James Haggerty Recovery
Recovery Journey

Why Giving Back in Alcoholics Anonymous Is So Important

April 13, 2023
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Giving Back in Alcoholics Anonymous

The notion of giving back is important to one’s AA journey. As a fellowship of people committed to helping each other recover from alcoholism, Alcoholics Anonymous’ aim is to offer support to those who suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD). In this case, “those” people include everyday people you live, work, and play with – including me. Together, we can support one another as we work toward sobriety and live healthy, fulfilling lives free from dependence on alcohol.

I’ve found that each of the AA traditions and principles has impacted my life and my journey toward becoming an advocate for the recovery community in a separate way. One of the most important, however, has been the principle of service. While you can find service to others in many forms throughout AA, it’s most prevalent in the 12th step.

AA Principles

First, if the prospect of 12 steps sounds like a lot to you, consider an important and encouraging principle of AA, which tells us to take one day at a time. Then, apply this concept to the steps, and thus, focus on one step at a time. It’s also important to remember that everyone completes steps in their own time frame, and that’s okay. Throughout your journey of recovery and as you attend meetings, the principles of AA will become a part of your way of life. This is, essentially, recovery itself.

One especially important life lesson we learn in AA is heavily woven into the steps and traditions that we follow, and that is to give back. Take a look at how the concept of giving back appears again and again.

AA’s “Tradition One” explains the importance of the group in the successful institution of AA. We learn here that when someone reaches the 12th step, they discover what a true gift they’ve received.

However, it’s not “a priceless gift” unless we give it away – neither we nor anyone else can survive unless we carry the AA message to others. Carrying the message back to our fellow AA members and the world in general means they can then receive it and also give it to someone else in need. It’s in this perpetual exchange of support that both the giver and the recipient evolve, and more people in need can learn about how AA can help them.

Similarly, “Tradition Two” implies that we must pass on to others what is so freely given to us. Later, “Tradition 8” states, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” As you can see, giving back is one of the most important components of the AA walk for each one of us. Just as importantly, giving back is what helps keep AA functioning for those of us who need it so much.

Suggested Reading: Reasons to Keep Going to AA

The Importance of the 12th Step and Giving Back

Let’s say, like me, you’ve been diligent about your step work and have found a new life of sobriety in AA. You’ve completed Step 11 (re-devoting yourself to what you perceive as your Higher Power) and feel pretty darn good. While it’s in our nature – both as humans and especially as alcoholics – to take the win and stop there, there are 12 steps for a reason. If the 12th step weren’t important, it would be an 11-step program that ended with AA group members going their separate ways – facing sobriety or the steps alone.

That’s why it’s so important to share your story with others experiencing similar situations in their recovery. This can serve to encourage others to address their own struggles and help you continue to navigate on your own. By sharing our own experiences and efforts with others struggling with alcohol, we also share our hope and strength. By sponsoring others in the program, speaking at events, volunteering at meetings, and simply being present to listen to their struggles, we’re helping them build their own toolkits while replenishing ours.

One day

The concept of giving back via the 12th step doesn’t end at meetings. When we carry it through to every aspect of our lives, giving back becomes a habit that we can keep with us for our lifetime. By continuing to give back in many ways, we stay connected to the community – both the sober community and our geographical community – and it’s possible to continue to learn and grow from others’ experiences and successes in recovery.

Giving instills purpose and meaning for our own lives and sobriety. This can be significant, as many of us in recovery may feel we’ve lost our way after experiencing a loss of purpose or direction due to alcoholism. Fortunately, we can begin to cultivate our own fulfillment, meaning, and purpose as we cultivate hope within others.

Three Components of Giving Back in AA

There are three main components to giving back within the AA doctrines, but it’s important to discuss first just how simple it can be to give to others. Giving back is something that lies within us all, even if it isn’t our first instinct – eventually, we realize we have an innate drive to help others, which I believe we have because it fulfills things within us that we don’t even realize we need. In the giving of ourselves to others, we are filling our own cup, and the giving becomes contagious.

Generosity in Addiction Recovery

As a group of individuals recovering from alcohol use disorder, AA thrives on those individuals coming together in support of one another, and in turn, in support of themselves.

If you showed up for a meeting and no one was there to support you, it probably wouldn’t be an effective tool for your sobriety. While self-reflection is an essential thing, it fulfills a different purpose within AA. Speaking in an empty room is nothing like participating in a meeting full of supportive people who share your experiences and relate to what you’re going through. If it happened repeatedly, you’d likely stop coming – and that’s the antithesis of what AA is all about. I don’t want you to stop coming; I want you to keep coming back.

While the nature of alcoholism means we all have a need for support, some of us are further along in our journeys and are better equipped to support others. We’ve been through the steps and know what you’re going through. We have felt your pain, and we show up for you because someone once showed up for us.

Giving back in terms of sobriety support is a core component of AA and absolutely essential to the successful recovery of both the giver and the recipient. It’s a deep-seated belief within AA that helping those around us is the best way to stay sober. To me, this is a fresh and beautiful reminder of where we came from, just how far we’ve actually grown, as well as what a crucial role others played in us getting to the other side of alcohol use.

