To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)

Every once in a while I revisit the concept of selfishness and self-centeredness as the root of our troubles (see Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62) and look at that concept from another angle.  This is another of those times. 

Look at these two quotes from Bill’s Story:

Here was love, applause, war; moments sublime with intervals hilarious. I was part of life at last, and in the midst of the excitement I discovered liquor. I forgot the strong warnings and the prejudices of my people concerning drink. In time we sailed for “Over There.” I was very lonely and again turned to alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 1)

The drive for success was on. I’d prove to the world I was important.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 2)

Look at the statements:  “I was [art of life at last” and “I’d prove to the world I was important.”  What do you see in these statements?  Clinical folks might talk of signs of self esteem issues or narcissism or blah blah blah blah…

Let’s make it simple with the concept of selfishness and self-centeredness in mind.  According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

Selfish = : concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others

Self-centeredness = : concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests

For recovery purposes I personally define selfishness and self-centeredness as:

The erroneous idea that I must be comfortable at all times or must do everything in my power to be comfortable.  If something makes me uncomfortable, something must be wrong with that thing.

Dr. William D. Silkworth in his contributions to the Alcoholics Anonymous book says it this way:

They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks-drinks which they see others taking with impunity.  (Alcoholics Anonymous – The Doctor’s Opinion – pgs. Xxvi-xxvii in the 4th edition)

Did you notice that in the above quote from Doctor Silkworth the “restless, irritable and discontented” part exists prior to any using?  We are always wanting to be on the go, we can be easily frustrated or irritated, and are not happy with where we are, what we have or what we are doing.  This may be a huge generalization, but to some degree or other these are often the case with addicts and alcoholics even in sobriety.

Let’s look at the passages from Bill’s Story and notice these ideas in the quotes we looked at earlier. 

Clearly Bill W. was not happy with who he was and where he was in life during these times.  He basically didn’t like himself.  Suddenly when he encounters nice people and drinking (really he discovered nice people and tipsiness) he feels a temporary sense of comfort he doesn’t remember feeling before.  (I was part of life at last)

Later he feels lonely and decides that he wants to feel that same comfort, so he simply tries to repeat what he had done at the previously mentioned party.  He did some drinking (I was very lonely and again turned to alcohol)

In another quote we saw that Bill stated that he’d “prove to the world” that he was important.  He didn’t feel like the world knew he was important (he possibly didn’t feel like he was important) and felt the need to prove it.  In other words he was “restless” and “discontented” and needed to experience some sense of ease and comfort from the restlessness and discontentment. 

At that point Bill had decided that becoming a lawyer would give him a sense of ease and comfort, but when it wasn’t’ doing it he turned back to drinking.

Potential alcoholic that I was, I nearly failed my law course. At one of the finals I was too drunk to think or write.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 2)

Later, the answer do his being “restless, irritable and discontented” was going to be Wall Street.  Yet although he made an enormous amount of money on Wall Street, he still did not overcome his restlessness, irritability and discontentment. 

By the time I had completed the course, I knew the law was not for me. The inviting maelstrom of Wall Street had me in its grip. Business and financial leaders were my heroes. Out of this alloy of drink and speculation, I commenced to forge the weapon that one day would turn in its flight like a boomerang and all but cut me to ribbons.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 2)

For the next few years fortune threw money and applause my way. I had arrived.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

This should have completely satisfied him, but he was restless, irritable and discontented.  But, Bill still had lots to prove to the world.  He moved next to playing golf and becoming the greatest golf player there ever was.

In 1929 I contracted golf fever. We went at once to the country, my wife to applaud while I started out to overtake Walter Hagen. Liquor caught up with me much faster than I came up behind Walter. I began to be jittery in the morning.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 3)

Then the stock market crashes, he goes broke and many of his friends commit suicide.  He is lucky enough to find a friend that not only still has plenty of money, but is willing to take care of his family.  He should be okay, but he has to use to get that true “sense of ease and comfort” and in the process destroys the relationship leaving him completely broke with nothing.

Next morning I telephoned a friend in Montreal. He had plenty of money left and thought I had better go to Canada. By the following spring we were living in our accustomed style. I felt like Napoleon returning from Elba. No St. Helena for me! But drinking caught up with me again and my generous friend had to let me go. This time we stayed broke.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 4)

In all of that you may or may not have noticed, but his constant focus on his own ease and comfort not only led him to be constantly disappointed even when he was successful but also led him to have to constantly run back to the ARTIFICIAL ease and comfort of using.  If even success could not give him the “sense of ease and comfort” he was seeking he had to go back to what always made him feel “a part of life at last.” 

The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6061)

This idea of constant ease and comfort is absolutely self-destructive.  We do everything we can to get the world to work as we would like it to and rarely does it even kind of cooperate.  This can only lead to frustration, more frustration and worse frustration.

So to bring the idea home lets just go back to the basic point:

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)

If this is the root, then solving the puzzle of your own selfishness or never-ending desire to be comfortable is a key focus.

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)

No matter if a person is brand new to Twelve Step recovery or if a person has been working Steps for years and years:  THE MORE FREE FROM SELFISHNESS AND SELF-CENTEREDNESS YOU BECOME, THE BETTER YOUR RECOVERY.  The less free of selfishness and self-centeredness you are the more you are continuing the self-destructive mindset that keeps you in bondage. 

If you are not overcoming this selfishness and self-centeredness you are not in the process of Twelve Step recovery you are just doing “stuff.”

Wade H.

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