The circle and triangle of the program represent Recovery, Unity and Service together as a whole. They tell me it’s an ancient spiritual symbol that existed long before any 12 step program was ever dreamt about and means “wholeness”. I was taught to believe I need all three to recover from alcoholism – that I needed to find the program of action outlined in the 164 pages, that I had to find the fellowship amongst the members and that I needed to give away what was so freely given to me in service.
When I first got sober I took many things for granted. I didn’t think about how much the rent was for the meeting space, or the books and coffee – I thought about the money in the basket quite a few times and wondered if anyone would notice if I took some. I was rather self-centered at the time and mostly just focused on what I could get out of life for me and what you could do for me.
I talk quite a lot about shaking hands. I do because it was so important in changing who I was into who I am. When my sponsor told me to shake everyone’s hand before and after the meeting I hated him, I didn’t want to do that – I hate people. But I had agreed to go to “any lengths to recover from alcoholism” and I meant it. So every meeting I would stick out my hand and offer my name to so very many people (this was relatively small town WI, nothing like the meetings I attend in the big cities).
Some of those people wanted to talk to me – ugh – and asked me how long I’d been sober. I’d rattle off “I’m 37 days sober today” and then they’d say “but who’s counting?” and I’d be all confused, like why ask… I don’t want to let anyone know these things – I hate people.
After a few meetings people started to remember my name, and I felt obligated to try to remember theirs. I knew Mark M – he always had a suit on and a smile, he claimed he was sober for over 10 years but I didn’t really believe him. Nancy was new too and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, she always came in with her friend and they always sat together. Randy and Mike, Krista and Suzanne… I started to learn a little bit more about the people I didn’t want anything to do with. And I discovered, much to my dismay, that I didn’t hate ALL people… just most of them.
Shaking hands led me to a job in the meetings of setting up. Then I got to tear down – I didn’t really like this one as I wanted to rush out and start smoking right away. My home group started to teach me about service work at our monthly group conscience – and I’d always hear them share at meetings about the tradition and experience working with newcomers. They shared with me and invited me to events where the business of recovery happens – where I met many more characters and learned the ins and outs of the District, the Area and the General Service Office.
I like to think my home group and my sponsor helped to make me “whole”. Sure the step work was important too, very important to discovering who I had been and how I could become the man I am today. But the service work was just as important.
Bill W talks about all the different drunks he tried to help and not a one of them remained sober. It was Lois who pointed out that he was staying sober by helping them. He remembered that when he was very desperate in Akron and found Bob. And together, they in turn tried to help many others – only a handful stayed sober at first. It must have been very disheartening.
I’ve worked with many a guy sharing what was so freely shared with me. Some very new, some around longer than I have been. I’ve made my share of mistakes with those guy and usually learn from those mistakes and grow. And while it can be devastating to lose one of them or to not reach them at all it helps me to stay sober and that really makes all the difference to me. Its really difficult to look at them struggling and not be able to reach them – to see their pain and hopelessness and know that if they just took that first step, if they were just willing to believe they’d be on a different path they could have never imagined… but they have to make their own journey there.I have expected gratitude from the new man I was trying to help. I’ve expected them to have a program just like mine… well, maybe I was really hurt when it wasn’t and flabbergasted ;-). Bill cautions us in our book about doing too much for the new man. We have to show them the way – not drag them in kicking and screaming, nor carry them in on a pampered throne. Many people come in ordered by the courts, the wife or circumstances… not all of those stay but I did, and I know many others who have as well.
In our book it says “we have ceased fighting anything or anyone”. This is hard for me many days in and out of the rooms. Sometimes it’s very easy to get pulled into the drama. Sometimes, sadly, I might still start the drama – but I’m trying to be more aware of it and change.
“Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be helpful.”
I can be of more help to people and organizations I serve, if I show up and serve – without agendas, selfishness and anger. If I just show up and do what I was taught to do early on – I’m going to show up and smile, shake hands and be of service to the people about me to the best of my ability.
I don’t serve for attention, accolades or accomplishments to add to my resume – I do it because I was told (and believe) that the constant thought of others must follow me throughout the day and when it does I have a better day. I have remarkable days in succession when I’m doing what I ought.
This post was a bunch of different things that were running around in my head. They’re all in regards to things that are currently going on and they all tie together, even if it might not seem like it to the casual reader.
“Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles” this is true for me still today and everyday. I think it’s true for a lot of people even those not in the rooms.
How can I serve? How can I help? that’s how I get out of self, it’s been working for a good long time now and I can’t recommend it enough.