While Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (the 12&12) covers each of the Twelve Steps in separate chapters, Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book) preceded this book by nearly thirty years. As such, it should come as no great surprise that the Twelve Steps receive a fair amount of focus here as well. Each of the first eleven are lumped into two separate chapters together. But Step Twelve receives its own chapter dedicated to the joys of carrying the message to other suffering addicts and alcoholics. Quite appropriately, “Working With Others” is the name given to this section of the book.
“Working With Others” is the seventh chapter of the Big Book (or eighth if you count “The Doctor’s Opinion”). By the time we reach this point in our reading, we should know quite a bit about the nature of our disease. Regardless of whether we struggle solely with alcohol or with other drugs as well, the preceding chapters should teach us a great deal about chronic substance abuse and the means by which we recover. Now, it’s time to learn how our sobriety might benefit others. “Working With Others” also teaches us quite a bit about how this service work will reward us in return.
It’s a fairly long chapter, but we’ll break down the most important lessons from “Working With Others” below. This chapter covers not only the rewards of service work, but also a few notes on how it is to be performed. Naturally, there’s a bit of discovery involved in this process. Everyone should try to find their own strengths when it comes to helping others. But if you follow the tips we’ve highlighted below, you should get a pretty good idea regarding just how useful you may become in sobriety.
How to Approach Fellow Sufferers
The first bit of advice offered by “Working With Others” pertains to finding a fellow sufferer in the first place. It is suggested that we try asking around. Suggestions include medical professionals, religious leaders, and others who might regularly counsel addicts and alcoholics. The only problem with this is that most of these individuals are bound to confidentiality. But if you truly feel a calling, you can always consider going into these fields yourself. Until then, you might simply try asking other people you know in recovery. Some sponsors don’t have time to take on anyone new, and they might appreciate a bit of help.
“Working With Others” notes that we shouldn’t push the issue if someone doesn’t want our help. They might just not be ready at the moment. This doesn’t mean that they won’t come to us at a later date. But if they see us as pushy, we may ruin the likelihood of them returning to us in the future. “Working With Others” also suggests that we not present ourselves as evangelists or reformers. Some might appreciate such a tactic, but many newcomers might not. Again, we don’t want to put them off.
One of the best ways to keep ourselves from ruining this opportunity is by learning a bit about the addict or alcoholic in question. “Working With Others” states:
“If there is any indication that he wants to stop, have a good talk with the person most interested in him—usually his wife. Get an idea of his behavior, his problems, his background, the seriousness of his condition, and his religious leanings. You need this information to put yourself in his place, to see how you would like him to approach you if the tables were turned.”
It’s best for us to wait until the addict/alcoholic in question reaches rock bottom. In many cases, however, the family might not be okay with waiting until they go on another spree. “Working With Others” notes that there’s no perfect advice for this particular situation. But when they are ready, and they agree to speak with us, we should keep the conversation focused on substance abuse. Don’t focus on recovery just yet. Also don’t go on a rant or lecture. Let the subject of your service work talk when they feel up to it, but don’t force it on them. Once they accept that they’re speaking to a fellow user—and once they appear to feel comfortable in our presence—we can begin turning the conversation toward recovery.
Helping to the Best of Our Ability
As always, it’s best to begin from the beginning. We should speak of the times we tried to stop, and how confused we were to learn of our disease. Again, there are some cautions here, as noted in “Working With Others”:
“Don’t, at this stage, refer to this book, unless he has seen it and wishes to discuss it. And be careful not to brand him as an alcoholic. Let him draw his own conclusion. If he sticks to the idea that he can still control his drinking, tell him that possibly he can—if he is not too alcoholic. But insist that if he is severely afflicted, there may be little chance he can recover by himself.”
At some point during the conversation, your new friend may ask how you recovered. This is when you begin explaining your journeys in sobriety. “Working With Others” suggests stressing the spiritual aspect of the program. Even if this person is atheist or agnostic, make sure they understand that faith and religion are two separate entities. Again, don’t make this a lecture. Frame the conversation by discussing your own experiences in recovery. Also, try to keep your language as plain as possible—without speaking down to them. Don’t assume they’re stupid, because they likely aren’t. But remember that you aren’t here to intellectualize. You’re here to help.
Once you’ve outlined the spiritual principles, turn your focus toward action. Talk about how you worked the steps to remove your character defects. Tell your new friend exactly what worked for you, leading up to the present conversation. Let them know that you are helping them as a part of your own recovery. But don’t be pushy about it. If they hear you out and remain uninterested in your help, let it go. Remember that this conversation has helped you as well. And if this person hears enough to eventually seek help from someone else, then you’ve still fulfilled your duty. If they do want to see you again, lend them your copy of the Big Book until they get their own. Tell them to read it if they wish to know more about how you got sober.
There are a few more cautions to bear in mind. First, do not spend too long on a prospect who doesn’t seem interested in what you’re offering. In doing so, you may deprive others who might be more willing. Second, be sure that you aren’t playing the role of banker or babysitter. If your prospect needs help finding employment or paying their bills, you might help them to an extent. But don’t run the risk of enabling, and don’t help them in ways you can’t afford. If you can’t spare any money, or if your money is going toward chronic relapses, you need to put your foot down. You aren’t here so that people can take advantage of your kindness. You’re here to help someone stay sober. If they make it clear that they aren’t interested, you might need to let them go.
The Rewards of Helping Others
Some may worry that helping others makes our lives difficult. At times, this is quite true. We sacrifice time that we could be spending with our families. Sometimes, we lose gas money because someone relapses and we must drive them to treatment. We make ourselves available and give the best of ourselves, sometimes just to watch a fellow addict or alcoholic continue to suffer. But despite all of this, we reap many rewards. And, as “Working With Others” notes, many of these pertain to seeing the good that we create.
Much of this good takes the form of families who find themselves healing after years of struggle. We cannot—and often should not—help an addict or alcoholic get back together with a spouse from whom they’ve separated. But we can help them become better sons, daughters, siblings and parents. And as they learn to embrace a spiritual lifestyle, their families often embrace these principles as well. The following passage from “Working With Others” also outlines the joys of watching another person recover:
“Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends—this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.”
More than anything, “Working With Others” notes that our spiritual fitness will increase. We may quote one last relevant passage concerning this component of our recovery:
“Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do. People have said we must not go where liquor is served; we must not have it in our homes; we must shun friends who drink; we must avoid moving pictures which show drinking scenes; we must not go into bars; our friends must hide their bottles if we go to their houses; we mustn’t think or be reminded about alcohol at all. Our experience shows that this is not necessarily so.”
Do not take this passage the wrong way. We shouldn’t tempt fate by running headlong into our triggers. It’s only acceptable to enter a location in which drinking occurs if we can identify a truly legitimate purpose for our presence there. We don’t hate liquor or those who drink—we simply accept that our condition makes it impossible for us to join them. Intolerance stands against our code in recovery. If we truly wish to be of service to others, we must bear this in mind. “Working With Others” reminds us that we often created our own turmoil. But by helping others learn about sobriety, perhaps we can finally turn things around for the better.