Service and Sobriety

Service is a critical part of recovery, but it is one of the most poorly understood Program concepts, in my opinion. I’ve been in the Program for 19 years, and for 17 of those years, my idea of service was flawed. I believed service was about helping addicts only. I did not see it extend outside of these boundaries.

I got the wrong message. I believed God granted special grace for service to addicts. It also didn’t make sense to me that service applied to people outside of the Program. I have been in the service of others outside the Program my entire life, and it never did anything for my sobriety. I concluded this Step must specifically apply to doing things for the benefit of others’ sobriety.

I made phone calls, I folded chairs and made coffee, but I didn’t stay sober. I figured sponsors had much more opportunity for service with sober sponsees; so, in my mind, service only benefited sponsors. I figured I would have to get sober and get a sponsee before I would ever experience the benefits of service. Since I couldn’t stay sober, I believed there was nothing I could do.

I hit a bottom that forced me to work my Program differently. I got into serious trouble and the illness broke me; I became desperate to be sober. I aggressively worked every aspect of the Program. I started doing things for people in my immediate circle, my family. I started voluntarily washing dishes, cleaning the house, carting the kids around. There were no requirements for me to do this stuff and there was nothing in it for me. Yet I found that doing these things pulled me away from what I wanted to do, like watching TV or just sitting and relaxing. The AA Big Book says: “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs” (p. 20). I tried to do this as much as possible. I was desperate to be sober, and I thought this might be a solution to my problem.

I began feeling that these actions were making a difference and keeping me sober. It seemed to create an invisible buffer against lust. I was beginning to see why the old-timers spoke so glowingly about service. I was beginning to experience feelings of joy. I was working diligently on the other Steps, but service was clearly the major factor. I was sober and not acting out. In fact, there were times when I normally would have found it impossible to not act out, and yet I was sober, not even triggered. Voluntarily doing good for others brought me to a good place spiritually. I discovered Service as an attitude, it was working; and, I was amazed.

I attended an open AA meeting one night and I posed the question “Is service supposed to be for other addicts only or does it apply to people in general?” To my surprise and relief, their overwhelming response was that service applied to people in general. Several people shared examples, like pumping gas for elderly in wintertime, or shoveling a neighbor’s cars out of the snow. The Program teaches that we are to practice the principles in all our affairs. Being of service to addicts is only the beginning. I needed to hear this. It confirmed what I had hoped was true. AA had the answer I needed.

Voluntarily being of service taught me a lot about self-centeredness. Service for the sole purpose of being of service is almost always coupled with having to give up something I would rather do. I believe service works when I act with charity and not expect recognition. When I am voluntarily doing things for others, then I am really giving of myself. This is the true nature of service to me.

Chuck T., Columbus, Ohio

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