Recovering from an addiction is a long and ongoing process that is often personal and different for each recovering addict. While this is true, many people benefit from the same activities, and you may be considering, or even be encouraged, to participate in volunteer programs during your recovery.
While it may seem strange to volunteer time to help other people when you still desperately need help yourself, volunteering can be an excellent way to get back on your feet and to begin to focus on life instead of on yourself. While the circumstances of your recovery will change depending on you, there are numerous reasons to volunteer that will benefit you no matter your situation.
1. Giving Back – Addicts are often plagued with guilt and shame over their actions, and while this may or may not apply to you, it is common. Society creates pictures of addicts that are inherently unpleasant, and while no one plans to become an addict, addicts are often judged and avoided. This kind of negative mental stigma can be difficult to avoid, especially as you recover and are forced to face bad decisions, people you have hurt, or legal repercussions. Volunteering and giving back to the community can help you to move past these emotions because you are actively doing something to give back, are bettering yourself as a person, and are helping others. Even if you don’t feel that you need to give back in your own eyes, volunteering can also show your friends and family that you are actively trying, which can benefit your personal relationships as well.
2. Fill Your Time – As a recovering addict, you are unlikely to immediately be welcomed with open arms into your friend’s and family’s lives, and this is often for the best. You must develop yourself as a person, because substances inherently change how you cope, and you must learn how to do so on your own without drugs or alcohol. Volunteering gives you a diverse medium in which to do so, while preventing loneliness and boredom. Because both loneliness and boredom can and do trigger relapse, volunteering can serve the dual purpose of helping you to avoid triggers while giving you something constructive and beneficial to do.
3. Meet New People – Volunteering allows you to meet diverse people from all walks of life, and many of them will make great friends. In addition to allowing you to meet new people and get away from the routines that previously dragged you down into addiction, meeting new people will allow you to meet people who will not remind you of your substance use, or tempt you into going back to it. Making new friends, in diverse circles, is also an excellent way to network, which can help you to expand your horizons, job opportunities, and your life.
4. Going Back to Work – Transitioning between an addiction and a full-time job can be difficult, especially if you have been employed for some time. While this does not apply to high-functioning addicts, it is something to consider. Most volunteer jobs let you to work anywhere from a few hours per week to full time, allowing you to choose how much time to invest. This helps you to become accustomed to the responsibility of showing up on time and will help you to mentally acclimate yourself to working again. Volunteering will also allow you to boost your resume by showing accomplishments and philanthropy, which can make it easier for you to re-enter the job market.
5. Personal Growth – Volunteering can help you to develop mental and job skills that you can use for personal growth, career advancement, and to improve your mental condition. For example, volunteering in your field and learning new skills can greatly benefit your re-entry into your career field, but volunteering around animals or volunteering building houses can help you to learn mental skills like patience, can help you to destress, and can help you to learn to ask for help. Choosing where you want to volunteer is important, because it will affect what you get out of the experience, but you will get something from it no matter where you end up.
6. It Feels Good to Give – Studies show that people who volunteer are happier, less stressed, and more likely to be relaxed. In one study, the more adults volunteered, the more likely they were to rate themselves as ‘very happy’. Helping others sends a rush of dopamine to the brain, which actively makes you feel good, makes you happy, and can even give you more energy. This in turn will help you to reduce cravings and triggers, so that you are more likely to stay clean.
While it can be tempting to volunteer to work with recovering addicts, this can be dangerous for you and for them. If you experience cravings, the presence of another addict can exacerbate the situation and you may relapse. Instead, you should look for drug free environments such as pet shelters, national parks, food pantries, local libraries, Habitat for Humanity, museums, or use a website like VolunteerMatch.org to find a suitable place to volunteer.
Good luck with your recovery.