Joe L (LA)
When I first attended 12-step meetings, I wanted neither to be seen nor heard. I usually arrived late, sat as far back as I could and left before the closing prayer. All those controlling do-gooders running meetings, pushing literature and hawking program events were part of the stupid "in" crowd snobs who probably wouldn’t talk to me even if I approached them. I didn’t trust those who shared and I wasn’t willing to reveal my own shame-driven behaviour and what was the point in raising my hand when I probably wouldn’t be called on anyway? I wasn’t in program to be social; I was there to cure my compulsion. Of course, most of "them" were in recovery and I was deep in my disease.
Once, I arrived at a meeting early and was greeted by someone who was arranging chairs. As we chatted, I helped. At the end of the meeting, I was thanked for doing service. The first time I shared at a meeting, one or two attendees made a point of thanking me. Not only was sharing cathartic for me, I began to feel that I was making a contribution and the acknowledgements warmed me. A few times I stayed after a meeting to clean up. Once, when the secretary didn’t arrive, I facilitated a small meeting. Soon, I looked forward to being asked to read aloud from our literature. Eventually, I chose a sponsor. When a friend (who was putting in court-assigned time at AA after a drunk-driving conviction) asked in a confrontational tone why I needed a sponsor, I found myself saying, "so that some day, I can sponsor somebody else". Maybe that was one of those breakthroughs we hear so much about.
I became a greeter at a regular meeting and relished all the hugs I got. Over the course of the next few years, I accepted responsibility of co-secretary, treasurer, literature person, and what-have-you at various meetings. I was even "cake monitor" at one SCA meeting, responsible for recovery-birthday [Anniversary] celebrations. Even the way I shared evolved: instead of staring at the floor or closing my eyes I began to make eye contact with others when I spoke or read and, eventually, learned to look directly at others while they were sharing or reading. What a difference that made! I perceived a much more intimate connection. It dawned on me that when I contributed, I received more than I gave. The biggest gift was the distinct sensation that I owned the program. It wasn’t any longer the program; it was my program!
I was so in awe of those who gave workshops and remember the first time I was asked to co-lead one at an SCA Convention. The subject was the Tools, and I knocked myself out trying to find ways to make something we heard read regularly new, interesting, informative and fun. I found a prop for each tool and loaded them into a big, butch tool box. The enthusiastic feed back was rewarding and encouraging. I have created and led many workshops since and always prepare extensively for each. Happily, I learn something valuable every time.
Service has helped to change many things in my life. For example, I call friends regularly to keep in touch more often when they are experiencing difficulties. I rarely pick up call waiting; with the exception of telemarketing, I return all calls promptly. I try to express myself with honesty, compassion and love. I send cards and/or personal notes to acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, condolences, get-well wishes and other special events. I keep appointments, show up punctually and write thank-you notes to those who have done something extra nice for me. I try to be courteous to other motorists and stop for pedestrians, even if they are rude. I hold doors for people and try to find something complimentary to say to all I meet. I volunteer at a children’s hospital and read to kids at the library. I vote in every election. When I screw up, I make amends. I don’t give money to street people, but have bought some a meal. Daily, in and out of program, I can find countless ways of being of service to someone, some cause or some event.
One perk of service is that I get to more meetings and have more involvement and connection with my fellows. Another is a supportive circle of loving friends. You know what? I barely have enough time left over to thank HP for the rich, joyous, fulfilling life I lead. Who would have thought that service could have given me all of this?
David B (NY)
As a result of having practiced the first eleven Steps, the Program suggests that I’ll recognize in the Twelfth Step that I’ve had a spiritual awakening. Spurred by this awakening, I’ll likely turn outward, to carry the message of recovery to still-suffering addicts and to practice the principles of the Steps in all my affairs.
I’m told I’ll undertake a fuller, richer practice of service. This "way of helping ourselves by helping others" (SCA Fourfold), this "giving that asks no rewards" (Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions, p. 106) is the payoff for which all else before has been preparation.
But, I have less than eleven months in SCA! I’m still struggling in the First Step, still negotiating my surrender to powerlessness, still writing my formal sexual history, still exploring the sad bankruptcy of my addict’s life. How can I use Service or experience anything of the joy of living and the key of action promised in the Twelfth Step?
As it turns out, the rewards of service have already begun. Even though I’m not an SCA veteran, I work most of the Tools; and several of them tender a gentle invitation to service. I will probably work the Steps in order, but I work the Tools in random rotation and the experiences they’ve provided afford me tantalizing glimpses of the endless riches promised in the Twelfth Step. At meetings, service inheres in bearing witness to the experience, strength, and hope of others; in being chair, treasurer, literature person, Intergroup rep, or Interim Sponsorship Coordinator; in setting up or putting away chairs; in sharing and qualifying. I also serve by the reassurance and support offered by my physical presence in the room. My body is literal evidence of the courage to recover. I serve by simply showing up and daring to remain in my seat.
When I use the telephone, I employ a meeting between meetings. In phone contact, I bear similar witness, shoulder similar responsible attentiveness, and exhibit similar courage as I do in a meeting. Thus, whether my audience is one or many, I experience the gift of Service and previews of the bounty of the Twelfth Step. I have never yet put down the phone after a program call without feeling better than before the call, whether I made it or received it. The invitation to service beckons both caller and recipient. For me, one of the stunning paradoxes of recovery is that my need affords another person the opportunity to perform service. In asking for help, I am helping someone else.
My sex and fantasy addictions have pushed away almost everyone whom I have loved and valued in my life, but the tool of sponsorship gives me the gift of practicing intimacy within a vehicle of service. Whether sponsee or sponsor (I am now both), one helps the other, without thought of payment or quid pro quo.
In my opinion, a majority of addicts suffered emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, subtle or not, in childhood. In such circumstances, charades of intimacy were purchased at terrible prices; nurture, support, and love were bound up in unspoken and unspeakable tradeoffs. In Sponsorship, a seminal Program transaction, I get the chance to practice un- self-centered caring, support, and love, the very things not modeled in my dysfunctional family. I discover exquisite lessons of service and I experience service as action.
Socializing, too, is an invitation to serve. "Here," it says, "break your isolation, get to know people in non-sexual contexts. Come out to play, bring out your inner child and your adult growing in health, that self you are when you’re not active in your addiction. When Socializing, I’m invited to climb outside myself. I’m gently asked to experience other human beings being, warts and all. I am asked to give and take, instead of merely taking in an addict’s greed. I’m invited to learn to engage as an equal instead of trying to impose on others my beliefs, my self-centered fears and my expectations. I relearn social skills I lost, or learn the ones I never had, or regain the ones I let rust from disuse. I am led, as if by the smell of water in the desert, to love my fellows even when I do not like them. In socializing, I offer others a gentle mirroring, a sharing in the round of life, a quiet reassurance that they are not simply body parts, sexual objects, anticipated conquests, or losers in the sexual marketplace. Socializing is a Tool that shows me self- seeking slipping away.
One of AA’s great, bone-deep truths avers that service to a fellow sufferer is an addict’s principal route to recovery. Service in the company of addicts blunts my extreme self- centeredness and challenges my presumed self-importance. It is the road out of lethal self-preoccupation. It’s the way of spirit, the "works" without which faith is dead. In the "simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet" (AA Big Book, p. 25), service shimmers. It is everywhere I look in SCA. If I use the tool of service, the light that shines in me will burn more brightly. I might even come to know that God’s will for me is to serve. And come to learn that my service will set me free and lead me to find much of heaven.