Embracing the Power of Service Work: A Journey of Recovery and Giving Back

by Mandy Nunes, Assistant Director

July 4, 2023

Service work and volunteering hold a profound place in the hearts of individuals in substance use and mental health recovery. As someone who has embarked on a personal journey of recovery for the past 7.5 years, I have come to appreciate the transformative power of giving back. Though many people in substance use recovery will see service work and volunteering through the lens of 12-step programs, there is purpose and value in volunteering outside of the 12-step communities too, especially for those on a different recovery pathway.

  1. Finding Purpose and Meaning:

When we are trapped in the depths of addiction or struggling with mental health challenges, it is common to feel lost and disconnected. Engaging in service work or volunteering provides a sense of purpose and meaning that transcends our personal struggles. Through helping others, we discover that our experiences, strengths, and vulnerabilities can be utilized to make a positive impact in someone else's life.

  1. Building a Supportive Community:

One of the key aspects of recovery is the need for a supportive network. Service work and volunteering offer an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who understand the challenges of addiction and mental health. It creates a sense of belonging and cultivates relationships built on empathy, compassion, and shared experiences. Being surrounded by individuals who are committed to helping others reinforces our own recovery journey and provides an invaluable support system.

  1. Enhancing Self-Esteem and Self-Worth:

Recovery often involves rebuilding our shattered sense of self. Engaging in service work allows us to witness our own capacity for making a difference. As we see the positive impact of our actions, our self-esteem and self-worth grow. Volunteering helps us recognize our inherent value and the potential we hold to contribute meaningfully to society. It reminds us that we are not defined by our past but by the choices we make in the present.

  1. Developing New Skills and Abilities:

Service work presents a unique opportunity for personal growth. As we volunteer, we acquire new skills and refine existing ones. Whether it's developing effective communication, problem-solving, or leadership skills, each experience offers a chance to learn and grow. These skills not only enhance our ability to serve others but also become valuable assets in our personal and professional lives.

  1. Gaining Perspective and Gratitude:

Engaging in service work allows us to step outside of our own challenges and gain perspective. Witnessing the struggles and triumphs of others reminds us of the progress we have made in our own recovery. It instills gratitude for the opportunities and support we have received along the way. Service work acts as a humbling reminder that we are not alone in our journey and that our experiences can be a source of inspiration and hope for others.

  1. Breaking the Cycle of Stigma:

Substance use and mental health conditions are often stigmatized, leading to isolation and shame. Through service work, we become advocates for change, breaking the cycle of stigma by openly sharing our stories and educating others. By challenging stereotypes and promoting understanding, we contribute to a more compassionate and inclusive society.

  1. Sustaining Long-Term Recovery:

Service work and volunteering may not be just a temporary commitment; it can become a lifelong practice. By continuously engaging in acts of service and volunteering, we reinforce the values and principles that underpin our recovery. It provides a sense of accountability and reminds us of the importance of giving back even as we maintain our own wellness.

Recovery happens via many pathways; no 2 journeys are exactly alike. Service work and volunteering may also vary. Here are some ways one can volunteer:Volunteers handing out water

  • Chairing a 12-step meeting
  • Being on a board or committee
  • Volunteer peer coaching work for an agency
  • Joining an advocacy group
  • Donating your time to help at a church function
  • Helping a friend in recovery move
  • Joining a consumer advisory council
  • Volunteer mentoring
  • Sharing your recovery story on a podcast or at an event
  • Volunteering for the Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations
  • Being a volunteer firefighter or EMT
  • Babysitting for a friend so she can have some time for self-care
  • Volunteering at an animal shelter.

Service work and volunteering hold immeasurable value for individuals in substance use and mental health recovery while also making a difference in the lives of others and our communities. Giving back has enriched my life as a woman in long-term recovery, and I hope you each find your own rewarding way to be of service.


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