By Patrick O’Neil
One of the cornerstones of recovery is being of service to other addicts and alcoholics. Support groups such as AA make it a point to include helping others as part of their suggested program. “AA literature teaches the alcoholic to apply the spiritual principle of service in all his affairs, to practice ‘tolerance, patience and good will toward all men,’” writes Dr. Stephen G. Post, “and to ‘place the welfare of other people ahead of his own’.” The Narcotic Anonymous (NA) fellowship takes it even one step further saying, “We can only keep what we have by giving it away.”
In contrast actively using addicts and alcoholics are obsessed with only one thing; the getting, using, and wanting more. The very nature of the disease causing them to become intensely narcissistic, thinking only about their immediate needs and neglecting their loved ones, family, and friends. If there’s nothing in it for them, then they don’t expect them to somehow all of a sudden act right, show compassion, or start caring for another person’s welfare.
Being of service is the antithesis of addiction. The human connection of helping one another is the ultimate selfless act. Working collaboratively with the addict and alcoholic helps bring about positive change. But this selfless act isn’t just about them. It’s also about helping you. “It might be hard to believe if you are caught up in your own misery, but there is someone out there who is in more pain than you are now and is in need of help,” states journalist Jodie Gould. “Being of service to others is a way to take you out of your own head for a while and forget your own troubles. The act of compassion validates us in a profound way and creates a deep connection that heals by overcoming that feeling of isolation. When we offer compassion to others, something happens to us spiritually—our happiness and sense of well-being grow exponentially.”
“People have found that helping others can have a profound impact on health and happiness,” writes former psychologist turned author Dr. Jill Suttie. “According to a 2010 survey on volunteering, 68 percent of the 4,582 American adults surveyed said that volunteering made them feel physically healthier, 73 percent said it lowered their stress levels, 77 percent said it improved their emotional health, and almost all respondents said it made them happier.” Even the late Princess Diana was quoted as saying, “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”
According to author Allan Luks there’s even a phenomenon he calls “Helper’s High”… where the “helpers experience a high similar to that of a runner following a workout. After helping someone, the helper’s body releases endorphins, brain chemicals that reduce pain and increase euphoria. This creates a rush of elation followed by a period of calm. [Luks] found evidence that a helper can even re-experience this high just by remembering their altruistic acts – even long after they take place.”
And to go even deeper, being of service brings out many of the positive characteristics we like to think we have, but ones we may not be instinctively in touch with. If we lack confidence in our sobriety, helping another addict or alcoholic through a difficult period not only reinforces why we want to get sober, but also reassures us that we can do it too. If we lack initiative, helping another person overcome their struggle gives us our own strength and hope. But make no mistake, providing that support and service makes a huge difference to the person who receives it. Without it many an alcoholic and addict wouldn’t be sober today.
Helping others is also the cornerstone of treatment. In fact one could easily say that the therapeutic level is all about being of service. The drug and alcohol counselor, the group facilitator, and the therapist all play a role in helping the addict and alcoholic address their addiction issues and maintain sobriety.
Entering treatment is a simple and sincere request for help. By doing so the addict and alcoholic are admitting they cannot do this alone. The journey to getting sober can, at times, feel overwhelming and very challenging. Addiction is powerful, cunning, and baffling. Using and drinking has caused the addict and alcoholic to isolate, avoid, and be mistrustful of others. Because of this the addict and alcoholic need all the help they can get. Everyone deserves the chance to break free from their addiction.
Being that guiding light to get someone into recovery is the highest honor one could ask for.
CAST Centers embodies this concept of service. Their clinicians believe that working towards recovery is about empowering yourself to make better choices. Their clients learn healthier coping strategies for dealing with life’s challenges, and gain insight regarding their self-imposed limitations and under-utilized strengths. Ultimately they are guided to a new life free from substance abuse and addiction and given the opportunity to develop a productive and satisfying future.