Day 5: Recovery, revolution and the joy of meaningful work

Travis Hunter
3 min readJan 24, 2021

I have committed to write and publish* a piece of writing once a day for a year. This is Day 5.

There’s something simple and pure about doing good work for free. Volunteering for a cause you believe in is good for the soul, as well as for the revolution.

After I got sober a couple of months ago, it quickly became apparent that I had a lot of extra time and energy on my hands. If that wasn’t enough, loneliness and boredom were two huge triggers for me when it came to drinking. Those uncomfortable feelings were still there, but my old crutch was no longer an option. I had to come up with something else.

At first I tried the obvious things — ones that psychologists recommend — going for long walks, joining the gym, taking up a new hobby (photography), meditation, yoga, mindfulness. But while these all helped to a degree, I still felt like I was missing something.

It wasn’t until recently that I finally realised what it was.

I needed to spend time working for the good of others, not just working on myself.

I couldn’t feel a genuine sense of purpose or restore my sense of connectedness to others around me without in some way contributing, actively, to my community.

So I made a list of issues that I care deeply about, that I would enjoy working on for free. I have done free consulting work for friends starting up businesses, and have signed up to help out at the local food co-op. In doing so, I have met a bunch of new people who care about similar things that I do. This includes protecting the environment and building a community around providing sustainably produced, healthy and affordable food.

Doing volunteer community work has made a huge difference to my sobriety.

While I signed up to volunteer thinking that I was giving something away for free, I am in fact getting much more out of it than I am giving. This is the ridiculously nice, virtuous cycle of meaningful voluntary work.

Various new-age gurus and wellness influencers would have us believe that we can purchase this feeling of connectedness and enlightened being off the shelf (via their e-commerce platform of choice). But you can’t buy this feeling, you need to earn it.

Others cynically believe that people are only motivated to work if they are forced to do so through economic coercion. But the truth is that people will happily do work that is actually meaningful and beneficial to their community or to the planet, and they will do it for free. There is a feeling that you can only get from helping others in meaningful ways.

Coercion, selfishness, meaninglessness, lack of motivation and fatalism are all faces of alienation under capitalism.

These problems thrive in a society that tries to co-opt all forms of work to serve the interests of mega-corporations which profit at the expense of people and planet. Understandably, many workers don’t feel that pumped about the prospect of spending precious years of their life doing this. These feelings, which so many of us medicate with addictions of various kinds, are all the inevitable result of the myths our society is founded on. This is the myth that we are all weak, helpless individuals who are forced to compete against one another in a cruel, brutal society, in order to survive on our own. The truth is that things are like that because society has been designed that way to benefit a very small group of wealthy and powerful individuals.

The easiest way to stop this negative cycle is by contributing unselfishly to good causes. Giving away my time and energy for free on projects that I believe in and care about has helped me to feel so much happier and more congruent in myself, and in turn allowed me to create new and positive friendships with others who share my values. What you do while volunteering doesn’t have to be world-changing. Your contribution might involve planning rallies and protests, or it might involve cleaning out the fridges at a small non-profit food co-op. Each of these activities has value, and both of them need to be done.

*This piece took a few days to write, hence not publishing anything for a couple of days.

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Travis Hunter

Personal essays and writing by a transgender, neuro-diverse author on Wurundjeri land.