You can only keep what you have by giving it away: an essay

What does this mean to my sobriety? When I sobered up, I was able to see that service work to others was paramount to my survival. I was able to become employed again, and went into a service industry which involved the direct care of the elderly. It was a major part of my life for several years.

I had been forced, (if I wanted to become a productive member of society) to get a job. The job I chose was in helping others. Yet in AA I was told that this was not enough. Even though the care of the elderly, some of whom were alcoholics, was my primary focus, the AA members in my home group told me that that specific service was not enough to keep me sober.  I had no choice. I needed to put food on my table, and I wasn’t living in a town with many job opportunities. Yet, I was so new to recovery, that sponsoring was out of the question.

So, I studied the books, I worked the steps, and volunteered. I chaired meetings, cleaned the clubhouse, and helped the group out any way I could. I went and did jail meetings, and eventually spoke at treatment centers. 

Over time, I became a sponsor, and started watching on a personal level the people I sponsored end up in jail, mental health wards, and dead. I learned quickly how evil this disease is, and how close I came to dying over and over again before recovery.

I learned that it is our own minds that want us to be sick and dying. It is a disease that is more powerful than anything but God. I kept trying, and kept living. I studied the books, and I worked the program.

Eventually, my body gave out, and I became disabled. How could I do service work with either a cane, walker, or wheel chair?

I learned how. 

I started a podcast, and talked recovery. (It’s long gone now..) I started a few blogs, and eventually pulled them down. (One of my sponsors told me that it was against AA’s traditions.   They were wrong.) Then, I really studied the books, and worked the first 11 steps of recovery with all my heart and soul. I eventually hit a sober bottom. I still attended AA, and I still worked with my sponsors. I wrote, and kept writing, until I came up with an answer that works in my life.

I still volunteer at meetings. 

Sometimes it is as simple as pouring coffee for others when I go and get a cup of my own. Sometimes, it is sharing my experience, strength and hope with another alcoholic. I give hugs freely and often. Once a month, I go to a treatment center and speak there.  However, it goes deeper than that.

It goes into some of the words from the Big Book. Bill wrote in his story on page 15, ” Many times I have gone to my old hospital in despair.  On talking to a man ther, I would be amazingly lifted up and set on my feet.”  The book goes on and on in page after page talking about selfishness and getting out of self. It’s when the following questions from page 86 of the Big Book was added to my own homework, that I finally began to understand… “Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life?”


I had read those words hundreds of times, but they had never hit home. The original manuscript of the Big Book has step 12 written a bit differently. “Having had a spiritual experience as the result of this course of action, we tried to carry this message to others, especially alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” 

This tells me that I can do service work both in AA and at home. That caring for my elderly father, keeping track of what his needs are, can be enough for my recovery today. I also do service for the fellowship, and for other alcoholics, but I am not exclusive to those efforts alone. I can live and be sober, and content in my recovery, from my chair, whether it is in meetings or out of meetings. Since, according to the adage, “I can only keep what I have, only by giving it away,” I must help others, I am at peace with starting with my own home. I put my Dad’s needs, and other’s needs before my own selfish ends.

That is the crux of it. 

This is all I have for now, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at 


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