This concept of mutual help drives the positive feedback loop that works so well within the program. AA teaches us that by continuing to help each other with recovery, we become more vested in their success and motivated to offer our support to others. Not only do miraculous things occur within us, but our actions motivate the people we help so they can then help someone else. It’s a perpetuating cycle that compounds positivity and hope for all of us. It’s truly a remarkable experience.

Service in Addiction Recovery

Volunteering in AA

The second part of AA’s 12-step model for “giving back” is service.

This typically refers to service opportunities within AA, such as volunteering to greet and welcome newcomers at a meeting. These types of service acts help establish relationships and grow the group by nurturing the sense of community and support that our program thrives on.
For those who remain uncertain regarding how their experiences with recovery can help others, service is an important way to answer that critical question: “Why is giving back important in recovery?”

When we give back during an AA meeting in any way, we’re promoting our own long-term sobriety, as well as the sobriety of others. It’s hard to know just how far-reaching the scope of each one of our gifts of service can potentially be, but I can assure you that a simple handshake and a kind word can do much more than you’d think.

Serving others by doing what you can to make your local meeting function as it should is another act of service that is much more impactful than you realize. In fact, service of all varieties is an essential part of AA’s successful model as a whole. That, in turn, translates to personal success in recovery for me, you, and those who join us on this new path.

Exercising Gratitude and Humility in Giving Back

The third critical component of giving back is practicing gratitude and humility while you give.

We must always remember that the grace of your Higher Power is responsible for each one of our successes in sobriety. The belief that the world consists of more than just us and our struggles means we can’t take all the credit when things go well. When I maintain this level of appreciation for my progress, I can focus on continuing my personal growth and serving others who are struggling with similar issues my Higher Power has brought me through thus far.

While belief in a Higher Power is only one aspect of humility, it’s an important way to look at how we conduct ourselves in AA when we give back. Humility is defined as possessing a modest view of our own importance, and it frees us from pride and the belief that we are better than anyone else. It also includes a willingness to see ourselves as we really are, both the good and the bad. When we give our authentic selves to others, we become better in reality.

As we anticipate giving back to others, it is important to remain humble. Give freely of yourself without expecting anything in return but be grateful for the benefits doing so has provided you.

The Power of Giving Back in AA

Giving back in AA

The benefits of giving back via AA are many, but the most crucial can be summed up as follows:

Giving Back Shares Hope

Each one of us has experienced the feeling of hopelessness, especially within the thralls of alcohol. As the light of recovery begins to shine new hope into our perspective, it’s this hope that leads the way to sobriety. The good news about hope is that it’s contagious. When you share your hope with others, it manifests in them and grows exponentially.

When we share our optimism and better days with others, we remind them that there are better days ahead for them too. By sharing our experiences at 12-step meetings, volunteering at meetings to help with setup or cleanup, actively attending sober events, and reaching out to newcomers, we not only give others the gift of our hope, but we also build on our own positive perspective of a life of sobriety.

Giving Back Helps You Stay Connected to Sobriety

Isolation increases the risk of relapse, even in those whose sobriety is longstanding. However, if we consistently maintain our commitment to service and continue to give back, we can stay connected to the community that was and always will be essential to our recovery. By volunteering and staying active in local meetings, we’re not only supporting others’ sobriety but also safeguarding our own.

We Can Let Go of What No Longer Serves Us

We all have baggage we carry around, especially in recovery. For some of us in recovery, that baggage can weigh heavy. By giving back, you’re replacing negative feelings with positive ones. When you help lead newcomers to find their own path to recovery, it’s a freeing and humbling feeling you can use to replace those activities and thought processes that are no longer serving you.

The “Final” Step Is a Misnomer

AA stresses the principles of generosity, such as service, mutual aid, and giving back with humility. In fact, the program would be incomplete without them. For those of us who have a powerful desire to overcome alcoholism, AA provides the opportunity to experience true, genuine healing by focusing on supporting the successes of others just as much as we do our own.

The goal of everyone in AA is to reach the 12th step, but it’s important to know that there’s really no such thing as “completing” the 12th step and no longer being an alcoholic. Instead, we remain in the 12th step indefinitely, as we lend a hand to others who join us and those who are on their way. Recovery is an ongoing journey, and the truth is that we all work the steps as our personal recovery path demands. We need to live the steps every day…..

Suggested Reading: Taking It One Day at a Time

Beginning Your Recovery Journey

Recovery Journey

If you’re ready to take the first step towards experiencing freedom from alcohol dependence, you’ve come to the best place. With a little help from your friends at AA, you can achieve sobriety and remain there as you begin to serve others. One of the most important truths of AA is when you’re in AA, you’re never alone.

For more information on how I can help you or your loved one with addiction support and recovery placement services, contact me and let’s talk about the journey.

I’m here for you.

Stay strong,



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James Haggerty

A Time to Heal: Family Interventions offers personalized SUD Interventions, Addiction Recovery Planning, Case Management, Sober Companionship and Family Support. Call 310-450-6627 to connect with us.

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