Ask a person in recovery – a happy one, that is – the secret for long term success and the answer will likely include the word “service”. What that involves may be much different than you’d expect.

I was shocked and pleased by the outpouring of support I received from others when I began blogging on “Day One” without alcohol. There were so many kind, encouraging comments from complete strangers who simply understood the struggle. What a wonderful surprise! As it turns out, the twelfth step of AA is to help others selflessly because giving sends strength in both directions.

I am not in a twelve step program or any program, but I respectfully draw from the wisdom they provide.  I reviewed AA’s 12 Steps and SMART Recovery’s 4 Principles to ask why each one is helpful, how I could make use of it or adapt it for my own self-managed pathway.

At first I assumed the concept of “service” simply referred to being a sponsor of someone else in a program. Then I realized that all the comments and support I was receiving on my blog were acts of service, and that I was benefitting greatly from them. I began to follow suit and encourage new readers in the same way – a wonderful shared experience. Eventually I saw many opportunities to be of service in everyday life, as well.

I’ve always been a people pleaser, but that is not the same as service. People-pleasing is doing things to make others like us. At its core, it is manipulative and self-centered. Service is about helping others without any expectations. Big difference. BIG difference. Check your motivation: are you doing things for others as an act of pure kindness or because you want them to like you, feel beholden to you, or to prove that you are a martyr?

I have had to work hard on this shift, I confess. I see the results in lowered resentments, higher self-esteem, and a true feeling of joy.

Here are ten simple ways that I gave service this week:

  • Answering UnPickled blog comments and emails. It takes courage for a reader to make a comment on a recovery blog, whether it is to ask for help or to say “me too”, so I always do my best to respond. In fact, any time we take a moment to respond to any blog post or comment – regardless of the subject matter – we are acknowledging another person’s efforts and showing gratitude.
  • Sending surprise gifts. I was shopping and stumbled across a clearance rack of cute socks. Impulsively I scooped up ten pairs for friends, and realized I would then need envelopes to send them by mail. I hunted those down next and brought home my little bundle. I went through my address books and randomly chose names, reminding myself that the purpose was kindness and not to be a people pleaser. I tucked a short note into each parcel, which only took a moment but is itself a rare gift these days. This was a great exercise and I am so excited to drop them into the mail today.
  • Shoveled beyond my own sidewalk. Yesterday was out first big snowfall of the year here in southern Alberta and it was a doozy. Instead of hopping on the treadclimber for exercise, I headed out to shovel our driveway and noticed that our neighbours on both sides were not yet cleared. One neighbour has two small children and often works late shifts, the other has a son in hockey and is out the door before sunrise on Saturdays to head for the rink. I knew both would appreciate having their sidewalks cleared, but I stopped myself. Maybe they won’t appreciate the gesture. Maybe they won’t even notice. Maybe they will never reciprocate. Pause, focus Jean. Kindness, right? Is this a kind thing to do? Yes. Will it help them regardless? Yes. Okay then, let’s proceed.
  • Next I was headed to the grocery store. I took a moment to call my elderly parents and ask if they needed anything. Again, had to remind myself that this was not a “good girl” move but an act of kindness to save them from having to go out on a snowy day. They needed nothing, and I was interrupting Murdoch Mysteries.
  • I saw that an obituary in the paper for old acquaintance of my father and offered to take my dad to the funeral. This was not someone either of us knew particularly well, but I had a feeling that he might want to attend if given the opportunity. My dad is no longer able to drive and hates to ask for rides unless absolutely necessary. I am so glad we went, as it was a chance for my dad to offer a gesture of kindness to the grieving family. His days of shoveling snow for the neighbours are over, and he needs opportunities for service just as much as anyone else.
  • I take my neighbours garbage can to the curb if it isn’t already out when I am moving my own. Missing garbage pickup sucks, and as I said they re a busy family with little kids so I presume that their garbage can is full of diapers that really need to be emptied!
  • I tweet kudos whenever I receive good customer service, taking care to tag the business. Another option is to simply thank someone who treats you well and say, “I appreciate the way you do your job.” This goes a long way, I promise. One of my sons works in the food industry and he often shares how meaningful and encouraging he finds customer compliments. They not only make his day, but perpetuate his resolve to continue to work hard.
  • I let the neighbours know that I enjoy their children. Our kids are grown and our household is pretty quiet, and often our neighbours will apologize for their kids’ noise. I could easily say, “no problem” and stop at that, but I make the extra effort to say, “You have great kids and we love hearing them play. It is a happy sound.” Again, the point is not to be sugary sweet so they will like me better, but to ease any worries they may have – don’t young parents have enough to worry about already?
  • Recovery has made me a nicer driver! I let people merge. I wave if they let me in. I assume the slow driver ahead of me is learning, elderly, or lost – not an “asshole” or an “idiot”. In my drinking days I was careful not to drive drunk, but I surely was dysfunctional behind the wheel. All my resentments, anxieties, and insecurities were aimed at everyone else. I can literally feel the difference in my heart now when I am in traffic.
  • I rarely walk past littler without picking it up and tossing it in the nearest garbage can. Nothing gross, of course, but if someone has randomly tossed a cup or wrapper I think nothing of whisking it up on my way by. This is a habit I formed long ago, hoping others would notice and (a) think highly of me and (b) follow suit. (Or at least stop effing littering. Jeez!) My new perspective shift has me checking myself to do it simply as an act of service – see or unseen – because it is right.

Now it is your turn to reflect. What can you do for someone else today? What kindness did you perform yesterday? What do you do every day to be of service, and do you have the right mindset? Please share your thoughts and ideas below – an act of service in itself to inspire us all!