By sharing our experiences with others we learn another of recovery’s paradoxes: we keep it by giving it away.
Recovery is an experience of mutuality: we constantly give and receive. We become empowered by empowering others, and the way we do this is by sharing our experience, strength, and hope. This doesn’t mean we “fix” others, give them advice, or do anything for them they can’t do for themselves. It simply means we describe how our recovery has been for us. In the words of AA, we share “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”
The simplest way to “Twelve Step” someone is to tell the stories of our drinking or using behavior, how we began recovery, and what our experience has been with the Steps. AA calls itself a program of “attraction, not promotion,” which means people will be drawn into recovery and want to stay if they see we have something they desire – like sustained sobriety – but not if we try to sell them on the program. All we have to offer is our own story and the ability to empathize and listen to others.
Working with others doesn’t apply only to newcomers who are struggling through their first thirty days of sobriety or abstinence; it means offering support to anyone who’s in need of it. This could be someone who’s been in the program for many years or someone who isn’t in a program at all – a relative, a stranger, a co-worker – and is having a difficult time. The intention is to offer what we have to the person who is “still suffering.” This could be anyone, anywhere.
How we carry the message is completely up to us. We can be public or private in the way we share our experience of sobriety and abstinence. Some are open about their recovery in every aspect of their lives. Their public disclosures can inspire those around them to seek help for their drinking.
Many of us desire more privacy and anonymity, choosing to do most of our Twelve Step work within our recovery group. In many Twelve Step programs this means “service” and “sponsoring,” but it can also mean simply being there when someone needs us or just showing up at meetings and listening.
Service involves helping a Twelve Step meeting run smoothly: setting up chairs, making coffee, ordering and setting out literature, collecting contributions, running the meeting, greeting newcomers, arranging for speakers. Many find it comfortable and easy to take on service roles, all of which benefit the meeting and encourage us to show up consistently and get involved. Service can be a wonderful way to start to feel connected with a group while giving something back to it at the same time. Through service many of us begin to think how we might also serve our communities or other parts of the larger world.
Sponsoring means spending time with someone who may have less experience with the Steps, and guiding them through. It’s not about telling someone what to do or giving advice, but suggesting, observing, and sharing your own experience.
Being a sponsor is like being a “big brother” or “big sister” who helps another person gain some perspective and sort through their feelings. But like everything else in recovery, sponsoring is a mutually helpful relationship. I’ve learned many things from the people I’ve worked with as a sponsor. Hearing about another person’s pain and watching them work through it has often been a mirror for my own experience, allowing me to gain a new perspective on my own feelings or memories.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
― Charles Dickens