When I was in my early teens, I got really into the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a few years. I was absolutely obsessed with the band. I had all their albums, listened to them constantly, watched all their music videos, went to see them live. And my life ended up paralleling some of the band members’ unexpectedly, since we both struggled with serious addiction. And I found their song “Give It Away” predicted what I would do later—once I found recovery, I would have to help give it away to others to keep it.
Helping others was stressed from the beginning of my recovery, in inpatient treatment. Of course, like most things, I didn’t really get it at first (I’m one of those people who has to learn things the hard way). When I left treatment and went from sober living back to the real world, my focus was mostly selfish. I put the bare minimum of effort into going to meetings and put no effort at all into helping others. And I paid the price. I did not stay sober. I went back out and things quickly got just as bad as they were before—maybe even worse. That’s how it tends to go with addiction, after all.
I spent a few months bouncing back and forth between active addiction and sobriety before I finally had enough. I remember feeling so ashamed and miserable after another relapse that I felt like I just couldn’t do it anymore. And the crazy thing is, I didn’t. I have stayed sober since that day. So, what changed?
What changed was pretty much everything. Instead of just doing the bare minimum required by whatever treatment program I was in, I started attending meetings and getting integrated with my local recovery community—on my own. I didn’t wait for anyone to tell me what to do, I just did it. And most importantly, I started helping others.
At this time, I was living in sober living and attending school. So I stepped up and became the mentor of my sober living program. Since then, working with the other guys coming in and out of the program has done a lot for me. Being a part of their recovery keeps me grounded and reminds me where I came from. And I would like to think that I’ve helped to give the gift of recovery to at least a few of them.
I was also going to school at the time I got sober, and there was a student organization that worked with students dealing with addiction and recovery. For a while, I just attended their meetings. Then I started volunteering. Then I applied for a job and got it. Eventually, I worked my way up to running the organization. This let me give back in more ways than I can say—obviously by getting to run meetings and help others on a personal level, but also by getting to organize events and services that helped those struggling on a larger scale. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I’m very glad I did it.
What I’m trying to say is that helping others is what made the difference for me. To transition into true long-term recovery, all I had to do was give it away.