging in this type of work. If people go about service in recovery the right way it will usually mean that they benefit at least as much as the person they are helping. Volunteer work in recovery is important because it has made it easier for many people to get sober.
There are some definite benefits to helping other people in recovery such as:
* Helping other people boosts self esteem. The individual walks away from the experience knowing that they did some good in the world.
* A stumbling block that prevents people from finding happiness in recovery is that they continue to be self obsessed and selfish. By focusing on other people it moves the attention away from an obsession on self.
* Many of those who get sober are helped along the way by other people who have been willing to devote their time and energy for free. It is nice to repay this kindness by offering the same to somebody else.
* By helping the newcomer the individual is reminded of what they left behind. If people forget the pain of addiction they will be at higher risk of relapse – as the saying goes, those who forget their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
* The recovery fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous could not exist without service. If members wish for these fellowships to continue they should be willing to offer some of their time to fellowship.
* It encourages the individual to develop empathy and tolerance for other people. It is often the inability to relate to other humans that is the reason why addicts feel alienated and at odds with the world.
* If people wish to develop spiritually then service will usually be a part of this path. It is only by showing compassion for other people that the individual can feel real compassion for themselves.
* Doing some type of service is a great way to socialize and meet new people. It is possible to form deep and meaningful relationships while doing this type of work.
* Boredom is real danger for people who are trying to stay sober because this will often be the reason why they turned to substance abuse in the first place. Some type of service is a productive way to use free time.
Those individuals who belong to a 12 step fellowship will have plenty of opportunity to do service. This is because this organization is built upon voluntary work. If people were not willing to offer their time and energy for free these fellowships could not exist. There are many types of service that people can do including:
* Meeting secretary
* Guest speaker
* Greeting newcomers
* Making the tea and coffee
* Telephone service
* Visiting people in prison or hospital
* Taking responsibility for meeting literature
* Helping to set up the meetings
* Helping to arrange social events
* Sharing at meetings can be a type of service. Even smiling at newcomers can be a way of offering help.
* Becoming a sponsor
Occasionally attempts to help other people can be detrimental to those involved because:
* People can fall into a type of narcissistic thinking that is sometimes described as developing a messiah complex. The individual believes that it is their destiny to save other people, and they can turn this into a crusade – often with disastrous consequences.
* If people have the wrong attitude when helping other people their efforts will usually be of little benefit. In order for such help to be of value it needs to be offered with humility.
* If the person doing the helping has no empathy they will have no idea what this other person needs.
* Some people become so dedicated to helping other people that they forget to take care of their own needs. This is dangerous because if they don’t take care of themselves they can’t take care of anyone else.
* Those individuals who are in early recovery will usually not be ready to offer much help to newcomers. It can become a case of the blind leading the blind and it could put each of their recovery in danger.
* It is unfair to offer help to a newcomer and then not follow through with this. If this individual feels let down they may use it as justification to relapse.
* Some people are so focused on helping the newcomer that they neglect the needs of their own family and friends. These people will have already suffered from years of neglect and deserve attention now.
* If people take on too much service they may become overwhelmed by it all. If people feel they are becoming stressed they might want to pull back on their service commitments.
* It can be viewed as unethical to offer help when there are strings attached to it. The person should be clear if they are only offering help in exchange for something in return.
* Helping an addict hide from the consequences of their actions may be a form of enabling. This means that it prevents that person from hitting rock bottom.
When people become established in recovery they will often end up doing service that involves helping other people achieve sobriety. This is not the only type of service they can though do, and some people will prefer to do volunteer work that is not related to addiction recovery. There are plenty of noble causes out there, and getting involved in these will provide similar benefits to service in recovery. The main thing is that the individual is thinking about somebody else and doing some good in the world.
In other to be effective when helping other people it is necessary to have the right attitude. The worst kind of helper is the one who holds a superior attitude and looks down on the person they are helping as somehow inferior. Other people can usually pick up on this type of arrogance and it can lead to distrust and dislike. The best attitude that one can take when helping other people is one of humility and empathy. The giver recognizes that they are not better than the person they are helping but instead understands that they are on a different path. The helper also recognizes that anyone can hit a downturn in life where they lose everything.
There are many different types of service that people can engage in such as:
* Helping out at a homeless shelter.
* Doing a sponsored walk or run to raise funds for people in need.
* Volunteering for crisis helpline.
* Members of a 12 Step fellowship can become a sponsor if they have been sober long enough. There are many other ways to do service in these groups – even sharing at a meeting is a type of service.
* Starting up a blog where the focus is on life in recovery.
* Volunteering for a community project.
* Joining the peace corps can be a way to travel the world while helping people in the process.
* Offering advice to a friend who is struggling with addiction. This type of work is best left to those who are already strongly established in recovery.
* Visiting elderly neighbors who live alone.
* Volunteering at a local hospital.
* If people have needed skills they can offer to do pro bono work.
Here are just a few suggestions for how to be more effective when trying to help other people:
* Humor can be a great way to break down barriers and establish a good relationship. The only caveat with this is that humor should never be at the expense of anyone else.
* Any help should be given without strings attached. The goal should be to meet the needs of the reliever and not the giver.
* It can take practice to develop empathy for individual but this is going to be far more productive than pity. Empathy means really trying to understand what the other person is going through without judging them.
* It is vital to keep in mind that both the giver often benefits more from service than the one they are helping. It is nice to feel proud of doing good but people should avoid clapping their own back so hard that they fall over (i.e. they become too proud of their good works).
* Helping other people does not mean trying to manage their lives.
* If people are struggling to hold things together in their own life they may not want to devote too much time to helping other people – although sometimes putting the focus on the problems of other people can be helpful.
* In order to be effective at helping other people it is vital to be able to make good judgments. This means that the individual will know when to offer help and when not to.
* Sometimes helping the other person will involve walking away.