Service Work: How Does It Aid in Addiction Recovery?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was created back in 1935 with one purpose in mind: “to help the individual that is still struggling recover.” In fact, one of the founders, Bill Wilson, wrote in the original text of the 12-Step program that “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking than work with others [in addiction recovery]. It works when other activities fail.”

The success of this model is not just because of the effects of working with others in addiction recovery. The model also works because of its focus on service work of many types. This is emphasized because as we help others, the truth is that we are “selfishly” helping ourselves.

What exactly does that mean? It sounds kind of paradoxical, doesn’t it? It means that for individuals in addiction recovery, anything that will take them out of “self” also takes them out of “selfish self-centeredness.” That is to not accuse anyone of being intentionally selfish. However, active addiction forces individuals into that mindset by making the most important thing in their life the care and feeding of their addiction. To break that cycle, it is critical to create a practice of service work.

The Selfish Nature of Active Addiction

AA’s primary text (commonly known as the “Big Book”) has a chapter devoted entirely to service work. It is entitled “Working With Others.” Regarding service work, the chapter states that “Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss.” This is where the real healing of recovery begins.

It is important to reiterate that individuals who struggle with addiction are not selfish by nature. They have a chronic disease. Addiction is even classified as such in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5). That manual defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.”

We must remember that those individuals struggling with addiction are not “bad people trying to do harm.” Rather they are “sick people needing to get well.” Service work is one of the ways in which they can attain that wellness. However, this will not be a priority in the beginning. First, there must be attention given to an individualized recovery plan that includes specific modalities of treatment.

Treatment Options for Addiction Recovery

While there are many great options for addiction recovery, it is important to initially focus on evidence-based options. These options may include psychotherapy and neuropsychology, to name a few.

Psychotherapy in addiction recovery consists of both one-on-one therapy and group therapy. Both of these are fantastic options. However, group therapy can provide an ideal way to connect with others and begin the process of serving. Regarding neuroscientific options for addiction recovery, neurofeedback can be a highly effective tool for addressing the underlying issues driving addiction. As they say in many 12-Step programs, “the substance is but a symptom of the struggles that are going on inside.”

After a foundation of evidence-based treatments is set in place, many other activities can help to bolster recovery. These include holistic practices such as yoga, breathwork, meditation, and prayer. They also may include some experiential therapies such as equine therapy and art therapy.

Engaging in Service Work in Addiction Recovery

There are many options for service work in addiction recovery once an individual feels ready to engage in it. Service work at a recovery center may be as simple as helping new students become acclimated to the program and offering them an outlet for venting their frustrations.

This work may also include getting involved in community recovery programs. A prime example is the one we have already mentioned: the 12-Step program. These 12-Step programs have systems already in place in which an individual who is further along in recovery helps someone who is new to recovery. This is referred to as a “sponsor/sponsee” relationship. It is not only a great way to do service but also a great way to stay connected to a program of recovery.

As previously mentioned, service work does not always have to include people in recovery. It can involve working in the community to help individuals in need or volunteering at a school. Service work may also include simply pitching in at home. After all, the family is also often affected by addiction, so they deserve some attention, love, and service as well.

The Continuation of Service Work

The chapter “Working With Others” concludes with the statement: “We have stopped fighting anybody or anything. We have to!” When this fighting stops, the service can begin. The gift of recovery is precious, and not everyone is blessed with it. This is why it is critical to pass that blessing along.

There is a misconception that people who struggle with addiction choose to be selfish. This is a misconception because addiction is not a choice, it is a disease. While it may be hard to understand, it is actually the disease that is selfish. As they say in many 12-Step meetings, addiction is “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” One of the reasons for this is that addiction can cause people to stop caring about anything and everything except one thing. That thing is “feeding” their addiction. In treatment, one way to address this defect of selfishness is by helping others. Service work can be a critical part of long-term recovery. For more information, call Elk Mountain Girls Academy at (888) 403-0346.