How Can I Be of Service When I Have Nothing to Give?

How Can I Be of Service When I Have Nothing to Give?

Most people who enter recovery from a mental illness feel dread, chaos and as though they are shattered into pieces. The last thing on their mind is that they need to help someone else in order to gain their own repair and wellness. Simply put, service entails assisting others in a collective setting.The long-held belief that helping others delivers a therapeutic benefit to the helper has been supported by research in the social and cognitive sciences. The benefits of community helping community is widely documented: mood improves, depression and anxiety decreases, self-esteem rises, and one's sense of purpose in life grows.

How do we define community? One or more people who are present with each other. A habit that reverberates at the cellular level creating belonging while affirming human dignity.

According to a small, but substantial study, when the helper is assisting someone with the same chronic ailment, both individuals win tremendously. Depending on the relevance of the service activities to the helper, the benefit of helping may be greater. It’s possible to get so focused on ourselves in codependency, addiction or mental illness that we lose sight of what others require. Getting involved in supporting others in early recovery can be vital, and it is good for everyone, regardless of how long they have been practicing new mental health routines.

Service can take many forms; it might be a major commitment or a small task. In 12-Step programs, there are a lot of commitments to make the meetings work. You may feel overwhelmed by the idea of having to sponsor other people in the program or serve as a meeting secretary. Even the idea that you need to pick up the cookies and get reimbursed for them by bringing the receipt can feel burdensome. Treasurer, chair, co-chair, and GSR are all roles that will help you learn more about 12-Step groups, what it takes to keep a meeting running, and offer you with much-needed assistance.

Attending 12-Step or Celebrate Recovery meetings on a regular basis for your recovery will allow you to meet new people and feel community. Participating in the meeting, even if merely by showing up, is a form of service to the fellowship. By dressing up and displaying your support for others in the recovery community, you are demonstrating unity, which is the foundation of belonging, connection and human relationship. Volunteering in the community is a different type of service that can be done outside of Celebrate Recovery or 12-step support groups. Volunteers are always needed in animal shelters, soup kitchens, elderly care facilities and in civic groups that can be accessed by your local city or town.

Finding a profession that you enjoy and will sustain over time is the key to service. You benefit yourself and others by being on time every week, day, or month - though serving others benefits others, it rewards you the most; it helps you establish healthy routines. Having a service commitment keeps your mind on the present moment. Too much free time, especially in early recovery, can cause a person to become trapped in his or her own thoughts. People can fall out of repair and renewal, into a downward cycle of self-pity, current concerns, and brooding. Service allows you to put your worries aside and focus on helping others. Just the idea of serving others is helpful as you repair and encounter life’s changes. It introduces you to the idea that we all need each other. It reduces the chances of seeing yourself as different than others or alone in life. The human struggle is real and it is meant to be shared.

Noticing another person’s need, assessing whether you can help, being reliable, communicating and using in person social skills (in the age of screens) gives you responsibility and boosts your self-esteem. We learn to have a healthy schedule in recovery, how to make priorities that include others, the emotions of being present even when we want to hide from life. The consistency and fulfillment of responsibilities over time offers us excellent reason to be proud of ourselves and realize how far we've come.

What are the Benefits of Service?

All of our time and energy may be spent in fear, in chasing the addiction, the habits of numbing out and using. Getting out and helping others develops relationships and creates a new social network of individuals you can trust. Until you make service part of your routine, you will not be able to imagine what it’s like to see beyond your own needs and anxieties. While your needs are important and you must fill up your cup first to be a friend to anyone, we are made for relationship. Connection is a physical and psychological requirement. But it’s not easy. It takes work and selflessness. 

Helping others may have a unique impact on long-term health because it decreases damaging psychological markers—high degrees of narcissism and entitlement. Helping others can help you "get over yourself", which can lead to stronger interpersonal interactions, especially with others who understand your mental illness or substance use disorder. You may uncover new passions and learn something about yourself that you didn't know before through assisting others. Every time you show up and help out, you push yourself to do better and be better. Continuing to sign up for volunteer opportunities gives you an excellent opportunity to separate yourself from who you were previously. You can show others, and especially yourself, that you are not your addiction. As the better version of yourself emerges, new morals and ideals emerge. You gain a new sense of self-worth and independence.

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