Fear and Twelve Step Service
By Karen G.
Have you ever been asked to do service work and had this fear in the pit of your stomach? Afraid you might not do it "right?" I remember the first time I chaired a meeting, I was terrified I wouldn't do it "right." I had the directions, but was afraid I might leave something out or not do it in the "right" order or some other faux pas. I did it anyway. Each time I chaired, the fear subsided, the desire for perfection subsided, and change within me slowly occurred.
The first CoDA convention I went to was in Estes Park, Colorado, I was really excited and looking forward to it. I had moved from Louisiana to Texas about seven months before that, and there was no meeting in my new city. I felt isolated and alone. I missed my CoDA group. When I got to the convention, I saw all of these people so excited to see each other and hugging and laughing and talking. I didn't know anyone. No one from Louisiana had come. No one was hugging me and happy to see me. Did that bring up some childhood issues? You bet. I experienced some great sharing and attended some wonderful workshops. I also experienced some very painful emotions for some of that weekend-especially at the sharing at the end. I felt so "outside." Did I share this with anyone there?--no. I was too afraid to show my hurt and be vulnerable. Out of that pain came growth. I had joined an e-mail sharing group with CoDA before the convention and I got to meet people from the group. Once I was home and not in the middle of my feelings, I was able to share about my pain with them and acknowledge it. I grew. I made some connections with some of the Texas members and I learned about the Texas State Assembly. I met people that I still am in contact with today.
The first time I went to the Texas State Assembly in Houston, I was very nervous. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know if I would have a good time or not. I could have stayed home and stayed the same. Instead, I decided to stretch a bit and go outside of my comfort zone. I'm really glad I did as it has led to many wonderful experiences and friendships. Each new experience brings some fear to me--fear of change and fear of failure. The fear is about me. Will I be able to adapt? To cope? To accept the change? Will I like the change? And with change, come opportunities as well.
The first time I was asked to chair a National Committee, I felt some of that same fear I felt when I chaired a meeting for the first time. What if I did it "wrong?" What if I totally messed up and failed? For some reason that I still don't understand completely today, I agreed to do it. I hadn't been a part of the committee for very long and I really didn't know how things worked, I didn't have the connections of the previous chair so there were parts of it that first year that were pretty frustrating. When it came time to go to Conference, I didn't want to go. I was a "failure." I hadn't accomplished any where near what my predecessor had accomplished. They were going to be disappointed in me. Why go only to be rejected? I finally decided going was the right thing to do, and that I didn't know what was going to happen. I had fear about what would happen but I was also projecting big time. To my amazement, people clapped when I finished my report. They were happy I was there. Not one person told me what a horrible job I did. My experience at the Conference was nothing like what I had expected. I had been seeing myself through my childhood filters, and I realized I had way more expectations and negative feelings for myself than anyone else did.
It's really easy for me to isolate and withdraw. That's part of my old coping mechanisms. I realized at the last Texas CoDA retreat, I have a real fear of people getting to know me because I feel vulnerable, and the messages I got as a child were that vulnerability was dangerous. I also realized that the danger wasn't my imagination--it was dangerous to be vulnerable as there was a good chance that people in my immediate and extended family would attack me, and I didn't have the skills to protect myself. I took all the emotions they dumped and absorbed them as truth. I feel sad at that thought today. I spent a lot of my life in fear of people getting to know me and hiding who I was. CoDA and therapy have made me aware of these things over time. Service work has given me opportunities to practice new healthier behaviors in a safe environment that doesn't affect my livelihood or relationships. Through these opportunities, I have grown. I haven't always done it perfectly and I didn't need to do it perfectly. I just needed to do something different. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Getting out and interacting with people I didn't know very well stretched me. I also had some great benefits.
It was a bit tricky to some extent. I had to get some healing before I was in a place to do service work and yet, doing service work took me outside of myself, brought me in contact with healthier people, and gave me opportunities to learn and practice new behaviors, including setting boundaries for myself, learning to speak with honesty and diplomacy, gaining greater understanding of the negative filters I saw myself through, and feeling a part of something bigger than myself. All of this awareness and lessons would have taken me much longer, if ever, to learn if I only attended meetings. I know it can be hard to find the time to do service work. I also know that I have gained so much more than I ever would have imagined. I use the skills I've gained from this work in my everyday life. I've made friends around the country and even in other countries. If I had let my fears keep me from accepting the opportunities Higher Power brought my way, life would not be as full as it is today.
Service work is the life blood of a Twelve Step Program. It is also, in my opinion, the life blood of personal recovery. If Higher Power draws you to do service work or Higher Power speaks through someone else and an opportunity to do service work (as small as chairing a meeting, attending the State Assembly as your group representative, or as big as being a delegate at the National Service Conference) is brought to you, please remember, growth is in steps. Some codependents come in to this program not able to say "no." Learning to say no, there is a tendency to say no to everything early on. The ability to evaluate available time, set boundaries, make and keep a commitment in a healthy way, ask for help if it's needed, among other things--all of these things are good recovery skills as well as valuable life lessons. Asked to do service work? Feel some fear? Take baby steps, feel the fear, muddle through, and grow. Higher Power is with you all the way.