Change and candy canes.



“It works if you work it.”

I quoted this Alcoholics Anonymous slogan in an earlier post, and noted that I had so far found it holding true in my case. AA is a program of action. Taking part in the program doesn’t mean I can just sit on my butt, wishing for sobriety to be gloriously bestowed upon me. Well, I could, but it ain’t gonna happen that way.

Nope. I have to do a few things. And not just once, but over and over again.

I have to go to AA meetings. I have to follow the steps. I have to be willing to reach out to other suffering alcoholics. When I write it, this sounds like more trouble than it actually is. It’s really quite a simple program, and I’ve found it to work pretty well so far.

And lately, it’s gotten me thinking about our country — which, it seems to me, is embarking on a recovery program of her own. Having lost her way, having been led astray from moderation and tempted into excess, America’s now sobering up.

We’ve taken the first step toward real change and elected a promising new President. But it doesn’t stop there. We can’t just sit on our sofas waiting for that change to happen. We have to participate. Take action. Work it.

We had an opportunity to do just this on Monday. President-elect Obama called our country to service, asking each of us to take part in a National Day of Service, inspired by and established in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

So yesterday, my young daughters and I spent 4 hours volunteering at our local food bank. We checked expiration dates on cans of baby food and formula, sorted through racks of chips and bread, and packed candy canes into 20-pound boxes.

I’ve been taking my girls to volunteer at the food bank one Saturday a month since October, when I was inspired by the grass-roots activism of Obama supporters. So many people believing in a cause, and working to make change happen. I, too, wanted to practice what I was preaching. So we began doing what we could to help our community — helping to make it a bit better, and maybe to inspire others by our example.

I felt so incredibly good each time we were done, and I could tell my girls felt the same by the way they skipped out to our car in the parking lot after each session, giggling and eagerly asking when we’d be coming back.

It’s pretty amazing what just a little bit of service can do. Not only is there the fact that you’re contributing to the greater good, the act itself takes you away from your self-seeking, helping you stop obsessing over your own troubles and thinking instead about others. No wonder one of the tenets of the AA program is to help other alcoholics.

Not long ago, I would have thought myself incapable of helping anyone, let alone an alcoholic in the same wobbly boat as me. And yet I’ve had many opportunities to do so, in the short 90-odd days I’ve been in the AA program. I’ve been able to encourage a fellow newbie (with about 2 fewer weeks of sobriety under her belt) and show her how to find meetings online. I’ve also heard from my sponsor how much a particular coffee meeting that I requested actually helped her, following the recent death of her close friend. Go figure.

I guess this post is just my long-winded way of saying that yes, change can happen. It’s already happening. And while I’m not sure if the metaphor of a country in recovery works for everyone, it does for me. I’ve been able to change with the help of AA, but also through my own efforts. I go to meetings, I read the literature, work with my sponsor.

Likewise, I think our country can get better – with our collective efforts.  Showing up to vote, getting involved in community groups, writing to your Senator in support of a cause, volunteering an hour or two a month, packing candy canes into boxes at a food bank – every bit helps. Because anything worth having — whether that’s a healthy and happy life, or a hopeful, more harmonious country — takes some work.

And I have come to believe that it really does work, if you work it.

ADDENDUM – 1.22.08: How about a cuppa joe with those candy canes? I just learned about Starbucks’ “I’m In” campaign, encouraging folks to vow to volunteer 5 hours of community service by the end of the year. Pledge by this Sunday, and you get a free cup of coffee. Don’t know about you, but I’m in…

4 Responses to “Change and candy canes.”

  1. applause for you

  2. C…

    Glad to hear the inclusion of “…if you WORK it”. This is such a valuable point.

    I have some concerns that the enthusiasm over President Obama overshadowing the need for people to actually follow through and DO. Time will tell what actually unfolds.

    It is simply my observation of human nature that we tend to ramp up excitement at the new opportunity then fizzle. Call it the “New Kid in Town Prinicple”. As the Eagles song of the same title states, “They will never forget you til somebody new comes along”.

    I hope that this new president and new administration will not be treated like a Christmas toy that while exctatically received, is taken for granted a few days later.

    Or the newcomer to AA or NA who has a deathbed conversion but doesnt do the work. Doesnt go to meetings, doesnt get a sponsor, etc.

    So my long winded way of saying I concur.



  3. 3 journeytoabetterlife

    I clicked on “random blog” and found yours. Thanks for the inspirational story. I am planning on contacting the local food bank for some info on volunteer opportunities. Best of luck to you. I hope I can be as successful in overcoming my problems as you are.

  4. 4 C

    Thanks for your message. I hope you do make time to volunteer – even if only for an hour or two – because I think it really can make a difference. As for overcoming problems, well, it’s a work in progress. A few steps forward, and sometimes a step back, but always trying to change for the better. Good luck to you, too.

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