By Kade Hemerson
I was at an awesome meeting this evening, the topic was “Powerlessness and Unmanageability – letting go and letting God.” What a GREAT meeting it was, too! But – that’s not what I’m going to be chatting about right now. Nope. What I want to talk about is what was said to me shortly afterwards. You know, the Meeting-After-the-Meeting meeting. Ya, the one where we all really get to know each other on a different, informal plane… usually outside, with smoke… and this time of year, in the friggin’ cold!
I was chatting with a gentleman that I’d seen around the rooms before, just not at this particular meeting. Who knows why, perhaps I’d missed him a few times around. Anyway, we began chatting, and somehow the conversation of how important this meeting was and what it meant to me came about. We discussed how urgent it was to keep the doors open for a meeting, even if only one or two people were ever attending, and the phrase “being of service” came up.
“Being of service.” Interesting. Quite some time back, DL discussed this very topic (I believe it was actually before he had officially launched this website, and as he will attest, he holds the right to change his mind at any point, whether ten years away or right after he posts it (so, DL, what do you currently think about “service work”? – Come on, man, I want an update! Ha!)), and while I can see that point, some thoughts occurred to me as I drove home this evening.
What if someone is only being of service because “they’re supposed to”? Can it harm their recovery, and just as importantly, can it harm the person they’re attempting to help?
Now, before I continue, I’m going to lay claim to a statement that resembles the one DL made: I am writing this as a way of processing. I may change my mind during the course of the writing, I may submit it first and then change my mind, or I may run with it for many years until I am shown otherwise – so I reserve the right to change my mind. It’s called growth. It’s what we do in recovery. :)
Firstly, looking at DL’s comparison, changing a flat tire, is an important step. These things need to be done. We’re supposed to do that—we need to do that—or things will fall apart and we’ll get nowhere! Sometimes it is suggested, other times we do it because we’re forced, and once in a while it’s because we realize it just needs done – so we do it because we’re “supposed to,” we “have to.” It’s a requirement of having a fully functioning vehicle. Service work truly is like this. We have to maintain our lives or we will have problems. There is no question in my mind to this.
“Service work” and “being of service” can come in many different forms. Giving rides, speaking at meetings, offering coffee, cleaning up, chairing meetings, talking one-on-one, listening, fetching groceries (maybe even occasionally buying them)… the list goes on and on. It’s a spiritual connection of sorts, demonstrating compassion, love, kindness, and quite frankly, even some tolerance, depending on who we’re dealing with. It’s not always easy. Believe me, I know.
I believe that when we do things for others, we should do it from our heart. What we do, what we say, when and how it’s done, should all come from a place of intent, purpose, and compassion, kindness, and care.
So, what if a person is “service-working” themselves so much that they lose a lot of necessary, personal time? Time required for their recovery, their family and friends, or even other opportunities where their service might be more beneficial? Can't this become a real problem?
The short answer is: Yes.
As important as service work is to our recovery, if I’m helping someone, the first thing I need to make sure is that I can. If I cannot, then I already start out with a feeling of being rushed, or being put out, or not able to concentrate on the task (could be dangerous depending on the task at hand). If I’m doing so much service work that I lose sleep, or I don’t have time to properly eat, or I get short with my family, friends, sponsors/sponsees, etc., then it’s working against me. I have to have time for proper self-care. My recovery is my responsibility, and I’m the one that must tell people if I can’t do something. It’s part of boundaries. It’s the “selfish” part of recovery. And without that, it’s unhealthy. Deadly. We have to take time to breathe and connect with our Higher Power, ask, listen, be guided, and then do service work. It’s a must.
NOW UNDERSTAND – I AM NOT SUGGESTING THAT WE DON’T DO 12-STEP CALLS OR ASSIST OTHERS WHEN IT IS NECESSARY! There are always exceptions to everything, and sometimes they are to the polar opposites, I’m merely suggesting that we become aware of it and not lose ourselves as we work towards the assistance of others. That having been stated…
This raises the question, “If we do "too much" service work, can it harm the person we’re trying to assist?”
Some service work is simply no fun. We’ve all had to do it, like DL’s tire example. But if we’re “helping, and it is making the person we’re assisting feel like they’re a burden, that person may always see people in recovery in a bad light, and that can affect how they feel about those in recovery or the way they suggest another person find help. If I had a flat tire, and the person who helped me came across angry or upset about doing it, I certainly wouldn’t say to my neighbor, “Hey, that putz across the street is really something, you should have him and his recovery buddies swap out your tires!” Instead, I’d probably say something like, “Dude—do NOT go over there. You’ll feel worse than if you just pay the tire shop to come fix your tire, even if you can’t afford it.” Worse than that, I may never reach out for help again, even if I am in desperate need of it, and that could kill me – which I’d call a pretty unhealthy state!
Now, I’m not referring to the service worker who simply whines, “I don’t wanna do this” or “oh man, this again!” like we sometimes hear our sponsees and mentees saying (which, by the way, can still have adverse side effects on the intended recipients). I’m referring to the ones that do it anyway, and then again, and again, and then do so much of it that their personal health, family, etc., all goes to hell. Once that falls apart, it’s hard to open-heartedly, lovingly assist others, and then we have the aforementioned scenario. It does happen, believe it or not. It’s this lack of self-care (we’ll call it “boundaries”) which can lead to frustration, anger, resentments, and even relapse; and if the service worker isn’t at a place where they can actually be of service (with intent, from the heart), it is not only causing themselves harm, it’s not good for the one being “helped.”
Don’t get me wrong, the tire that needs changed still needs changed, just as the coffee spills still need wiped up. Sometimes doing service work when we think we aren't ready is the best thing that can happen to us! It can get us out of our heads! It can helps us make connections, and it can provide hope for the otherwise hopeless. But we have to learn our limits, be honest with what those limits are, and then act accordingly.
This, of course, is no excuse to not be of service. Being of service is vitally important to those we wish to help, as well as to ourselves. If a person is being of service because they can, because they care, because the other person needs it, it can bring great joy at times. Other times, being of service is how we actaully learn how to be compassionate and caring. But if a person is being of service simply because “you have to give it away to keep it,” and there’s an expectation that they’ll “stay sober” because of what they’ve done, I think they’ll find great disappointment. Service work is simply a tool to aid us in keeping our sobriety. It’s not the answer to keeping our sobriety, it’s just a part of it, and it appears to me that those who are trying to control their destiny by service, service, service, without taking care of themselves, are the ones who suffer just as much.
In another translation: Whether we like it or not, the work needs done -- just don't do it with attitude, without eating, without sleeping, and without taking care of oursleves.
I guess truthfully, it goes right back to being powerless and our lives being unmanageable. We can’t control or help everyone, and the high we get trying can actually cause our downfall. We need help managing this stuff, and frankly, the best way to do it is: To let go, and let God. Service will find where it is supposed to go. It may use us as its tool, it may channel service through us, or hell... it may simply blow a tire late at night on a busy interstate in the wind and rain.
Thanks for listening to me ramble!
Oh, and don't forget, sometimes service work is as simple as just giving a ride to the guy walking down the road in wet clothes. ;)