Helping Others

The advantage of booking a staycation in a hotel that is only a twenty-minute drive away is that, should the kids misbehave during the build-up and packing, it is a perfectly viable option to leave them behind with the grandparents, while my wife and I carry on with the holiday.

No flights to catch, no buses or ferries to rush for. No non-refundable travel costs which we would loath to waste. In fact, if they whine too much on the trip, we could send them home midway on the staycation. It’s a straight bus home and the older one could certainly make the trip safely.

The reason for this set-up is that my kids were in fact doing the typical entitled, excited, pre-holiday routine which simply does my head in. Whilst I was making threatening noises about cancelling the whole thing when I got frustrated, my wife actually (quite sweetly) pointed out the above scenarios to my children.

And they are old enough to understand this scenario is not only a threat that is very possible, it is actually preferable for my wife and me.

As such, they have since toned down their selfish demands and annoying noises to my relief.

One more thing though, along the way, there was a marked change in my daughter. I’m not sure if my wife put her up to it, or she came up with it herself, but over the last day, she’s been an absolute angel. Going around the house asking if anyone needed help with whatever they were doing. Chores, cooking, tidying up. And actually staying around to help.

And she’s happier.

Not just happier, but happy too. She’s been humming to herself as she does chores, buzzing around like a butterfly, and practically skipping to her next job. At seven, she is not quite as innocent as she was at a younger age, but she certainly hasn’t developed a knack for sarcastic and emotionally blackmailing passive-aggressive behaviour (as I have). So it seems genuine.

It’s like watching a Jekyll and Hyde movie live.

If she wants something for herself, she will be sulky, entitled, resentful even if she gets what she wants.

When she is looking to help others, even if my wife put her up to it initially, on the threat of being left behind for the staycation, she is genuinely happy, generous, and content.

The difference is stark, consistent and more or less immediate.

In Twelve Step lore, this is not an unknown idea. In fact, “Service” is one of the three pillars of AA. Up there with “Recovery” and “Unity”.

When I first started recovery, my sponsor told me to call two addicts a day. Particularly if I was struggling with staying sober.

Not to unload my feelings, or share my struggles, but to see how they were doing. It didn’t matter if I didn’t particularly want to, or that I was being insincere. Just like the praying bit, I didn’t have to feel it, I just had to do it. He made it clear this “doing service”, contrived as it seemed, was not an optional extra in recovery.

And, like my daughter when she’s thinking of how she can help someone else, I am happier when I do so. Even if I didn’t mean it when I first made the call.

I’ve lost count of how many times when I was struggling in my own addiction, I grudgingly called someone, dutifully asked how they were doing, got a long sob story about how bad things were for them, (with no reciprocation,) finished the call and felt so normal I couldn’t even remember what I was struggling with.

I later read this on Page 89 of the AA Big Book: “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.”

Not just a nice thing to do then, but the ultimate tool to staying sober.

Since then, after initially forcing myself to make those calls, I’ve learned to look forward to them. Not because I can help others (though I’d like to think I do sometimes) but because it helps me.

Nothing like self-interest to sustain motivation for doing a good thing.

And it takes nothing more than to try, just for a few moments, to think of someone else’s welfare, to secure my own.

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