“Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.”– Horace Mann, U.S. educational reformer
If there’s one thing that substance addiction does to a kind-hearted soul (and, believe it or not, most addicts are kind-hearted by nature), it’s this – it makes you the most selfish, mean-spirited animal on the planet. And some.
Everybody liked me when I was a kid. “Ah, bless him,” they’d say to my Mom, “He’s got a smile for everyone.” However, in time, with enough liquor and pills to take down a bull elephant on a pretty regular basis, that perception people had of me did the full 180, and nobody seemed to have a moment for the bar-brawling, lying, mean, 100%-unreliable numbskull that little boy had become. Funny that, isn’t it?
Fortunately, one warm September day, my parents had finally had enough of cops at their door asking where their drunk and probably high prodigal son had got to this time and took action. By action, I mean they came looking for me, found me, promptly threw me in the back of the old family saloon, drove me to the next state over, and deposited my wrecked soul on the front steps of an alcohol rehab center.
The staff there had been expected my arrival. All I was stupidly and drunkenly thinking? They’d best have restraints on whatever bed they leave me in.
And before you ask, no. There were no restraints – just plenty of medical staff on hand to ensure my detox went smoothly, and, afterward, finally clean and sober, plenty of other addiction professionals to help me rebuild my life. And, slowly but surely, they did help me. I’m here now, writing this, because of those dedicated people – of that, I have little doubt.
IMPORTANT: There’s a saying in addiction recovery – “Relationships = Relapse.” Therefore, the advice that is about to be imparted should be put into action when, and only when, you have already made steady progress in your own recovery, and your counselor/therapist/support group (or whoever it may be) agree that you are ready to embark on a new project, a new stage in that recovery.
Volunteering (or volunteerism, as some people oddly call it) is a process where, having taken up the time of others to get yourself where you are now, you give up your time, your energy, your compassion to anyone who is in need of it. Anyone. The topic of “volunteering” covers a whole host of things, and it’s not the intention of this article to say “Do this! Give your time to this organization,”
Instead, this advice is centered on that simple premise that the opening quote speaks of – to do something for another person as one of the ways of overcoming your addiction. Forget recompense (though, in fact, this is a great stepping stone if you later plan to return to work), and forget the time it takes. How you put this premise into practice, well, that’s entirely up to you.
Here you go:
Table of Contents
4 Positive Ways Volunteering Helps with Addiction Recovery.
Positively Engaging Your Time
Any recovering addict will tell you this little gem… “Did drinking and getting high really take up so much time?” as they ponder the seemingly endless hours that lay before them at the start of the day…
Yes, it did. Fact. And now you have all these hours, it really is a big decision as to what to do with them. The “recovering you” will tell you this. Do something positive with it. And, quite rightly, you should. Now you’re clean, you need to stay clean, and using your time positively is the only way to do this.
So, say “Hello, how are you doing?” to the idea of volunteering – the clear and positive engagement of all this new-found time. That old saying? “The Devil makes work for idle hands”? Never is that truer than for the recovering addict. Use your time positively and meaningfully.
Providing Meaningful Relationships
You should meet the kind of people I used to hang around with. Actually, scratch that. You really don’t want to meet anyone like that. The kind of people you want to meet are those themselves engaged in volunteering. If you’re an addict, you know the people I mean. So, make sure you eliminate those types from your life. Before you know it, they’ll have you back in the bar, like the “good ol’ days.”
And replace them. Replace them with good souls, like the one you’re trying to be. New, sober friends will enrich your recovery, for sure, by providing you with new and meaningful relationships that will not lead to a possible relapse.
Improving Your Self-Esteem
As an addict, you live (if you can call it that) on the very fringe of society. By volunteering, you gently immerse yourself back into society in a good way, no longer on the fringe, but by occupying a meaningful place within it.
Boy, that does fair wonders for the self-esteem of a recovering addict, believe me! Your sense of self-worth takes a much-needed boot up the proverbial backside by doing this. A good and natural high, if you like, by simply feeling good about yourself. Being part of an active community means, again, you are less likely to relapse.
Simply Giving Back
Addiction makes a person feel ashamed and even guilty in some way. It can even make you feel ashamed for having been a burden in some way to others because of it (recovering addicts commonly feel this). You’ve got to remember that recovering addicts are people finding their way (a new way, at that), and are far more susceptible to such internal angst, if that’s not too strong a word, in the early days of their recovery.
Volunteering is a great way to lose this commonly-felt shame and guilt, because you’re getting a real, tangible sense of “giving back” to the community that helped you when you needed it.
Getting Well & Staying Well
Addiction recovery is a tricky puzzle – to get well and to stay well. It may sound simple, but, believe me, it’s not. And it’s the second part of that statement that provides the trickiness, the problematic maze you will have to negotiate and navigate. Volunteering provides you with further tools to the ones you were given in rehab, tools that will give you firm foundations for your new future.
These foundations, these 4 positive ways are:
- Positively Engaging Your Time
- Providing Meaningful Relationships
- Improving Your Self-Esteem
- Simply Giving Back
What experiences do you have of volunteering? Which projects or organizations are particularly useful for those in recovery? Please feel free to share a comment or two below for other readers to see.
Thank you. Lastly, be good to yourself.
Featured image source: Freepik