When we first leave treatment, it’s usually all we can do to keep our heads above water. There is a variety of new challenges we have to face and, despite all of the behavioral guidance we received in our programs, the transition back to everyday life can be jarring. It can take all of our energy to establish and maintain our everyday routines, which doesn’t leave much room for helping anyone else. It’s not that we don’t want to help anyone, it’s just that we might not be capable of managing anything more than our own struggles and issues at first.
Then something happens: we get stronger and more empowered in our recovery. As this happens, our capacity to help others grows and we actually begin to thrive on how good helping others makes us feel. There truly is no such thing as a selfless act. When we’re able to help others in a meaningful way, whether it’s a simple ride somewhere or something a little more involved, our brain chemistry often rewards us with feelings of accomplishment and worth, which significantly aid in the continued development of our self-confidence. Think of that feeling you get when you buy someone the perfect Christmas gift and then multiply by that by a factor of about ten.
While our ability to help others is always building, there are still limits of which we must continue to be mindful. Stretching ourselves too thin detracts from the time and attention we’re giving ourselves and we still need a tremendous amount of self-love if we’re to stay on track in our recovery. As much as we might want to help everyone who asks, we have to be realistic with ourselves in assessing our capacity to give. Those closest to us will understand why we can’t drop everything at a moment’s notice, or that sometimes we just need to deal with what we’ve got going on, and don’t have room for anything else.
In an age that can sometimes be characterized by widespread, unapologetic selfishness, there is fair bit of wisdom in the idea that it’s better to give more than we get in all areas of life. This is not a trite sentiment forever relegated to the back of a hallmark card. It’s a reminder that there is often nothing quite like the satisfaction of knowing that we’ve helped someone. Helping others has real, tangible long-term effects on our self-esteem and can drastically improve our lives. However, we should until we’re comfortable with ourselves before reach out a hand and offer to help.