By Cleveland Bell, Riverside House CEO
When I received my 49th medallion for recovery earlier this year, I was asked a question I hear often. “How did you do it?” There are many layers to this answer, but we’ve talked about two important elements: attending regular meetings and really working through the fourth step.
A theme that comes up in both of those points is worth pulling out on its own, which is that it is very important to help others. Helping others has enabled me to realize that the decision I made 49 years ago was the right decision. In working with others and helping them, I get to see new life. Words of faith and encouragement begin to take on life, and I get to see them in the flesh.
Sponsoring others going through recovery is a big way I have been able to help many others. I always like to work with people who want to really dig in, especially on that fourth step as I mentioned in the previous post. I don’t like doing surface work, and I don’t like speeding through it. As a sponsor, I help people really do the work they need to do in order to understand their issues and gain a complete recovery. Honestly, my involvement as a sponsor hasn’t been as great in recent years. Some of my guys are doing extremely well with 10 or 15 years of recovery and successful careers.
I have had the opportunity to help people in other capacities as well, but it often goes back to my involvement in meetings. We have a young guy in our group named Mike. He does an excellent job as a sponsor. People love working with him on a one-on-one basis. However, when it comes to group leadership meetings we attend regularly for planning, etc., he was completely opposite. He was controlling, didn’t know how to listen, and was quick to get upset and walk away. Recently, I decided to pull him aside to encourage him and praise him about what a good sponsor he is. But I told him that there were others in our leadership group who found him hard to work with. We sat down and talked. I was prepared with several Bible verses, and we met on a weekly basis for a while.
The key here is that we all have different gifts. No one gift is more important than others, but we can’t be gifted in every area. Mike wanted to be good as a sponsor and in group leadership. But he was not gifted in group dynamics – he was not willing to feel uncomfortable, to trust others, to listen, or learn new skills.
I know that one of my gifts is being a good listener. Whether I’m one-on-one with someone, in group meetings, in a church group, or governing body in Washington D.C., God uses me to listen. That means I don’t always say a lot until the right time presents itself based on what I’ve heard.
But Mike had to learn where he was gifted and use that gift to help others. Maybe he will never do well in a group setting, and that’s okay, but I will continue working with him so that he at least gains some crucial skills he does not currently have.
There’s a saying in the meetings that in order to keep what you’ve got, you have to give it away. As you give it away, it reaffirms that the life that you have accepted is right. You’re on the right road. After 49 years, I know I am on the right road, and my life is so much better than it was. I was always supposed to follow Christ, beat my addiction, and turn my life around. I feel like I am finally living the life God intended for me from the beginning. By sharing these important factors in how I did it, I hope I will be able to help others as well.