Help Others, Help Yourself
by John C. One of the greatest tenets of AA is that by helping others, we are symbiotically helping ourselves. In my first few exposures to the program, I did not understand this concept. I was accustomed to being a pariah, I didn’t want to help anybody do much of anything unless there was something in it for me, and I certainly didn’t believe that anybody would want to help me with anything, let alone with my biggest problem: drug addiction. I scoffed at the Twelve Steps because they did not fit into my self centered worldview.
When I was finally beaten and broken, and made it into a residential program, this point of view did not change much. I felt that others must think the same way I did, and was distrustful of those that seemed all too willing to help me. What was in it for them? It was easy enough to deduce that the counselors I was working with were getting a paycheck, so that MUST be their big motivation. When I went to a doctor to get a prescription to help with my withdrawls, I knew that helping me couldn’t be their priority, so getting paid must be.
The only people whose motivation I couldn’t identify were the AA Hospitals & Institutions representatives that were coming into the treatment center once a week. They were upfront about their volunteer status, and that they weren’t paid to be there. They talked about the principles of AA, sponsorship, and what it meant to be a person in recovery. I found it difficult to discredit what they said, because their stories so closely matched mine. In small, but consistent steps, I started to understand what getting sober would entail: a willingness to accept help, and an honest effort to help others.
My biggest lesson in these ideas was working through the steps with my first sponsor. I picked my sponsor out of a sea of raised hands at the Sunday night meeting at the Henry Ohlhoff House, after the meeting’s secretary asked potential sponsors to identify themselves. He and I met roughly once a week to check in, and work through the Steps. He explained that by taking the time to help me, he was reinforcing his own sobriety, a symbiotic relationship. He also imparted the importance of getting a service commitment early on, and helping others in the same way he was helping me. I didn’t know why, but his suggestions were working, so along with accepting help from him, I began to pay it forward, and got my first service commitment at a meeting. The self centered walls that kept me locked in my addiction slowly, then quickly began to crumble. I was starting to reconnect with other people in a positive, constructive way. The more I served, the less I felt like I needed a drink or drug to feel okay.
Everything I‘ve learned in sobriety since then has been an extension of this ethos: Accept help from others, and maintain a willingness to help a fellow human when they need it. There are so many ways to serve, and be of service. Just by showing up at a meeting, you are already doing both! By living out this principal in our daily lives, we break down the barriers that separate us, and reinforce the connections that bind us together. Now, possibly more than ever, our world needs less me, and more we. Our lives and sobrieties depend on it.