Service in Recovery


Here is how I have come to view service, whether in recovery or in life in general.  I have a need, a desire, a commitment to give back and be of service.  Whether the need or the desire comes first seems to be a sort of chicken and the egg question.

I know that when  I am in service and in community with others – whether sharing my experience, strength, and hope in recovery or life’s road in general, my ability to live a meaningful life is enhanced.  Whether that service is doing something, saying something, or simply being present in something – the result in all the same.  In this way, for me service is really quite self-serving.  I know that if I do not practice service to others, I will focus exclusively on myself, my own narrow self-interests and my life will be diminished and back into self-will run riot.

On the other hand, I enjoy being of service to others.  I enjoy that I have been able to play a positive role in the lives of other people.  I feel a very strong desire to give back for all that I have been given over the years.

I find this service thing awkward.  I find it increasingly important to let folks know when they express their thanks for service rendered, that it is really I who need to thank them for passing through and sharing our mutual existence so that I can do that which I know is important for me as a person on a recovery road.

Being of service works both ways.

Happiness in Recovery

weddingWhoever is happy will make others happy, too.
–Anne Frank

A bunch of years ago I heard the then sheriff of Hinds County Mississippi comment something like “Whether you are a corporate executive or a prisoner doing long time, each person has 24 hours in their day and will make decisions about how to use that time.”

I attended recovery meetings for a while with a fellow who always commented that he considered each day he stayed sober as one day closer to his next drunk.  He was a very unhappy man.

Folks such as Anne Frank are often used as examples of finding meaning and happiness under the most adverse of circumstances.  With the recent publication of her unabridged diary that contain the less perfect side of the young woman, I find her even more human.  Ultimately, I see in folks such as Anne Frank, not from the perspective of perfection, but having a desire to live in a glass that is half full and not half empty world.

In recovery, I also have a choice.  I can either focus on the things I do not practice today, such as drinking or feeding my eating disorder, or I can focus on the freedom that comes when living in recovery.  I can focus on the problem or the solution.  I can tell you about what is wrong in my life or have an attitude of gratitude for the positive.

I have come to believe that when I choose to focus on the negative, it is most often because the problem can be a comfortable place to dwell.  If I complain about not having the time to do x, y, and z, that can be too easy as I am not challenged to seek solutions to a hectic and over-scheduled life.

But I am also coming to see that the longer I stay in recovery, the less comfortable, living in those problems becomes.  That is, the negative, the playing victim, resentments cease to be the “easier, softer way” of living.  Or as one of the AA Promises relates “our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.”

To me, that change is a cause for celebration and one of the true benefits of recovery.

Surrender in Step One

wolfStep One of Twelve Step Recovery programs goes “We admitted we were powerless over (fill in the addiction blank) and our lives had become unmanageable.  I find this concept applies more broadly in my day-to-day existence than the often cited “people, places, and things.”

I rebelled against this understanding early in recovery.  As a child of the 60s, I identified strongly with the social activism of the broadly conceived civil rights movements of the time.  When first getting sober, I struggled with the idea of surrender to anything other than alcohol and drugs as a passive acceptance of that which I should reject by my high and mighty values.

But I have come to understand this concept differently today.  About 10 years ago I remember that my knees and elbows seemed to ache quite a bit more.  I thought that this was a part of the aging process and the results of working in heavy industry for all those years and I might as well get used to it.  But then, I thought “I am not going there” and made a commitment to lose some weight and bike a good bit more to get past my overly sedentary lifestyle.  I was not going to surrender, and  I don’t have any joint aches today.

But then I think of folks who propose ideas about needing to learn to moderate their drinking, and that is just a road I have no interest in going down – and that list certainly goes on and on.

That comes down to accepting “the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  And I would add not just the wisdom to know the difference, but also the wisdom to know what really needs to be changed!

I thoroughly enjoy that through the experience, strength and hope of recovery, the knowing “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em” becomes more readily apparent the more I travel along this road.

Terminal Uniqueness vs. Celebrating Our Recovery Road

wolfRecovery literature often reminds us that as individuals, we share a common disease/addiction/dilemma.  I find this understanding very important to my recovery.  Very early on I made a decision that I did not want to stand on the edges of recovery, but wanted to place myself squarely in the middle.  That is:

  • I did not want to try the moderation with alcohol game, but made a decision to give up that fight and place myself squarely in the middle of staying sober.
  • A recommendation I received early on was to attend 90 meetings in 90 days.  If at the end of the 90 days I wanted to go back out and drink, the bars and liquor stores would still be there.  I followed that advice and got a solid foundation to build my recovery.
  • The recovery literature abounds with common understandings around concepts such as acceptance, anger, higher power and so forth.  I have always tried to find my place at the table, as it were, in applying these concepts in my recovery.

