One of the core tenets of the 12-step approach is that addicts can’t recover entirely on their own. As well as identifying your own personal “higher power,” the relationship you develop with people in your recovery group is essential to getting better, allowing you to reveal your true self — complete with your genuine emotions and fears — and be accepted for who you really are. The 12th step, to carry the message to others in need, allows you to take all the positive things others have done for you and do the same for other people struggling with addiction. It may seem philanthropic — and it is — but there are also some more selfish benefits to helping others when you’re in recovery from addiction.
- Experiencing Intimacy — When you share something at a meeting with unflinching and open honesty, you’re sharing a deep part of yourself. You’re opening yourself up, and others are opening themselves up to you. Many addicts have issues with intimacy, and being on the giving and receiving side of such intimate communication provides valuable experience you can take outside of the confines of AA/NA meetings and use to improve your relationships in everyday life. You learn not to be afraid of revealing your true self, and in the process your personal connections with others will get even deeper.
- The Spiritual Group Connection — Even for the non-spiritual people in recovery, there is an almost spiritual element to sharing a connection with a group. By reaching out for help from others and being there to answer the call when somebody else is in need, you receive an important, lasting reminder that you aren’t alone in this universe. There are people just like you, willing to help you and be helped by you.
- Improving Your Sense of Self Worth — Being needed by another person is a huge boost to your sense of self-worth. As a sponsor, for example, being called on for help — while you’re still likely fighting your own personal demons — from someone entrusted to you is a reminder that you’re both valued and needed by others.
- Reinforcing the Value of Recovery — Using your personal experiences and hard-won wisdom to offer guidance to others going through the same problems reminds you how valuable the recovery process has been. You’ve accomplished your goals and taken positive lessons from the 12 steps, and being able to offer these lessons to others reinforces the sense that what you’ve been through was truly worth it.
- Preventing Relapse — If you’ve ever taught somebody something — for example, how to play an instrument or construct a grammatically correct sentence — you’ll know that the process of teaching helps you relearn the process through somebody else’s eyes, putting the focus back on the crucial details that you can easily take for granted. It gives you a reason to re-examine what you’ve learned and strengthens your existing knowledge. The same can be said for helping somebody through recovery: assisting somebody else reminds you where you once were, underlines the key messages that got you where you are today and helps you continue to implement them in your day-to-day life. In the process, it helps you stay strong and avoid relapse.
- Turning the Negative Into a Positive — By using the things you’ve learned to help others, you successfully turn your own negative experiences — nearly losing everything because of an addiction — into something thoroughly positive. By helping somebody else, it makes it unavoidably clear that you are a force for good in the world, no matter what you’ve done before. You’ve turned your life around in a meaningful and powerful way, and that in itself is plenty of motivation to stay true to the path and do as much good as you can with your time on this planet. You’ve visited “rock bottom” and come back with the wisdom of experience you can use to turn other people’s lives around for the better.
Helping Others Helps You
From a spiritual, emotional, interpersonal and psychological perspective, helping others while you’re in recovery has a multitude of benefits, but the last point is arguably the biggest. Being able to pull positives out of what has happened to you boosts your self-esteem and gives you an overriding sense of value and purpose. You have experienced something more emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausting than most people ever will, but you’ve been able to stand back up on your own two feet and do something thoroughly good afterward. If that isn’t something to be proud of, then nothing is.