By Alanna Hilbink
So many people have held out a helping hand as you’ve pursued recovery. You have your team of treatment providers, therapists and professionals who are there when you need them. You have peers always ready to offer advice, support and practical help. You have family members who have given their all for you at every step of the way.
You see just how many people have helped, and keep helping, you. You know just how much even the smallest bit of that help means. So now that you’re in recovery or on your way there, how do you begin to give back?
Guide to Giving Back in Treatment
Finding volunteer opportunities while in treatment is easy – just ask! Or depending on your program, you may not even need to ask. Opportunities for giving back may simply be a part of your daily or weekly schedule. Your treatment program may work with local youth groups, prisons or hospitals. Your program may also offer opportunities for giving back in other settings. Volunteering is often expected as part of a holistic, integrated treatment plan.
Even after treatment, more structured components of your aftercare may include their own guides for giving back. For example both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer opportunities for Hospitals and Institutions (H & I) service. This service brings, “the message of recovery to addicts who do not have full access to regular Narcotics Anonymous meetings.” It’s an opportunity for you to reach out and bring information and experience to those, “in hospitals, treatment centers, correctional facilities, and adolescent institutions.”1
There are sub-meetings and committees that will help you get involved in these efforts. Or if you aren’t a part of AA or NA, you can reach out to these areas of need on your own or with other support group or volunteer organizations.
In their interview with the Recovery Unscripted podcast, brothers Brandon and Ryan Stump explain the importance of integrating volunteer opportunities in the schedule at their sober home program The Ohio House. In their experience, one of the biggest challenges in recovery is avoiding the boredom of downtime and relearning how to have fun.2 Volunteering may sound like more work than fun – but trust us, it really is a good time. And it can bolster your recovery in the process.
Guide to Giving Back in Recovery
Outside of a structured program, reaching out can sometimes feel a little bit harder. Volunteering is no longer a requirement. Opportunities are no longer handed to you. But making your own opportunities is what recovery is all about.
You learned how to do things differently while in treatment. Now it’s time to get out into the real world and put your new skills and knowledge into practice. So, yes, less structure means a little more work, but you’re stronger now. You’re ready. And once you get into giving back, you’ll find volunteering adds to the scheduling and structure that were so helpful in treatment.
Plus, now that you get to design your own routine and schedule, you have more freedom when it comes to deciding how to give back. In treatment, you were probably limited as to when and where you could volunteer. Now you can help anywhere you want. Volunteering in the recovery community is a great way to stay in touch with your own recovery and remind yourself of how far you’ve come and how important sobriety is. But you don’t have to stick to recovery-related volunteering. You can work with animals at a shelter. You can work with children through a local school or mentor/mentee organization. You can plants trees at a park or weed a community garden. It’s your recovery, so it’s your time to explore.
Why Should I Give Back?
Now you have a basic guide as to when and where you can give back. But why should you? There are a number of reasons why it’s so good to volunteer:
- Offer some of the same help that’s been essential to your own recovery
- Change the addiction landscape and make treatment accessible to more people
- Find structure and routine to support your sobriety
- Learn more about yourself and your sober life
Helping is good for everyone. You offer real support to those who need it. And you get even more support in return.
But if you need more reasons? Know that volunteering keeps you busy, provides some fun and gives you opportunities to get connected to others. And these three things can be essential to your long-term health.
Get out of your comfort zone and give your recovery a real go by getting involved and active. You’ll find it’s a perfect opportunity to develop your passions or discover entirely new ones. You’ll also make new friends and connections — the social cornerstones of recovery. And you’ll get to feel good and do good at the same time.
1 “Hospitals and Institutions Service and the NA Member.” Narcotics Anonymous. 1996. Accessed 3 Jul. 2018.
2 Stump, Brandon and Stump, Ryan. “#64: Building a Sober Brotherhood with Brandon Stump and Ryan Stump.” Recovery Unscripted. 6 Jun. 2018. Accessed 2 Jul. 2018.