The 12th step of Alcoholics Anonymous states: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs”. As men and women who have experienced the joys of sobriety, we choose to share our experience, strength, and hope with those who are still suffering, and act with a spirit of love and tolerance toward others throughout our day. Not only are we providing a necessary service by carrying the message of recovery, but we are also helping ourselves progress in our own journey of recovery says Johnny K – the owner of True Life Recovery detox services in Orange County, California.
How Does Helping Others Help Us Stay Sober?
There is new research from Case Western University that suggests that helping others, that can help those of us in recovery stay sober. It should come as no surprise that a staggering amount of people who go to rehab to get clean and sober end up relapsing within the first year. And that’s after having treatments like detoxification, behavioral therapy, and individual and group counseling. However, there may be something much simpler that can help in the fight against drug and alcohol addiction – helping others.
In the Case Western University study, researchers looked at the social connections of addicts and alcoholics, rather than at ways to improve talk therapies and prescription medication regimens as many other researchers have done in the past. What they found is that having a supportive network, reducing isolation, decreasing social anxiety, and—especially—helping others can increase the chances of staying sober by up to 50 percent.
In another study from 2013 study, researchers at Case Western followed 226 recovering alcoholics from nine outpatient treatment programs for ten years. They tracked alcohol consumption, AA participation levels, and self-rated thoughtfulness towards other people at different points in time. They also measured whether or not participants helped others by becoming a sponsor or by completing step 12 in AA. The data showed that those who attended more 12-step meetings and helped others stayed sober for longer periods of time.
Helping others who are also in recovery may have an interesting impact on maintaining long-term sobriety. It seems that there is a decrease in the psychological markers of the disease (for example, higher levels of entitlement and narcissism) that may make us prone to addiction and less likely to enter recovery in the first place. The opportunity to “get over ourselves” by helping others can also result in better interpersonal interactions, specifically with other recovering addicts.
Helping others is also a natural way to obtain a sense of belonging, something that many addicts and alcoholics have longed for since before our addiction took hold. A sober network allows us to feel like we are a part of something greater than ourselves. This is significant because for many of us, not having that in our lives was likely a contributing factor to our addiction. Being an active, helpful member of a group of like-minded individuals is a powerful and rewarding thing. And helping others is a means to stay engaged and continue to belong.
Dr. Harold H. Bloomfield, in his book “Healing Anxiety with Herbs”, addresses the personal benefits of altruism, explaining “Medical research indicates that self-centered individuals have a greater risk of anxiety, depression, and even coronary artery disease. Self-involvement breeds fear, loneliness, and despair. Altruism, charity, generosity, service, and kindness contribute not only to a meaningful life but to a more satisfying, healthier, and perhaps longer one as well.” Helping others and living with a code of love and tolerance improves our own well-being. It allows us to get outside ourselves and reap the rewards of spreading positivity to everyone we encounter.
Developing deep, caring relationships for others allows us to “pay forward” the emotional help and support that we receive from our own support systems. Therefore, we make ourselves available to those still suffering from active alcoholism and addiction. We show them what we have gained from our decision to embrace a sober way of life. Often, we find that we have gained a new sense of joy and usefulness from each altruistic encounter, allowing us to make positive forward strides on the road toward permanent sobriety. When we feel the familiar pull of selfishness, we try to remember that the happiness we want to attain does not come from solely helping ourselves, rather it comes from putting into practice our newfound sense of responsibility to help those around us.
Mother Teresa once said, “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” Through our experiences as men and women engaged in recovery services, we have found this to be true.
Helping Others Helps Us
Suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, getting into recovery, and then connecting with others who are in the same situation can be an essential part of recovery. It helps us remember that we are not alone, that we are useful, and that we don’t have to be so self-focused. Addiction recovery is a journey that is best traveled with others, and while we’re helping them, they’re helping us.