"We can help people in the most mundane of ways."

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Episode 59 -- November 9, 2020

A Helpful Reminder: We Can All Help Others

Thinking of the year we've had, especially as we get closer to the holidays, it's easy to focus on ourselves. We need to, for the sake of our recovery. But what makes our recovery even more meaningful? Being of service. Helping others. In this excerpt from Three Simple Rules: Uncomplicating Life in Recovery, author Michael Graubart tells us about helping others, but making sure we're offering "helpful help," rather than "unhelpful help."

It has been edited for brevity.

Everyone can help someone else. Everyone.

Sometimes newcomers in Twelve Step programs think they have nothing to offer, and that their job, in the gruff words of certain old-timers, is to "fill a seat."

I get it. If you're just starting out, you're not in a good place. It doesn't seem like there's anything positive going on in your life, so how in the world are you supposed to do anything good for someone else? Well, that's the point of having a rule about this. If you follow the rule, you'll help others. Then once you start helping others, you will realize you have plenty to give them. And, get this, it will help you, too! Let me explain.

There is a story I love. A newcomer in a meeting turns to the person sitting next to him and says, "How much time do you have?"
The guys says, "Ten years."
So, the newcomer turns to the person on his other side and says, "How much time do you have?"
That guy says, "Ten days."
Amazed, the newcomer says, "How did you do it?"

In other words, newcomers can often relate more easily to other newcomers than they can to people who have been sober for a long time. That's because ten years sober may just seem unattainable to the newcomer. Nobody can stop drinking or using for that long!

Of course, we can and do.

If you are reading this book and you have just joined a Twelve Step program, it might feel like you have an endless amount of time and work ahead of you. But keep in mind that even as we speak, you've already tackled "Secret Step Zero," which reads, "I'm tired of this s***." And plenty of people haven't even gotten that far.

Those pre-newcomers, if you will, are just making the decision to find a meeting. And when they get there, they will be looking at the person with ten years' sobriety and thinking, I cannot relate.

And then they will be looking at you, the newcomer.

So, we all can help others, and while the person with decades of sobriety may have all kinds of brilliant advice, chances are the person with a few weeks or months of sobriety may be even more useful to the "new" newcomer than the old-timer can be.

We can help people in the most mundane of ways. Can you read a meeting list? Then show the person who is even newer than you are how to find the next meeting.

We can also help people in extraordinary ways, as when we are volunteering in a hospital, donating blood, or doing a million other things.

To paraphrase an ancient fable, God divided people into individuals so we might help each other. But we first need to discuss what I mean by "help." There are basically two types of help, which we can call "helpful help" and "unhelpful help."

Let's start by talking about unhelpful help. You may be tempted to "help" someone by trying to change them to fit your needs.

We addicts and alcoholics especially love to try to "help" our spouse, our partner, our boyfriend, or our girlfriend in this way, because if they'll just change, everyone would be better off, right? No, that's not okay.

Oh, you can help your significant other in other ways. You can drive them to work (or to distraction, or to drink). You can do the dishes. You can run that errand.

But "helping" in a broad sense, as in helping them to become a better person, or at least a different person? Fuggedaboudit. Unhelpful help. Stop it.

Most of us are guilty of trying to help people with whom we are emotionally involved, not out of a spirit of altruism, but out of a desire to make our own lives easier.

These are the "if onlys" of life—if only he were more considerate. If only she were more interested in emotional intimacy. If only he would spend more time with the kids. And so on. Then we would be happier.

The unfortunate reality is that we cannot "help" those around us develop behaviors and attitudes that we would consider more conducive to our own happiness. The suggestion in these situations is to practice acceptance as opposed to putting more time into a futile effort to change people.

So, why do we do it? Because we think it's too much trouble for us to accept others as they are. We think the "easier, softer way" is changing them. Wrong.

To put it simply, trying to change other people doesn't work.

Everything that you'll read here refers to a different type of help. The helpful help. Not helping to change our family members, girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, or partners.

Instead, the rule asks us to help, in a meaningful way, our sponsees, our neighbors, our communities, our world. Not make them conform to our desires and expectations, but actually be useful to them.

About the Author:
Michael Graubart is a New York Times best-selling author who penned Hazelden Publishing's Sober Dad: The Manual for Perfectly Imperfect Parenting, Step Up: Unpacking Steps One, Two, and Three with Someone Who's Been There and Three Simple Rules: Uncomplicating Life in Recovery. He writes under a pseudonym to maintain his anonymity and speak frankly about his experiences in Twelve Step recovery.

© 2018 by Michael Graubart
All rights reserved