One of the fundamental principles of recovery is that it gives our recovery a tremendous boost when we reach out and help others who are struggling.
This is especially true if we can help others specifically with recovery from addiction.
The idea is pretty simple really. If you are teaching something then you learn it and relearn it again for yourself all over again. There is a saying that basically amounts to: “If you really want to learn a subject, then teach it to others.” That is one of the main reasons for reaching out and helping others to recover.
Why connect with others in recovery? What is the point of doing so?
Let me tell you about this phenomenon that I noticed when I was in early sobriety.
To give you some context for this, I want you to know that I was not the smartest kid in the classroom when I was growing up, but I was certainly not the slowest either. I have what you might call a “normal” or “average” capacity for learning. I can be taught. I can pay attention and listen. I got an “A” in many classes but squeezed by with a “C” in some of the harder math and science courses. I went to college. I say these things so that you have a frame of reference, so that you will understand that I am typical, fairly average, and that what I am about to say actually does apply to everyone.
It doesn’t matter if you are smart, or slow, or a genius, or whatever in recovery. The bottom line is that you will forget that you are an alcoholic.
You will actually forget that you are addicted. Even after you check into a treatment facility and stay there for 28 days and rearrange your entire life and start going to AA meetings every single day….you will still forget that you are alcoholic.
I think I noticed this when I was in my first year of sobriety.
Now I am not saying that you walk out of your home and completely forget about your alcoholism for a week straight. It is much more subtle than that. No, you can forget about your alcoholism for a split second.
I first noticed this happening when I would skip AA meetings. Because when I first got sober I would go to AA every single day. It was my reminder. It kept me grounded in recovery. And I never understood what that meant or how exactly it was helping me until I stopped going. Now ultimately I found other solutions that helped to replace AA meetings in my life, but stay with me for a minute here (my goal is not to convince you to go to AA meetings or not). My point is that when I would suddenly skip the AA meeting for a day, my brain would change ever so slightly.
And the way that my brain would change is that whenever there was a trigger or a craving for alcohol, my mind would be a half second slower to correct and remember that I was an alcoholic. It would be a half second slower to say “Oh right, that does look like it would be a fun bar to get drunk at all night, but I no longer do that because it wrecked my life.”
And this is what I mean when I say that “we forget that we are alcoholic.”
And this happens to everyone. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how sharp you think your mind is.
And the way that it happens is that you get “unplugged.” Whatever it is that you do for your recovery, eventually you will probably go through a phase where you unplug from that, and when you do your brain will become slower at remembering that you are alcoholic. And you will see triggers in your life and your brain will fantasize about drinking and using alcohol and it will cause you to be miserable for a split second. Over time these little “trigger moments” that cause a tiny little drip of misery will add up and it could potentially lead to relapse.
I noticed this. I watched this happen to my brain when I started to experiment with skipping AA meetings. And of course I did not like the outcome because it was putting me in danger of relapse. It also led me to think that I really needed to go to AA meetings every day for the rest of my life. I rejected that idea though and decided to find another way to create success in sobriety and to retrain my brain. Part of that definitely has to do with reaching out and helping others in recovery.
So you might do a lot of different positive actions in recovery that will help you to avoid relapse. Some of them are more important than others, because some of these actions will do a better job at defending you from the threat of relapse. And part of the measuring stick is to say: “Which actions can I take that help to remind me of my own alcoholism?”
I have found that interacting with others in recovery and helping them in some way is the most helpful at this. There is pretty much nothing you can do other than this that would help you more in your recovery. This is the ultimate action, to help others in their sobriety. When you do so it helps to retrain your brain more than anything else. It keeps you grounded more than anything else. Helping others in recovery is the number one activity that you could engage in.
Therefore it makes sense to make it a priority, to think about how you might help others to recover, to work it into your recovery program. To make it part of your mission in recovery. Because doing so will make your own recovery so much stronger.
AA meetings are an obvious starting point, but they are just one option out of many
When I first got sober I was attending AA meetings every single day. At some point my sponsor in recovery suggested that I start chairing an NA meeting once a week inside of a treatment center, and I did that for about 18 months. That was a good experience and I am glad that I did it. I chaired the meetings and tried to say things that would help people but I was always very nervous when speaking in front of others.
Eventually I realized that face to face 12 step meetings were just one way to connect with others. They were not the only way. So I found some resources online and I found places where alcoholics could talk to each other on message boards. Eventually I created a discussion forum about alcoholism here on Spiritual River and people post messages there every day to try to help each other. So here was a way to connect with others and try to help them that was completely different from an in-person AA meeting.
If someone is struggling to connect with others then these are the two options that I would suggest for them. And I would urge them to do both, not to choose one over the other, at least initially. It is good to give them both a chance to work in your life. I went to in-person AA meetings for about the first two years of my recovery. After that I pretty much stopped entirely and continued to interact with recovering alcoholics online instead. I have been doing that for at least a decade now exclusively online. So I guess you could say that I found my outlet. But keep in mind that I gave in-person AA meetings a fair chance and I attended several hundred of them on a daily basis before I decided on what worked best for me. This is an important point and I believe that experimentation is critical for early sobriety. You can’t just shut down out of fear and refuse to take suggestions and expect to recover. You have to stay open to the possibilities and be willing to try new things. I was terrified of AA meetings but I still forced myself to attend them for almost two years straight, and even to chair a meeting for 18 months of that time.
You have to be realistic and ask yourself: “If I don’t go to AA meetings every day, how am I going to get plugged into recovery and connect with others?” That is a very important question and you need to have a good answer for it. I am not trying to suggest that you should or should not go to AA meetings every day. What I am saying though is that if you choose not to go to AA meetings you better have a really good alternative lined up, something that you know will give you a lot of support and keep you plugged into a recovery mindset. Because you need a way to remind yourself every day that you are a recovering alcoholic. The mind forgets this and that is how relapse creeps back in. Everyone thinks that they are immune to this “forgetting” but in fact we are all the same when it comes to this phenomenon. If you completely “unplug” from recovery then you will eventually relapse.
