It is an old Alcoholics Anonymous cliche that “service keeps us sober”. It’s also a cliche that the first clear sign of a relapse is often people stopping going to meetings. Well, a major reason that I’ve been able to keep going to meetings is because I do service.
In our early days of sobriety I think that deep down I often began to think of AA meetings, and particularly my home group, as being – in a large part – a social event. Yes I knew it had the primary purpose of carrying our message to the alcoholic who still suffers. But we were doing it together. It was a great feeling. I liked these people (usually) and I wanted them to like me (always).
But as years and then decades passed I experienced many periods of (presumably) self-imposed boredom and alienation. Periods of paranoia (nobody likes me), disdain (I don’t like anybody), boredom (I’m so sick of these meetings), demotivation (what’s the bloody of point of keeping on coming here?)
In those times, service became a sweet blessing. It was something concrete I could do at my home group. It didn’t involve conversations with people where I tried to be interested, or walking round the meeting beforehand with a huge smile on my face. Or sitting at coffee trying to think of something interesting to ask. I just did my job.
I could set up the literature table, make the coffee, set up the meeting, ask people if they wanted to write articles for Share magazine, and so forth. What a relief to have a plan, something to do when I arrived at the meeting. A reason for being there.
Does this all seem a little shallow? Perhaps. Or maybe a little negative? Well, I’m actually usually quite sociable, and enjoy the meeting after the meeting. But when it’s needed or wanted, and when it works, it is a blessing. Then when I come out the other side, and feeling less self-centred, rejoin the human race – I’ve spent my self-centred period actually doing things that make me feel more a part of the meeting and so of Alcoholics Anonymous.
But the phrase “Service keeps you coming to meetings” doesn’t have quite the same pithiness as “Service keeps you sober”, so I doubt it’ll ever catch on. I can still do it though.