by Marcus Abernathy
We are taught in recovery that we should be of service. Taking the focus off of ourselves and being of help to another is supposed to be therapeutic, build confidence and self esteem, and perpetuate your own sobriety. I don’t disagree with this at all, as a matter of fact I think that everybody – whether in recovery or not – should weave service into the fabric of their being. Service can be a number of things from building a house with Habitat for Humanity to smiling at someone as you pass, bumming a smoke to a newby or engaging in relevant conversation with another. All of these things are great to do, no doubt. I definitely feel better about myself when I am able to help improve somebody else’s day. But, I have seen fellow-recoverees take service on to a degree that is unhealthy; to the point where they are taking care of others more than themselves. They fail to have their own back; to watch out for number one.
Certainly, you can’t have too much of a good thing. Right? Wrong. There is a concept in economics called “diminishing returns” that can be applied here. Basically, there is a point where there are decreasing returns after a certain number of units produced. As recovering addicts, we already have a tendency to do things…well…as addicts. Balls to the wall, all gas no brakes. And I can say with a degree of confidence that we have all taken something other than drugs or alcohol too far in our lives. Whether we stayed in a relationship that had run its course, or jumped in deeper into a business deal when we should have pulled out, or given money to a friend when we didn’t really have it to give; this is a quality that many of us possess. We don’t know moderation, or when to stop or say “no.” And while helping others is a positive thing, if you are doing it to the point of your own detriment, it’s not so healthy is it? If you don’t take time to do something for yourself every now and again, you can get burnt out and the risk of relapse increases…diminishing returns.
It’s important to remember that you’re in recovery first and foremost for you. It is your life that you are trying to improve, your body, mind and spirit that is at stake. It may seem selfish to take some time out for yourself instead of helping someone else. So what? How much good can you do for someone else, if you aren’t taking care of yourself?
How can you be of service to yourself? Well, when you put it in a pot and boil it down, it’s rather simple. Find what makes you happy, and then do it. As Adam Sud so brilliantly puts it, “Find your purpose. And if you don’t have one, your purpose – by default – is to find a purpose.” (I would recommend reading the May 30 blog on fitness in recovery and starting there.) Learn to play an instrument, or take up a new activity like longboarding or photography. Schedule a weekly night out with close friends. Treat yourself to a massage or acupuncture. Get a mani and a pedi. Make your bed every morning! If something is bothering you, address and resolve it. Go get a new tattoo from fellow-recoveree Freddy Negrete at Shamrock. Go Find some water, and jump in it. Certainly there is something that you have wanted to do, something you’ve been putting off. Why wait any longer? Treat yourself! This is your permission slip. Print out as many as you want, go ahead. Then, get back out there and be of service. I guarantee that you will feel even better about yourself, and the returns will never diminish.
Marcus Abernathy is a recovering drug addict pursuing a Master’s in Clinical Psychology, specializing in Addictive Behaviors.