What are your unique talents and gifts and how can you use them to help other people in this world?
You may be wondering exactly how you can help an alcoholic or an addict based on your unique talents.
This will likely be revealed to you as you go along in your recovery journey, provided that you are willing to keep taking suggestions. You need to be willing to explore and take suggestions. You need to be willing to take advice from other people in recovery and put their ideas into action. In doing so you will discover how you can best reach out and connect with others in recovery.
I did this when my sponsor suggested that I chair a 12 step meeting. I experimented with it, I took the suggestion, I followed through. Ultimately I found that it was not for me, so I eventually moved on to other experiments. But it taught me something and I definitely learned from doing it and I found that I wanted a different path.
This is how your recovery should work. You have to be willing to take suggestions from other people and in doing so discover the path that works best for you. It may take a few months or a few years of experimentation before you really find your true path in recovery. I would say it took me at least a few years myself before I really discovered the things that worked best for me in my own journey.
At some point I started reaching out to recovering alcoholics online. I think this is where my unique talents came into play because this had a much bigger impact on me than in-person AA meetings ever did. I had found my calling, so to speak.
Realize that your own calling in recovery may be from a slightly different angle. It may not be AA meetings and it may not be online recovery. I know some people in recovery who get involved with a fitness group and this changes their life. It becomes their entire model for sobriety. They get super involved with physical fitness and start helping others with it and it totally transforms their life. This is not what we would look at and label as “traditional recovery” but it is the right path for certain people.
Others may find the same sort of transformation through religion. Again, this is not what we would look at and call “traditional recovery.” Most people see the 12 step program as being more traditional and they would see the religious path as being secondary, more remote. But it definitely works for some people and transforms their life for the better. And obviously there is ample opportunity in a religious community to reach out and help others who may be struggling with the same problems. Show me a church community and I can almost assure you that there are at least a few individuals in that community that may be struggling with substance abuse problems. So there are all sorts of different communities out there that may have people who need help, people who are struggling with addiction, people who need to hear a message of hope.
One of the things that I learned from my time chairing the NA meeting is that I was supposed to carry “a message of hope” to the struggling addict or alcoholic. This is a powerful idea and I think it should apply to everyone in recovery, regardless of what recovery program or technique they are using to recover.
In other words, one of our main responsibilities in recovery should be to carry a message of hope to those who are still struggling. And this should come naturally. Because we ourselves were once struggling with addiction, and we were able to overcome it, so therefore this should give hope to others that they can do the same thing. And all that is really required of us is to tell our story: I was addicted, I got help for my problem, now I am living a sober life in recovery. That is giving others hope. We should definitely try to do this as part of our recovery process.
Finding purpose and meaning from helping others
It is very possible for a struggling alcoholic to get sober, get stable in their life, and then say to themselves: “What now?”
Life can feel meaningless and empty when you get sober, if you are not careful.
So how can you fill that life back up and give it meaning?
One way to do this is to connect with others in recovery and try to help them. This can give your life purpose and meaning. In fact, nothing will compare to the feeling of helping others in recovery if you really make a strong connection with someone.
Again, you might ask yourself the question: “If I don’t get purpose and meaning from helping others in my recovery, where am I going to get that purpose and meaning from?” It’s an important question because if you don’t have a plan then it is likely that you will find yourself discontented at some point.
The shortcut solution is to simply go to AA meetings. Get involved. Ask for help, then see how you can help others. Get a sponsor and work through the steps. Eventually sponsor others and help them through the steps. If you do these things and take these suggestions then it will give your life meaning and purpose.
Again, this is not the only path in sobriety. It is just one path that you might take. But it definitely works if you want it to work for you, and if you are willing to apply yourself.
How reaching out to others helps to strengthen your sobriety
When you are working with others in recovery it helps to rewire your brain.
If you reach out and connect with others in recovery on a daily basis, then each night when you lay down to sleep your brain will rest much easier. Your brain will say to itself: “I tried to help others today, I tried to help them to remain sober, therefore I am on track to stay sober as well, and I feel good about myself for doing this work.”
It is all about rewiring your brain. It is all about reinventing yourself, over and over again, during this recovery journey.
When you stop taking positive action then your brain slowly reverts back to its old self. That would be the self that it was when you were drinking or using drugs. That is the default mode for your brain. In order to prevent that old mindset from returning you have to keep rewiring your brain every single day.
Connecting with others in recovery is one way to rewire your brain. There are other ways and there are other positive actions you can take. So helping others in recovery is one tool, but it is a very powerful tool and it is perhaps the absolute strongest tool in the box.
And I believe that as a recovery tool, helping others is universal. It is fundamental. No one in recovery would reach out and help someone who is struggling and then later say “oh, that did not do anything for me.” That is not going to happen. Everyone who takes the time to reach out and help someone who is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction will get a “boost” to their own recovery. You can’t help but get this “boost.” It is part of the magic that created the entire recovery movement and the AA program itself: “One alcoholic helping another to stay sober.” This is the foundation of recovery. It is at the heart of sobriety itself.
We each have to find our own path. Part of that path is going to be answering the question: “How can I help others to recover?” You may or may not be in AA. That is not the important thing. The important thing is that you stay open to how you may become a tool of change for others who may be struggling to get sober. If you stay open to this possibility then eventually you will find your path, find your purpose, and it will transform your life.
What about you, have you found your path in recovery? Have you found a way to connect with others that is meaningful for you? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!