But an interesting thing has happened over the years.  I have taken these common issues or concepts and worked through my own approach to them.  For example:

  • The twelfth step of the AA program goes that we ” . . . carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all of our affairs.”  I never raise my hand at recovery meetings that I am available to be a temporary sponsor.  I don’t think I am much good at that and my schedule in general is too erratic for a regular commitment.  However, I am pretty much an open book on being in recovery and regularly share my experience, strength, and hope both in formal and informal settings – including this blog.  Because of my career, I have the opportunity to share on a regular basis with young folks grappling with their addiction issues.
  • I don’t often crack the spine on my Big Book these days, but I do read a piece of recovery literature each day.
  • In meetings folks describe their routines of prayer and meditation that include the various prayers in the Big Book.  I could not repeat them, or the page numbers they are found on, if my life depended on doing so.  However, as I go throughout my day, based in my recovery experience, I attempt to be very mindful and intentional in all of my thoughts and actions.

In these ways, I see that in recovery, though there are common roads that we all travel, there are divergent paths along those roads.  I have come to enjoy both the roads and the paths.

More Than an End to Blackouts

sedona tree copyAt a meeting the other night we discussed how recovery involved more than just the physical impacts of our addictions.  Folks relayed how ending the blackouts, the hangovers, the myriad of physical results of drug and alcohol addiction  had been some of the first results of starting on a recovery road.  The discussion then turned to receiving therapy beyond recovery programs.

I certainly related to this topic.  I recollect well how in my last six months or so of drinking alcohol, on a regular basis, I would take my temperature, observe a 102 reading, and think, poor me, I really do have some sort of serious illness.  Unfortunately, then I only chose to drink over my illness.  Today, in looking back, I can only recall being in bed with a fever once in the past 30 years!

But I also know that it is this issue of living on a day-to-day basis that I continue to need to work on.  Within the past ten years, I have in weekly therapy sessions.  I have heard, and believe, that it is healthy people who seek therapy to better their lives.  I would like to think I fall into this category.

That approach has been consistent with me in recovery over the years.  For me, the physical aspects seem much more prescriptive an formulaic to carry out – get sleep, exercise, eat right, don’t smoke, etc. etc. and the 102 fevers take care of themselves.

But this living thing . . . that is another story.  I enjoy that in recovery, I have the opportunity on a daily basis to learn how to grow in this process as well.

Attitude of Gratitude, Today

crop hillisdeI am reasonably amazed at how incredibly blessed I am in with my life in recovery.  Today, I have an attitude of gratitude.

Gratitude List:

  • I am not dependent on alcohol and drugs to get through life.
  • I continue to learn to live life on life terms and enjoy the terms.
  • I am married to my best friend.
  • I have family and friends with whom I have a relationship today.
  • I am able to be of service to others without (known) ulterior motives.
  • I have a career for which I could not write a better job description.
  • I look forward to the future and do not regret the past.
  • I will retire in less than two years to a full and exciting life.
  • The only limits on what I can do, who I can be, where I can go are self-imposed.
  • I have an attitude of gratitude.

The Value of Recovery


Hugo and me (the taller one)

One of Hugo’s sources of income is to lead trekkers through the Huascarán National Park in Peru.  A friend emailed me from Peru that Hugo suffered from arthritis in his knee.  A tourist had provided him with a med purchased over the counter at Walgreen’s that brought him tremendous relief and allowed him to continue with his occupation.  The friend asked if I could buy one of the meds and bring it to Peru for Hugo when I came down this past July.  I did so.  The medicine cost 10.00 or about one day’s wages for working in the fields in Huaylas Peru.

Hugo was extremely grateful – beyond measure.  He reciprocated by fixing a fabulous dinner of cobaya or guinea pig and potatoes for our field crew of 8.  Seems that Hugo kind of got the short end of the deal, but he certainly did not think so.

This instance causes me to reflect on the people, places, and things in which we place value.  I cannot place a monetary or any other measurable value on my recovery.  I could count up the dollars I have saved in not drinking and the amount certainly far exceeds the dollars I have placed in AA baskets or contributed to charitable organizations over the years.

But experiences in recovery, such as those with Hugo, teach me that there is a whole different way of consider value that is not possible in monetary exchange or balancing out weights on a scale.  Rather, recovery allows the value of being in community and in relationship with ourselves and the rest of the world.

Hugo was the last person I saw when our transport pulled out to start the two-hour descent down the unpaved rocky mountain road from Hualcayán just a short 10 days ago.  I look forward to seeing Hugo again in January when I go back for a quick visit.  I also know that should I choose to drink or use drugs between now and then, the return will not occur.

In this way, I have come to value recovery not because I no longer have blackouts, hangovers, lost jobs and so forth.  Rather, I have come to value recovery for what I have been given.