Service Work vs. Self Care: Where Do You Draw The Line?

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“Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds.

Life is for service.”

— Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Fred Rogers

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Rogers. The recovery literature states over and over that we are to be of service to others, help others, carry a message of recovery, be altruistic ect. which makes sense since we are told selfishness is our biggest barrier to long term recovery and happiness (along with resentments). So to do selfless actions is the “cure” for selfishness, right? But is there a point where there is too much service work?

Times Have Changed

The Big Book was written in 1939. There was only one woman in *AA at the time. The man’s responsibility was to work and pay the bills. The women took care of the household and the children. Most households had two parents back then. Divorce wasn’t commonplace. Men in recovery went to work and after work they could dedicate their evenings to AA and helping other alcoholics. They weren’t tied to the house with children or household chores. Ok, I know I’m generalizing but as a whole, the 1930’s and 1940’s were very much like this. During that time AA was mostly a men’s organization.

Let’s fast forward to 2015. Things have changed a lot for women. Many women take care of the household, children and hold down jobs. 50% of couples are divorced so many of these women are also single mothers too. Again, I’m generalizing but what I just wrote is not far fetched. Let’s say you are a single mother, holding down a full time job, cooking, cleaning, laundry, children’s activities and sporting events and  going to a few AA meetings a week, maybe you even go to church on Sunday’s and volunteer a little.

busy-mom1Now you are told in recovery that your life should be dedicated to helping other alcoholics/addicts too. So you pick up a couple of sponsees and take a commitment at your 12 step home group. Then two more women ask you to sponsor them, so you say yes. You get asked to speak at an Open Talk meeting, you say yes. Another couple of women ask you to sponsor them, you say yes. Remember, you were told that you had to dedicate your life to service and recovery, right? Recovery events come up and you volunteer for those too. Next thing you know you have 11 sponsees, a recovery job at your home group, you sit on the board of two recovery organizations, you volunteer at recovery events and at church. Let’s not forget the full time job, kids and household you are running. You are burning the wick at both ends and feel stressed out all of the time. There just isn’t enough hours in the day.

You don’t feel good and you don’t understand why…

You start resenting all of the service work you are doing but you do it anyway. Depression and anxiety set in. You don’t feel good and you don’t understand why because you are doing all this service work. It used to feel good, why doesn’t it anymore?girl window

Does this story sound far-fetched? It’s not. It’s my story. It’s where I was a few years back. The only difference was I was going to school full time, not working full time. I didn’t know how to say no because it was drilled into me by my first sponsor to never turn down a recovery request and never turn down a sponsee. My first sponsor was a single man. He had a job and recovery, no kids and no girlfriend. He was able to dedicate his life to recovery because he had that luxury. Yes, it is a luxury. If I was in his place, I would do it too. See, I was trying to do it while still trying to be a single mom and get through college. Our situations were different.

I learned a valuable lesson from all of that, how to say no. I learned how to take care of myself so I could be a more valuable servant of God. If I can’t do service work with a happy heart and the right motivation, I shouldn’t be doing it. I need to get to a place of spiritual fitness and that means quiet time, prayer, meditation and quality emotional and mental health.

“But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others.” *Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 164

Self-care has to be a part of your life

reading on beachYou can not transmit something you haven’t got! If you are frustrated, tired and  resentful, what are you transmitting? Self-care has to be a part of your life. So, to answer the question from earlier, where do you draw the line? That’s personal to each individual and their life situation. My suggestion is to listen to your gut. You have a little voice inside. Listen to it! If it’s telling you “don’t do it” then listen. In order to hear it you have to get quiet. You can’t get quiet if you are always running around like a mad woman.

Talk to your sponsor. Let her guide you. Take time to grow emotionally, mentally and spiritually. My suggestion is to attend a yearly retreat. Mostly, keep working the 12 steps, especially steps 10 and 11. There’s a fine line between self-care and selfishness. The more spiritually fit you are, the clearer you can discern the difference. It’s hard being a woman in recovery. We have a lot of responsibilities, but with our Higher Powers help, support from our recovery friends, and a 12 step program, we’ll make it through.

Peace, Love & Sobriety,


meL. chooses to remain anonymous, not because she’s ashamed of being in recovery, but because her ego loves recognition and she doesn’t want to feed her ego.


*A2WG is not affiliated with AA


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