Serving Others Aids Recovery

My recent dive into all aspects of serving others has revealed way more applications of it than I ever expected. One is recovery from addiction. My research has shown it is virtually unanimous that serving others aids recovery from addiction. I share here the main points of just one of many online articles/blogs on this subject — “How Serving Others Can Support Addiction Recovery” by Pinelands Recovery in New Jersey.

Serving others reduces mental health distress, including feelings of loneliness and isolation in addiction recovery.

Substance use often leads to loneliness and isolation. Unfortunately, treatment doesn’t do much to alleviate that pain because of the stigma associated with mental health. Support groups help, but they require painful exposure to one’s failures. Necessary, maybe, but painful for sure.

On the other hand, serving others offers more positive interactions with other people. “Serving reduces feelings of isolation because it offers new perspectives and insight into one’s life. The sense of purpose that individuals often experience as a result of helping others can facilitate greater commitment and motivation to achieve long-term recovery.”

Serving others fosters humility, which is necessary for effective treatment and lasting addiction recovery.

I do not have firsthand experience with substance use, but a close friend who has tells me a person suffering from addiction is totally self-absorbed. The problem is not pride or arrogance but the complete focus on self (What I want; what I need) to the neglect of others, including spouse, family, and friends. With this understanding of addiction, you can see how authentic humility can help. As I say in Compassionaries: Unleash the Power of Serving, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Humility is essential for recovery because it makes it possible for people to acknowledge their need for help. “Without humility, little progress could be made toward achieving or maintaining sobriety throughout treatment and recovery.”

The irony of humility is that it not only takes our focus off self and puts it on others, but it also opens our eyes to what we can do to serve others. So, a person in recovery who has progressed in humility may be able to see that his octogenarian neighbor is no longer able to mow his own lawn and can’t afford to pay someone to do it. Seeing that need sparks something inside him that leads him to help his neighbor in this mundane but important way.

In this case, mowing his neighbor’s lawn makes him feel good; not just good but happy . . . without the “help” of an addictive substance! His own sense of self-worth is boosted ironically because he is humble enough to see his neighbor’s needs. This is how it works.

Serving others cultivates gratitude and encourages a positive mindset.

This is another irony of serving others. We normally think of serving others as inspiring or evoking gratitude in those being served, and it usually does. But it can also stimulate gratitude in those serving:  gratitude for being able to help another person at his/her point of need; gratitude for being able to make a difference; gratitude simply for the opportunity to serve.

And with this gratitude comes joy. It’s undeniable that serving others makes us happy. Even scientists who study human emotions or why we feel what we feel agree. We sometimes refer to this feeling as a “helper’s high.” How much healthier is a helper’s high than the high experienced through substance use?! How much better is a helper’s high than a chemically induced, destructive high from substance use?!

A testimony

People Magazine recently ran a story on actor Matthew Perry who is famous for his role in the mega-hit sitcom “Friends.” Most people would assume his success made him enormously satisfied with his life, but the truth is he struggled for years with addiction to the prescription painkiller Vicodin as well as being an alcoholic.

Perry spent years trying to get sober. His rehab was successful only when he admitted he needed help. Now, as a recovering addict, he has turned his attention to helping others in addiction. He converted his Malibu home into a sober-living facility where residents can complete their recovery from addiction and get their life back on track. In his efforts to serve others in addiction, he told People that he has now achieved “true happiness.”

The People story doesn’t say so exactly, but it implies that Matthew Perry has remained sober in large measure because he has given his life to serving people in addiction. His own pain has become his purpose in life. Serving others does that.

What do you think?

Do you know anyone who has achieved sobriety in part through serving others? Tell me about it. Do you have other thoughts on this subject? Let me hear from you.

Written by:
David Crocker

David Crocker is the Founder of Operation Inasmuch. He was a pastor for 38 years prior to launching the Inasmuch ministry which has equipped more than 2,100 churches in 25 states and several other countries to mobilize their members in mercy ministry. David’s passion is seeing believers serving as the hands and feet of Jesus as a lifestyle.

2 responses to “Serving Others Aids Recovery”

  1. Novella McClung says:

    My step-father was drunk the first 17 years of my life. He accepted Christ as Savior – quit drinking immediately. He could not read or write but he could hand out bulletins at church and make little chairs and cribs for the nursery. He was always looking for ways to help others. He served the Lord, never looking back.

    • David Crocker says:

      Thanks for sharing, Lovella. Your father’s experience is another example of being changed by grace not just for him but for those he served as well.

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