I Am Responsible

“My stability came out of trying to give, not out of demanding that I receive.” (The Best of Bill, pg. 46)

When we welcome someone new into these rooms, it’s kind of an exciting thing for those of us with some experience in AA. That may sound odd — it’s not like we’re happy to see that there’s another newly-minted “official” alcoholic in the world — but it does present opportunities for those who’ve been friends of Bill for some time.

(Shouldn’t it be Friends with Bill? Bill’s Buddies? Bill’s Bros? There’s got to be a better euphemism. And why isn’t anyone friends with Bob? That guy’s a doctor, I bet he’s got a boat. But I digress.)

The first few days without a drink can be challenging, mentally and physically, and in the thick of things the still suffering alcoholic will turn to any respite out of desperation and fear. As recovering alcoholics, we can usually see the tell-tale signs that the new among us are in pain, and we know exactly how most of that feels. We understand the early recovery process because we’ve been through it, some more than once. The causes and conditions of one’s alcoholism may vary from person to person, but we all know the sting of withdrawal.

We know how what a struggle those early days can be, but we also know how we got through it. We know what works and what doesn’t. Just as the newcomer seeks assistance from us, we sought comfort among other alcoholics who reached out to us when we needed it. We’ve worked the program and it’s worked for us, and when we continue to work it and see it working for others, it reinforces our desire to stay sober and helps us recommit to both our healthier lifestyles and our desire to reciprocate.

It’s an important part of the program, being of service. It may not seem like a lot of work to welcome someone new, make them comfortable, give them tips, to let them know what to expect. It doesn’t take much time to stack chairs, make coffee, sweep up, or wipe down the ashtrays (if you’re in the 1980s, or I guess Florida). When someone who’s new to AA sees so many people giving of themselves without hesitation, it can be surprising.

Among a million things regarding AA that surprised me as young man with no real experience in recovery, the earnest desire to contribute was one of the first. Why are these people being so nice to me? How much does the chair get paid for this? Why are they giving me free books? Why are we holding hands? Am I supposed to call all of these guys? Why are people clapping for me? Is this a cult? Is it safe to drink this coffee?

In time, we learn that giving back to AA what AA has given to us is essential for the recovery of the recipient — and our own. We share the knowledge, wisdom, and experience we’ve learned from AA and its members with someone new, hopefully helping them avoid some of the difficulties we faced ourselves. Like most things, we truly learn about this program by doing what’s to be done, not just acquiring an academic understanding of the concepts and theory.

That’s why newcomers are so, so important to any group. Meeting fresh faces brings back vivid memories of our own start toward recovery, further bracing us against the possibility of relapse. It gives us a chance to give back what was given to us without reservations. The gift of recovery is invaluable, and yet it was given to us freely. We may never pay off that debt, as it were — no matter how much giving back to AA we can manage — but we can try.

If you’re reading this, chances are, you’re an addict or alcoholic of some sort. But you’re here — on a recovery website — to be a part of a community. That means giving back, how, when, and where you can. There are few gifts more important than experience in recovery, and the twelfth step is clear. This program of action survives and succeeds by reaching out to those who still suffer.

After all, as AA’s responsibility statement makes clear:

“I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that I am responsible.”

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