In AA they say people who engage in service, i.e. helping out at meetings, sharing, making the tea and coffee, sponsoring others, helping on A A telephone helplines, inter group etc have a much greater chance of staying sober and in recovery long term than those who do not.
Although I was scared of my own shadow when I came into recovery and my brain was still incredibly scrambled and disorientated, I believe doing service in AA is one of the main reasons for me still being in recovery nearly 10 years later.
It helped me become part of AA not just someone who turned up and hung around on the periphery. 12 step recovery is a program of action not self absorbed introspection. The spiritual and therapeutic aspect of 12 step recovery is connectedness with others who have the same condition and share the same common purpose of wanting to remain sober and in recovery.
Doing service is an outward sign of one taking responsibility for their own recovery and declaring it too others in the meetings via service. When I see a newcomer to recovery start to do service it gladdens my heart as I know they have dramatically increased their chances of remaining sober and in recovery long term.
This has been my experience.
A reality, however, seems to be that most people are very anxious, lacking in confidence and fearful when they reach the rooms of AA.
When you have spent a long time drinking in increasing isolation, suddenly being at a meeting among strangers can have it’s problems.
When we go to meetings, to begin with, we are often unaware that we are actually in the company of people just like us, sensitive souls. Most have at some time at issues around social anxiety.
It is often said that this social anxiety is linked to the not belonging” feeling that many alcoholics experience throughout their lives prior to drinking.
Some have said it can be traced to insecure attachment to a primary care givers or to trauma or abuse in childhood.
Equally I have known many alcoholics who had idyllic childhoods who also have this feeling on not belonging socially, not fitting in, so I suggest that this social anxiety or not fitting in may be the result of some genetic inheritance which gets worse via the adverse effects of abuse or insecure attachment.
The vast majority of alcoholics I have met over the years have this sense of not belonging, having a “hole in the soul”.
I believe it is some neurochemical deficit, such as oxytocin deficit that has a knock-on effect on other brain chemicals, that decreases our feelings of belonging, which we all inherit and which can be made more severe via stressful adversive childhoods.
It often leads to isolation, being a loner, not only in adolescence but sometimes in recovery too. We seem to often like our own company but equally it is something to be wary of.
I have often heard of people relapsing after becoming isolated from 12 step fellowships. They stopped doing service, then reduced meetings and then disappeared off the scene, locked away in isolation.
So we seem to have a tendency to isolate and this may be due to many of us having social anxiety issues. Social events often seem like too much effort and this can be a dangerous thought.
So who do we cope with a room full of people?
I just came a cross a study recently which addressed how AA is almost perfect for dealing with this issue of social anxiety.
I will use some excerpts from it. It relates to youths in recovery but is applicable to all people in recovery or seeking recovery.
“In treatment, youths with social anxiety disorder (SAD) may avoid participating in therapeutic activities with risk of negative peer appraisal.
Peer-helping is a low-intensity, social activity in the 12-step program associated with greater abstinence among treatment-seeking adults.
The benefits from helping others appear to be greatest for individuals who are socially isolated.
Helping others may benefit the helper because it distracts one from one’s own troubles, enhances a sense of value in one’s life, improves self-evaluations, increases positive moods, and causes social integration.
The myriad of existing service activities in AA are readily available inside and outside of meetings; are low intensity; and do not require special skills, prior experience, time sober, long-term commitment, transportation, insurance, or parental permission.
Peer-helping in AA, such as having the responsibility of making coffee at a meeting, empathetic listening to others, reading inspirational meditations to others, or sharing personal experiences in learning to live sober, may have the effect of greater engagement in treatment and improved outcomes due to patients’ active contributions.
Learning to live sober with social anxiety is a challenge in society where people can be quick to judge others
Coping with a persistent fear of being scrutinized in social situations often requires learning to tolerate the opinions of others, feeling different, appropriate boundary setting, and enduring short term discomfort for long-term gain—skills that are in short supply among adolescents and those in early recovery.
The low-intensity service activities in AA offer youths—and those with social anxiety in particular—a nonjudgmental, task-focused venue for social connectedness, reduce self-preoccupation and feeling like a misfit, and transform a troubled past to usefulness with others.
AA should be encouraged for socially anxious youths in particular.
As stated by a young adult, “I wanted to be at peace with myself and comfortable with other people. The belonging I always wanted I have found in AA. I got into service work right away and really enjoyed it”
1. Pagano, M. E., Wang, A. R., Rowles, B. M., Lee, M. T., & Johnson, B. R. (2015). Social Anxiety and Peer Helping in Adolescent Addiction Treatment. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 39(5), 887-895.