I believe that there is little that is more damaging or inhibiting to recovery than idleness. Amongst those whom I have sponsored over the years, I have never seen someone who is deliberately idle get well. Plagued with obsessions and other 'addictions', they lurch from crisis to crisis in a defended state: unhelpable. I had two periods of not working, the first around one year of sobriety, in between college and a job, and the second after a breakdown at around ten years. In both cases, I did actually occupy myself somewhat, particularly the second time, with some constructive activities. But in both cases my life became about me, and time moved differently for me than for those around me. I became intensely self-absorbed, and I felt sickened from the inside. I was prey, in both cases, to all sorts of delusions I found it difficult to shake.
The solution in both cases was reengaging in constructive activity, in both cases with a job.
Not everyone can get a job. But volunteer work, studying, training, and the 'prodigies of service' described in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are always options. I have a sister with a mental age of six who also has various physical and mental problems, and she volunteers at a local charity shop every week. Active engagement is available to anyone in our society.
The Book Alcoholics Anonymous encourages us to seek a vision of God's will for us (page 85) and a sane and sound ideal for our conduct (pages 69 to 70). To act my part in Step Three, I need to be engaged and productive. That connects me, makes me part of the wheel of life, and gives me dignity. I am then giving as much as I am receiving (see page 128).
So that the work remains God's not mine, I leave the long-term and short-term plans to God, and ask for guidance; I am to take the action and leave God to take care of the results; it is easy to become identified with the work (or study), and, according to Tradition Six, this is disastrous—I must identify myself only as a child of God and leave the actions I take as just that—the actions I take ... I do not become them; I must avoid thinking about outcome, output, productivity, efficiency, money, etc. any more than necessary to actually conduct my business—these are firmly in God's hands.
There is a bigger question, however, which arises often a little later in sobriety.
I have experienced (and seen in many others) the deleterious effects of being in a job or career that does not fulfil my potential and/or benefit the world maximally (see the concept of 'maximum service' on page 77).
Whilst I have been on a path towards maximising my usefulness and fulfilling my potential (or, rather, the potential God has placed within me: that, after all, is the point, here), I have felt happy and calm performing work that, itself, does not fulfil these criteria. The damage has flowed instead from remaining deliberately stuck on a path that is going nowhere out of fear, pride, greed, vanity, or stubbornness. Given how many hours a week are taken up by work, the effects of such a position cannot be ring-fenced and spread to all other areas.
Instead, my mission must lie at the intersection between what I have to offer and what the world needs. That is the vision of God's will for me.
I have then needed to ask people who do have successful careers how they acquired them. In my case, I have had to this twice. All sorts of books, advisors, careers libraries and services, etc. plus other local public and private resources are available to help people start at the top and work down, by first examining what careers are available throughout society in general, following up instinctive tugs towards particular fields, hunches, and tip-offs or connections, and then examining what concrete paths would actually lead to these careers.
Throughout this process it is vital to trust God and insist on not stamping on the green shoots of hope with the hobnail boots of defeatism. To develop a first career or change careers will challenge every lingering spot of fear and pride and will require faith, being the courage to take action you do not believe in because people ahead of you suggest it, until the experience is gained of God performing miracles.
I have a career that appears tailor-made to my assets and my liabilities (the latter, interestingly: various facets of my personality, temperament, physical constitution, and circumstances do not lend themselves to me working in teams, in office environments, or fixed hours ... yet I have a fully fledged, successful career that actually plays to what would be deficits on other paths). I could not have planned in detail and in full how I have arrived at this point; what I did do was pray for guidance, show up, keep my nose clean, keep my eyes peeled, insist on being sober, considerate, and helpful regardless of what anyone said or did (page 99), and essentially place myself at God's disposal to be of maximum service.
God draws straight lines with broken pencils, and the Book's 'age of miracles' (page 153) is upon us in AA. My experience is not unique here—I have seen it replicated countless times.
Take heart from this:
'We know what you are thinking. You are saying to yourself: "I’m jittery and alone. I couldn't do that." But you can. You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself. To duplicate, with such backing, what we have accomplished is only a matter of willingness, patience and labor'