There was good reason why I found it utterly impossible to hold down a permanent job for long, and also good reason why I applied for jobs I had absolutely no training in, and made little attempt to learn about once I was there. There was also very good reason why my personal relationships were absolutely in tatters, seemed utterly pointless and brought me very little joy, looking back there was one very permanent feature of my life that ruined everything I ever touched: almost every situation brought out the “what can I take?” aspects of my personality, I could never sustain the “what can I give?” point of view.
The basic premise of AA is that the “what can I give?” attitude is the only way for an alcoholic to live happily. We can be assured of safety in any social, business or personal endeavour as long as we are guided by this principle (page 101-102 Basic Text). This paradigm shift from taking to giving leads to great fulfilment for all of us:
“These men had found something brand new in life.
Though they knew they must help other alcoholics if they would remain sober, that motive became secondary. It was transcended by the happiness they found in giving themselves for others.” (AA page 159)
I was told how to give of myself from the beginning, it was explained what I could do. My sponsor explained that I should shake hands with people at meetings, introduce myself, stop being a wallflower; try and make a little small-talk.
Then I was given a service position to do, I became the cleaner for my home group. I made sure there were no cigarette ends out side the venue after the meeting, this kept us on good terms with the hall owners.
After doing the tea and then carrying literature, I became the secretary, it happened in due course, not especially quickly or slowly, just as part of the normal progress from one position to another.
Now and then I felt horribly self-conscious up there in front of everyone. The old disease would re-surface. What could I do? Alone in the spotlight! The position we all crave and yet most often feel horribly uncomfortable with once we are there….when I felt like this I would quickly remember why I was there, not for my ego, not to impress or dazzle or gain acclaim for myself, but to serve other people, to run the meeting as smoothly as possible, I would suddenly think of something I should be doing; counting heads, keeping an eye on the drunk guy at the back, or rehearsing interventions in case they were needed. I would begin to relax again, concentrating on what I should be doing for the meeting, looking outwards at what I can do for others instead of thinking about myself.
In it’s most general sense service is anything that helps carry the message of recovery to the still suffering alcoholic. So service can be a phone call, meeting for coffee, making sure a newcomer has a lift to a meeting and so on. Returning my focus towards service is always the solution to feelings of discomfort, because I am trying to think of other people’s needs instead of my own. Ultimately whenever I become unhappy it’s almost always because I’ve been thinking about myself too much: “Selfishness–self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles” as page 62 puts it. The answer: to think of someone else and try to help them instead.
So that’s it then, the answer is to go forth and be a better, more useful and considerate person, well then why the need for AA? Surely I can do all that anyway?
The truth of my life is that I often knew very well that I was a low kind of individual. I often felt very remorseful at my behaviour and sometimes felt very strongly that I was going to try and be a better person. Now and then I even followed through and temporarily became a better person…..but I never stayed that way. I always reverted back to type.
In all my drinking career I almost always had the will to be a better person, but not the power. I never had the ability to change, my human resources failed utterly. It has only been through working the twelve steps that I have been able to change and stay changed, to keep trying and to gradually accumulate some real permanent change, to have become a more giving and useful person.
Also I’ve been able to meet each new failure to be a better person with a new resolve to try again and try harder at times as well. I haven’t thrown my hands up and given up. The reality of a higher power in my life is evidenced by this continuous change.
With a sponsor and the twelve steps I have forged a lasting relationship with a loving God who helps me change a little more each day.
In order to grow in recovery I must be willing to serve, unconditionally, and whenever I can. But in order to serve I must have a higher power to change my selfish nature and keep it changed.