When I was in early recovery at 22 years of age I didn’t have a purpose in life. Alcoholism had robbed me of completing college and created a very deep sense of purposelessness in my life. At this time in 1983 the old-timers of Alcoholics Anonymous would say things like, “Don’t become a counselor because you will drink!” and “You can’t work a 12-step and get paid, it’s against the traditions!” I was 23 years old, sober, and looking for a way to make a living and create purpose in my life. My options seemed limited and my interests were narrow. I wanted to help alcoholics stay sober and I wanted to get paid for it, so I went to school to become a Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC) on Long Island, NY. At this time this credential was fairly new and the state of New York had begun requiring training and certification. Prior to this you could work in a treatment center as a recovering alcoholic without any other training than being sober and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Against a lot of advice I attended two years of training, interned at a local treatment center, and took a grueling two day test. I received my credential and got a job in a hospital working with eating disorder clients in an inpatient setting. Throughout my training I attended AA and worked with a sponsor. I remained sober and took great pleasure in remaining so and telling those same old-timers that I was working in the field and staying sober. They would just laugh and say, “Keep coming back!”
After several years of working in the field I started to slack off on my meetings and I didn’t sponsor anyone because I was, “just too busy!” I also succumbed to the misunderstanding that since I was working with addicts all day I didn’t need to, “freely give what I had freely gotten.” This thinking lead to a selfishness, which is every alcoholic’s down fall. It negatively affected my program and kept me isolated from my fellow alcoholics and made me feel like I was different than my peers.
When I got burned out working with addicts and felt as if I couldn’t help another person I took a long break from working in the field. I re-committed myself to AA and working with newcomers because my early sponsors had drilled this concept into me, “you cannot keep that which you don’t give away.” I had become too selfish to give of myself freely, which affected the quality of my sobriety. I was sober but I was isolated. I was sober but I was too professional to work with another alcoholic for free. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly states that in order for me to stay sober I need to work with another alcoholic. I don’t work with another alcoholic for pay, prestige, or purpose. I have to work with another alcoholic to stay sober. I am a better person when I’m sponsoring or being helpful because it’s what I’m supposed to do, not because it’s my job.
I enjoy working in the field because I truly love people and love helping addicts find a new way to live. I also attend meetings and work with fellow alcoholics because I want to keep my sobriety and increase the quality of my sobriety. I will never make the mistake of keeping my sobriety to myself because I suffered from a lack of spirituality when I was acting from my own alcoholism instead of my sobriety. My early sponsor was right, the old-timers were half right, and I’m very grateful that I didn’t have to drink to find out I still need to work the 12th step as it is written and follow the traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.