A secret weapon in recovery: Helping Others

by Renee W.

While deep in my alcohol addiction, I was about as self-absorbed as I could be. All my thoughts and behaviours revolved around the centre of my universe: me.

It wasn’t until months of recovery that I began to realize just how much I thought of myself.

I do not mean I thought a lot of myself because my self-esteem was zero, but I thought about myself a lot.

Surprisingly, as months passed, and I worked with others in recovery and learned all I could about the disease of addiction, I naturally started thinking of myself less.

The self-spotlight gradually began to fade as I felt better about myself, and the focus shifted on others. I began to see how my actions had deeply hurt other people, and I started rebuilding trust.

I had a desire to care for others and how they felt. I found myself actually listening when other people spoke, like actually absorbing what they said, instead of rehearsing what I wanted to say next.

This was all new to me because when I was in my addiction, I could not get outside of my own mind.

When I started to care for others, my recovery began to flourish. I wanted nothing more than to help people, especially those struggling with addiction. And through this process, my self-esteem and self-image improved.

I want others to know that there is another way to live, and it’s a life full of peace and freedom.

Helping others to help yourself sounds like basic Psychology 101, but it’s not just a phrase to use. It actually works, and it’s backed by research.

What Does the Research Say?

Dr Maria Pagano, Ph.D., an addiction researcher at Case Western University, has focused her life’s research on the addict’s social connections. During a ten-year study, Pagano and her colleagues followed 226 recovering alcoholics from nine outpatient treatment programs. They specifically measured the impact of AA attendance and service-related activities.

Not surprisingly, Pagano and her research team found that those who attended more AA meetings and helped others in recovery through service work stayed sober longer than those who did not. The participants also reported a long-term increased consideration for others.

Dr Pagano and her colleagues have published a website, Helping Others Live Sober, where they present their research on how helping others strengthens one’s own sobriety.

“This is a no-brainer,” Pagano says. “It’s as essential as medication-assisted therapy.”

Since they began, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous have encompassed the core belief that helping another suffering addict is key to one’s recovery.

A core part of AA’s literature, the twelve steps, includes the final twelfth step as a call to action to “carry this message to alcoholics,” encouraging members to reach out to others in recovery.

How Does Helping Others Help Your Sobriety?

Helping others in recovery

You may be wondering how, specifically, helping others helps your own sobriety. Here are some reasons:

Helping others reminds you of how far you have come in recovery and reinforces your sobriety.

When I reach out to a struggling alcoholic, my main motivation is that I have been where they are, and I know there’s hope. Sometimes people become complacent in recovery, which can be dangerous and lead to relapse.

By helping those struggling in recovery, you can remember the pain of addiction and reinforce that you don’t want to go back there.

Helping others helps decrease depression/anxiety.

While those in recovery may experience depression and/or anxiety on varying levels, one thing is for sure: helping others takes the focus off yourself and onto someone else, which naturally makes you feel better while decreasing depression and anxiety.

Helping others increases your self-esteem and self-confidence.

When I was drowning in my addiction, I could not be around others without alcohol. Even if someone called me on the phone, I could not return their call without alcohol in my system.

As a previously self-proclaimed “introvert who is uncomfortable around others,” I can say that putting myself out there and reaching out to other alcoholics has been a game-changer.

I now have self-esteem and confidence that I never had before, and I am no longer terrified of being myself.

How Do I Help Others in Recovery?

You may be wondering, OK, this all sounds good, but what are some ways I can help others in recovery? Here are some common ways:

  • Service in a 12-step or support group
  • Voluntary work with addicts
  • Visiting addicts in prison (like holding an AA/NA meeting)
  • Visiting addicts in the hospital
  • Helping with daily tasks (grocery shopping, transportation)
  • Offering your contact information to addicts who are struggling
  • Truly listening to someone who is struggling
  • Volunteering at an addiction recovery hotline
  • Sharing your recovery story either in a formal or informal setting

This list is far from exhaustive.

When I think of the help I have gotten in my recovery, it has come from all kinds of places, including writing about my recovery and hearing that it has helped someone else.

The Bottom Line

While I mentioned that the “secret weapon” in recovery is helping others, it should not be kept a secret.

I am enjoying the benefits of helping others in recovery, and these benefits have been life-changing: a new, authentic perspective, renewed enthusiasm and energy, and a deep desire to stay sober and help others do so too.

The biggest action you can take is to notice needs and be available to help meet those needs.

Just take that first step, and you will see the positive changes and never look back.


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