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The importance of service work from my personal perspective

May 4, 2014
by Rebecca Flood
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When it comes to service work, there are a few slogans that I attempt to live by in my daily life of ongoing recovery.  Here are a few famous slogans that you will hear in many 12-Step meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and in other 12-Step meetings around the world:

“You have to give it away to keep it. You can’t keep what you have unless you are willing to give it away.” 

“Suit up, show up, and step up.” 

“Don’t expect from others what you don’t expect from yourself.”

“For every finger that is pointing out, there are three fingers pointing back at you, and it’s the only thing we can ever do anything about.” 

“Always do your part. Give more than you think that you can afford in your time, your talent, and your treasure.” 

More than any other slogan, one I try to incorporate into my daily life comes from my own spiritual beliefs, and that is, “What would Jesus do?”  Whether one believes in Jesus as a good story (real or pretend), as a Prophet, or as the Son of God, giving pause to ask the question “What would Jesus do in this situation?” can help us react more positively to our current circumstances.

When I approach life with that premise, and take the time to truly meditate on this before I act or react, I usually come from a selfless place and the words or the act are usually much better than they would have been had I simply relied on my own thoughts, my own words, or my own actions or reactions. 

The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W., states directly, “Our 12th Step—carrying the message—is the basic service that fellowship gives; this is our principal aim and the main reason for our existence.”  Bill further goes on to indicate that AA is a society of alcoholics in action. The 12th Step does not only call us to service but it calls us to practice these principles in all of our affairs, which I interpret to mean practicing these principles in every aspect of our lives.  For me it applies to relationships (with strangers or family), work environment, social life, faith journey, good times and bad times.




Rebecca -

I was somewhat troubled by your piece. On a personal note, my own spirituality has been deeply informed by such heroes of the Social Gospel movement as Dr. Walter Rauschenbusch, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Dr. Albert Schweitzer. On a professional level, when we work with addictions and those who are wrestling with them, we are always faced with the choice of two paradigms - are these bad people who need to be punished or sick people who need to be healed.

Despite language about the "disease model", most traditionalist approaches are centered in a moralistic model rather than a true medical or scientific/humanist one. I see my own psychology-based addiction practice as liberation work rather than redemption work. Given the incredibly high levels of trauma, I think that it is always best to anchor addictions within a mental health/mental illness framework. I agree that service is life-changing and, again, it is a central force in my life. However, we do not ask people with broken legs, appendicitis, heart problems, or other diseases or disorders to do service as part of their recovery. Making this a central part of the recovery process runs the risk of putting our work within a moral framework. Since they are usually already filled with self-hatred, this just adds fuel to the fire. And, as studies have shown, the more we see them as bad, the less likely we are to have compassion for them.

Service is transformative and spiritually profound, but I believe that our compassion for their suffering should come first.

Scott Kellogg, PhD

I hear your concerns and greatly appreciate your thoughts. I am not sure we are too far off base with each other. I agree with and work within much of your framework. I too agree with the thought that one is sick needing to get well, not “bad” needing to become “good.” With many chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and MS (to name only a few), there are walks, runs, and campaigns of all kinds that families, friends, those afflicted with the disease, and the general public participate in by giving back of their time, talent, and treasure in order to support and serve the cause. I am basically saying to do the same for this chronic disease.

I also believe that as we learn from each other and hear each other's viewpoints it helps us better understand each other. So thank you so much for your comments. They add depth, weight and food for more thought to this topic. I appreciate it greatly. Together with all thoughts combined we become stronger and better!

Ms. Flood will soon be required to offer evidence-based help. She's going to actually have to do some real work with clients rather than indoctrinating them into the dangerous cult religion known as the 12 steps. There is so much misinformation here, it would take far too much of my precious time to comment on them all except to say this -- 'service work carrying the AA cult message' is the opposite of help. Shame on you Flood.

Alleviating of all suffering is one of the main reason why I sympathize Buddhism. I guess because it contains so much eastern wisdom it might be used in curing different kind of addictions. I want to make a research ucxmhfssob on I believe psychological addictions appear as a result of nerves and there are no calmer people than Buddhists.


Rebecca Flood

President and CEO of Ashley Addiction Treatment

Rebecca Flood is president and CEO of Ashley Addiction Treatment. She previously served as CEO...

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