by John W

One cannot overstate the importance of intensive work with other alcoholics to insure immunity from drinking” (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 88). The effect this had upon the Founders of the program in the short time that preceded their writing of the Big Book, in which they made the observation, has been underscored by the experiences of countless recovered drunks since. Yours truly is among that group of believers. That service comes in many forms, I discovered before reading about it in the Big Book in one of the stories in the back (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 366). Later in my sobriety I realized my frequent volunteering to clean up the meeting space, washing dirty reusable coffee cups, or sweeping and mopping, even while still struggling to stop drinking, had broken down the walls of solitude and distance from when I first crossed the A.A. threshold.

He picked me up off the canvas before the count had reached ten

Sober years that followed the miracle of the obsession lifting on that fateful St. Patrick’s Day. I can report only what I have seen and only what I have heard about the principle of service. I know how those who were of service to me, worked with neither pay nor promise of reward, to try to bestow upon me the value of adherence to the suggestions offered by working the steps. As a grateful heir to the legacy of those who walked the walk before me, I found the limitless lode would only pay dividends if mined for the rest of my life with the proceeds given away entirely. As my sponsor was so kind to demonstrate for me, sometimes it was less painful to run into a brick wall than to try to help another alcoholic, especially one who is unsure of their real need for such help. With such service comes the pain of failure. Yet such failure might actually only belong to the unwilling alcoholic. It makes no difference to the one trying to help. The failure still hurts. So the policy we take out to insure against the effects of this risk of failure, is the continued striving to carry the message of hope to those whom the disease besets. Because ours is only a daily reprieve, my struggle to fend off my disease and provide help as I may which others might need, once joined becomes a battle ongoing. But it is nevertheless, a battle that we can hope to win today.

He had picked me up off the canvas before the count had reached ten

As with any step, where my progress on it has slowed, I have heard sound advice. Reflection upon the prior step can produce unexpected, positive results. So, too, with the principle of service. In a moment of confusion and weakness, when that cherished sponsee had gone out and all contact with him and his family ceased, I asked, What’s the point? Is this all service is about? Make the effort, lose and move on? This doubt seemed to grow with each moment I gave power to it by pondering it. In my alcoholic quagmire, the thought came again that I needed to retreat to the previous step, to turn to improving my conscious contact with my Higher Power, to seek solace in His embrace and power.

I was back again for the next round

What came as such a surprise to me in that effort, likely would come as no shock to those who had experienced this revelation before me. For if my Higher Power was so powerful He could relieve me of my obsessive drinking behavior, why could He not also relieve me of this doubt? I had been told there were no mistakes in His world, so my work, albeit unsuccessful, with my lost sponsee, was also not a mistake. I found that the fruit of my doubt was that I had been willing to turn to Him for help and with that action had received the help and guidance I needed. He had picked me up off the canvas before the count had reached ten. I was back again for the next round. Yes, I was a bit battered and bruised for the experience, but I was not yet defeated, I was on my feet, I had lived to fight another day.

However, the scar from that knock down remained. I can now see in service, not only that it comes in many forms and helps me to stay sober, or that, when fortunate, it likewise helps others in their sobriety. I can also see it as an invitation to draw closer to the Higher Power of my understanding. This invitation is extended many times each day, with each challenge. All I need do is be willing to look for it and accept where it guides me. This is the essence of the principle of service, freely given as I trudge the road of happy destiny.

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