Responsibility and Service in my AA Life
I got sober in 1993 by doing the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and have stayed sober through the principles of those same Steps. I have done most service positions in AA including tea, secretary, GSR, prisons, region PI, conference and board. But in the last few years I've developed a new perspective on how important responsibility in AA service is to my life and sobriety.
When my sponsor first introduced me to various types of service, I didn't do them because I felt responsible to provide AA's services but because I was so enthused to just be part of AA and discovering a new life (I was in my early 20s). I loved learning about the Traditions and the Concepts, involvement in the politics of Intergroup, and the satisfaction of providing PI services which helped the message be carried throughout my city.
In recent years, after doing most service types, the enthusiasm for rotation and trying new things quite naturally lessened. I'd "been there and done that". It wasn't a conscious decision, just a natural subconscious emotional reaction. However I have tried to continue to take on service to re-immerse myself in AA and keep me responsible in AA. I now understand that one result of service is to keep me emotionally immersed in Alcoholics Anonymous and my home group. It's not enough for me, personally, to just go to meetings and work with newcomers. As the Big Book says I need "a great cause to live for".
Something I've also realised in more recent years is that my service is not measured just by quantity but also by quality. I have noticed that I have a tendency to take a far more responsible approach at work, applying my intelligence and skills more fully, than I do in AA service. I've been pulled up on some of my AA service, and thought – "well it was a genuine mistake". Then I've thought more honestly and realised that if that service had been something for my career, then I would've given more thought and care to the service job, and not made that mistake. I've seen this pattern in other AAs as well: doctors, authors, accountants and PhDs who say they find the 12 Concepts or 12 Traditions confusing, or who chair a business meeting in an inefficient way just because it's an AA one.
In recent years when I've been held to account for making big mistakes in my service, I've sometimes wanted to say "well screw the lot of you – I don't have to do this, find someone else". But then I remember, I'm doing this for myself not for them. I'm doing this because I need the full AA package, or else I become dissatisfied with life inside and outside AA. So I don't run away from the responsibilities I've taken on.
At other times I've noticed I could probably get away with doing my service with far less effort, and skimping on things, without anyone holding me to account. But I know this has a resultant effect on myself as a person both inside and outside of AA. I've always wanted to be a principled and strong man; but in reality my character is fearful of criticism and of not being liked by others, and I prefer to compromise principles for self-centred reasons.
I do not like these parts of myself and try to avoid thinking about them. But AA offers a way of improving myself – through honest and responsible service. Ironically it offers this precisely because NO ONE CAN MAKE ME DO THE SERVICE. In my professional life I have to work to earn money. If I do something really good and successful for my employer, I'll get more money, and probably significant praise. In fact, many bosses consider it part of their job to encourage and praise employees. (Also in work, if I don't do my job, I will eventually get fired and not be able to put food on the table or pay for where I live, so I have a huge motivation to do well.)
In AA the motivations are quite different. Sure I can think "if I don't do this service I'll drink and die" but in reality I might be able to get away with doing very little service and not drinking, as long as I'm taking people through the Steps and working all the other principles in my life. In AA it will be rare that people will pat me on the back for a job well done; nor will I get given money; or a promotion; or have my picture in the local paper. In AA doing service has only one reward: becoming a stronger and more principled person, and becoming more immersed in AA.
Although it may be possible to get away with the minimum service, the element of immersion in AA may be more important than it appears at first glance in my case. If I really did do the minimum – sponsoring people through the 12 steps and practicing the principles – then my concern is that I would get bored in AA and in longer term sobriety. Certainly in the 16 years of being at the same home group, and particularly in the last 2 years, I've found my enthusiasm has been strongly related to my level of responsibility and service. If I stopped doing service or being involved I would be concerned that in another 17 years I get sick of my home group. I'm 39. If I live an average length life, then I have to stay sober for another 40 years. I know AA's my best bet – so I need to stay emotionally attached and interested. In my experience the more involved I am, the easier that is, and the less involved I am, the more I start to get bored of, and doubt, AA and my home group.
So when that is combined with the powerful effect that responsible service has on my spiritual and character growth – towards becoming the strong and principled man I'd like to be – you can see why service with responsibility, even from a totally "selfish" point of view, is my long-term plan just for today.
AK, Plymouth Road to Recovery Group, June 2013