21 Jan AA Step 12: Being of Service by Sara Loughlin, LCSW
This month’s blog theme is “Being of service while being in recovery.” In AA, this sentiment is basically the 12th step: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” What this means is once a person has sufficiently recovered from his or her addiction by working through the steps and staying sober, it is important for that person to try to help others suffering from the same affliction.
There are a couple important points I would like to make about this step. The first point is that this is the 12th step — to be undertaken by a recovering addict after completing the other steps. Recovery is difficult work, and doing it right means a lot of exploring of one’s past and taking a hard look at what part he or she had played in the various conflicts in one’s own life. This is emotionally challenging work, and I have seen people start to focus on helping others before they are ready, as a way to deflect from having to really look at themselves and their own issues.
But if one has come to the point in his or her recovery where he or she has focused on the process and is strong enough to help others, then being of service can be very powerful in many ways. Addiction tends to be a self-focused disease, and focusing on helping others can change this perspective. Helping others who are struggling with the same issues with respect to which one has made significant progress can give meaning to a very painful period in one’s life and can give a greater sense of purpose to one’s own work in recovery. It can also serve as a stark reminder and incentive to stay sober. I used to work in a detox facility, and former patients who had a period of sobriety would come back to share their stories with those newly sober. They would always tell me that they got more out of the experience than the patients they had talked to, and that any time they felt that they may relapse the experience of having been in the detox facility remained fresh in their minds due to their service there.
One can begin to cultivate a practice of service through little steps- welcoming a newcomer at a meeting and taking the time to introduce him or her to a few people, helping to clean up after a meeting, or giving someone a ride home. It can mean volunteering at a charity or non-profit that serves a population you feel drawn to help. It can mean speaking on panels in hospitals and prisons. Whatever path you choose, engaging in acts of service is an essential part of the recovery process as it helps to transform one’s perspective from “what can I get out of this” to “what can I give back.”