I’ve learned over the years there are a few things I can rely on to stay sober, sane, and safe. Two of my favorite 12 step sayings are “Meeting makers make it” and “Service keeps you sober.” When I began to shelter in place it became apparent 12 step meetings we’re going to be a casualty of the virus. I love going to 12 step meetings. This is where I meet my friends, share my success and failure in recovery and build my community. To be able to start everyday with a group of people that I care about on a level that has no equivalent is a blessing I will never take for granted. These are the people that saved my life by loving me until I could love myself. Day in day out, I look forward to these meetings… it is not just a part of my life, this is my life. Many newcomers ask the question, “When don’t I have to go to meetings anymore?” The answer is simple… “You don’t have to go to meetings anymore when you want to go.” Knowing that these face-to-face interactions were going to be severely curtailed, I needed to come up with a service project during shelter in place. Online meetings are valuable to many people, they are just not for me.
Good news, there is an answer! The science is in, being of service keeps you sober and sane. There was a great article in the New York TImes Sunday kids edition about this topic. I believe that resilient adults are the result of challenging childhoods. My therapist says those of us that had traumatic childhoods have a little extra work to do as adults. This makes sense and is even comforting. I have found in order to transfer this hard won resilience into a healthy manifestation in adulthood, one must be of service to others. A challenging adulthood is something to avoid. Being an adult (my Dr. says there is no such thing) is tough enough without us feeling like we need to go searching it out in order to maintain our resilient nature. This can descend into any number of horrible states for an individual and their loved ones. When I discovered this rosetta stone to daily adult bliss (that doesn’t really exist) I was able to take my recovery and my mental health to the next level. I come from a very service oriented family. On both my mother and father’s side, I had wonderful examples of what it means to be of service to my neighbors and community at large. My mom’s dad was more of the Andy Griffith type. I called him Popo and we were very close for all of his life…. I have LOT’S of Popo stories I will share with you down the road. One instance I remember vividly is when Popo hung up the phone in the front room of the 211 house and snapped “come on sport we need to go run an errand.” Now like most kids that age, maybe 10, I did not ask where we were going, I just got my shoes and jumped in the car. We drove to an odd looking apartment building, not government housing but I could clearly tell we were going to help someone in need. When we pulled up, Popo instructed me to wait in the car… back then it was still ok to have a kid wait in the car while an adult left the scene for a moment. Popo was gone for only a short while. When Popo had returned, he brought down a box full of liquor bottles that were at various stages of emptiness. Without Popo saying a word, I somehow knew what we were there to do. Whomever lived in that apartment building could not handle their booze and needed to get it out of the house. It was probably the wife of a friend that called because “… Sam would know what to do.” I have no idea what ever happened to the people that lived in that apartment. It doesn’t really matter. What I learned by watching Popo, was that when someone is in need of help and you can lend a hand, you do it. Over the years there were countless times I was witness to my Grandparents kindness. From putting milk and cookies on the back porch for the high school golf team as they began practice walking down the 1st fairway, to paying for the groceries for the person behind us in the grocery checkout line because they “knew the family was in a tough spot…” They would never look back for a thank you wanting not to embarrass or shame anyone. My mom’s parents were truly kind people.
On my dad’s side of the coin, there was also a family culture of giving back to the community at large. My dad’s parents had built several businesses after World War II and had accumulated a significant amount of wealth. Their impactful giving was financial. After my grandfather passed away, the stories of his generosity were endless. Almost without exception, every kind deed that Dede did for someone was to be kept between only the two parties involved. Ninety percent of the time, my grandmother did not even know. Dede, over the years, had helped numerous families save their home, pay for college tuition and start businesses. These people all reported that if they ever shared what he had done for them, they would have to pay him back. It was a gift and he expected nothing in return. When a developer across the street from a factory Dede owned was pricing his homes too high, he bought four of the homes and sold them to his employees for what they could afford to pay. WOW!!!
As a result of a lifetime of witnessing men give selflessly to their community, it is not a big leap for me to switch from a 12 step meeting to being of service. Let’s be honest, I consider going to 12 step meetings also a form of service work. The newcomers need the oldtimers to show them the way. The oldtimers need the newcomers to serve as a reminder of why they continue to “work the program” so hard after all these years. When we are serving others, one of two things happens. We are so busy helping others that we forget about our own problems or we realize that it could always be worse and gratitude takes over. Either way it is a win all the way around. Now I feel better, the person I was helping feels better, and that person might even be motivated now to pass along an act of kindness and service to someone else. This is how we make the world a better place… be the change you want to see in the world. Now, the key to all this actually working in your life, is that you are going to need to practice this perspective day in day out. Service is something that needs to be executed even when you really really don’t want to. It is in these moments where the true benefits lay. When we wake up and think “not one more day… I am just going to take THIS day off,” this is when we need to dig down and say “not today dragon!… I will slay your ass!” Then as slowly as needed, I put one foot on the floor, then another, and then you never stop until the end of the day. And when I look back at the end of the day at what I accomplished and who I helped, I look in the mirror and with a renewable sense of pride that only helping others can provide, I lay my head on the pillow and get the best night sleep ever… before I get up and do it all again… day in day out!! DIDO!!!
So everyday that there is no volunteer group to make and drop hot breakfast at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, I will be making pancakes and scrambled eggs for the guests. Day in day out, it is this part of the process that will not just get me through these times, but allow me the opportunity to grow in ways I can’t even imagine. DIDO