The last page of our Big Book, ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ invites us to “Give freely of what you find and join us.”
What does this mean really? To freely give sounds to me like to give without expecting anything back in return. Can we ever really do that? At the conclusion of his story “The Doctor’s Nightmare”, which starts on page 171 of the Big Book, Dr. Bob says:
I spend a great deal of time passing on what I learned to others who want and need it badly. I do it for four reasons:
1. Sense of duty
2. It is a pleasure.
3. Because in so doing I am paying my debt to the man who took time to pass it on to me.
4. Because every time I do it I take out a little more insurance for myself against a possible slip.
So it is obvious the good doctor does expect something back. Why shouldn’t I? Why should I freely give back?
I have found a number of reasons why:
First, just imagine that everyone started paying back, started acknowledging, praising and being grateful for every little act or advice we give. This would only serve to inflate my own ego again after I was finally able to come back to earth again. I would start thinking and believing that I was better than others while all it was is named common courtesy. It is human nature to be there for one another, we need companionship and we need a society around us and all this requires of us that we share with one another. So to make yourself available in either a kind act or by staying up with a newcomer as he or she goes through some sleepless nights of withdrawal is not such a terrific act as we would make it out to be.
A reason to give freely I have come to like is the following. Imagine we had a big store-room filled with all kinds of merchandise and we would like to receive more goodies in to this warehouse. The best way to create some space for new articles is by doing away with some older inventory. Doing the steps we cleared away most if not all of our useless and harmful items and we received a lot of new stuff to replace them with. This made us feel very good didn’t it? But now for us to be able to add to our collection and to keep our inventory fresh and new we need to start hauling out also the goods we have in store. If we don’t do this our warehouse will be just filled with stale dusty goods that is useless to us. That is why I like to keep fresh and give as much as I can. My experience is that the amount I get to give is always multiplied when it is time to receive. (My HP is just that way)
The last reason why we should freely give and not expect anything back in return is the following. When it is said to freely give in the context of the 12 step program of AA it is not I nor me who is doing the giving. It is ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’, a fellowship, which is extending a helping hand. This fellowship as a whole was there for me when I came crawling in and it is thanks to the fellowship and the program that I slowly got up on my feet and started to live again. I am grateful for quite a few individuals who lent a helping hand but these individuals would not have been there if the group did not exist (our first tradition!). So if I think that anything I do or say can help anyone recover their sanity would be putting myself at the level of my higher power or the group conscience. That should not be. I should remain humble and observe the universe at work in myself and my fellow man/woman.
So these are just two reason for which I believe it is necessary to freely give. The original question, however, was not why but rather how to freely give.
Over time I have found some ways and means to give freely, or at least my understanding of this. I mean, really, if you hold the door open for someone the least they can do is to say thanks, or nod at me, now can’t they. The first exercise I found useful to be able to be completely self-less is to understand exactly what acceptance really means. Among many other things, in this case, it means that I should accept it for what it is that I don’t receive direct gratification for anything that I do (not even from that ungrateful bastard….). Acceptance has been for me a cornerstone for my recovery and also very helpful to remain humble and of service to others.
The second tool which I like to use is to never accept anything back in return for giving. The only thanks I accept is to ask the other person to thank it forward, to pass on what they think they received on to others who are in need of it more than me. Call it ‘Karma’, the ‘Golden Rule’, call it ‘Building up riches where they can’t tarnish’, whatever philosophy you happen to like in the end, what goes around comes around.
This topic is one that I truly enjoy bouncing around and as I try to grow my thoughts on it seem to develop. Alkies.org would like to invite you to share with us your thoughts and ideas on selfless giving. Either send us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this blog and we will share your ideas. Thanks in advance.
“It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others.”
― Dalai Lama XIV