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. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)
I revisit this idea every once in a while and I think it is something that every person in recovery from anything should rethink regularly. Let me start by being clear. If your worldview is based on the idea that: “Whatever makes me comfortable is right and whatever makes me uncomfortable is wrong,” what we read above is speaking directly to you.
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. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 61)
In this passage the authors are describing what this looks like using the example of an actor who wants to control the show he is acting in (controlling the other actors, controlling the script, controlling the director, controlling the set design etc.).
This passage is saying that some people trying to control the show are polite and influencing. That person might even blame him or herself for not doing enough to let the others know how much he or she knew that could have made the show better. Some people like this are extremely giving, but in their minds there is always the expectation that since I am giving you this or that you should trust my opinion more or you owe me appreciation etc. This person and possibly the people around this person may not even think of this person as selfish.
The passage is also saying that this person might have a whole different approach. This person might be pushy or overbearing. Showing the others every mistake they make. This person might manipulate and even lie to get his or her way. This person must have his or her way at all costs.
These are the extremes and most of us have some mixture of both. The key is that no matter which extreme, combination or amount of this we are describing, the fact is that it is selfishness.
Selfishness or the absence of selfish motives cannot be measured accurately just by looking at your own actions. Selfishness is about the motives behind the actions.
Here is an example:
Two people hear about a child in some third world country that just lost her parents and is in an orphanage that cannot afford to feed her. The first person immediately thinks, “That is awful. No child should have to endure such tragedy.” Then that person sends $1000.00 to feed, clothe, and take care of that child. The second person is a guy at a bar trying to build a relationship with a girl he just met. This guy, in an effort to keep the conversation going, brings up the little girl’s story. He really hadn’t paid that much attention to the story, but now that he sees the girl’s interest he states that he was thinking about donating a thousand dollars to help. The girl states she would like to give also, so they go together and the man donates $1000.00 and the girl is impressed.
Both people were seemed giving and caring. Both gave to a worthy cause and ultimately “did a good thing.” But, one of these people is a truly caring person. The other is using the orphaned girl’s plight as an opportunity to “pick-up” a pretty young lady in a bar. This person used this little girl (who will be grateful anyway), used whatever organization was coordinating the donations, and used the orphanage as a “pick up line.” His main motive for giving and for even considering giving is to get what he wants. The fact that this was not really what he was going to do and to impress this girl he states and acts like this is what he was going to do is in fact a lie. He lied to this girl to impress her. Even deeper, he pretended to be someone he really isn’t to get her attention.
So let’s say the man who was “picking-up” the girl in the bar is successful in impressing the girl and they end up dating. Eventually she will discover that he is way more focused on getting from people than giving. More importantly, far more self-centered than the person she met or the person she thought she was dating. She was sold one thing and received a totally different thing.
Wouldn’t that cause problems? If he is not in reality the type of person that the girl from the bar would like to spend time with, wouldn’t it be better to find out before the two people are emotionally invested in the relationship. Wouldn’t it be better for him to be in a relationship with a person who likes him for who he is rather than a fictitious person that is totally different than who he really is? This relationship is a recipe for disaster. Isn’t he the one that set it up for failure?
Think about that relative to the following statement from the Alcoholics Anonymous book:
Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)
The two sentences directly before this passage are how we know that the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the authors of the Twelve Steps)thought that this self focus was a huge issue that must be dealt with:
Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)
They thought this self-centered interaction with the world is the deeper issue behind our other issues. What this also means is that, if you do not work on becoming less self-centered and selfish all the work a person does in recovery will not be sufficient. To look at it from a another angle, think of if this way: If a person in recovery is not growing more and more humble, that person is not truly working on the deeper issues in his or her recovery or in his or her life.
Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all. Nearly all A.A.’s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becoming truly happy. (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)
If a person is working any Step of the Twelve and is not growing more humble, that person is not working the step properly. I believe that any person that works the Steps will get some level of humility just by what the activities involved entail. According to this passage, that person might even be able to remain abstinent in terms of his or her addiction, but still be a total mess. This idea explains a lot of people I meet in recovery circles that talk about how long they have been sober.
If you run into a person who seems to be a mess, but has some sobriety time, that person may have possibly missed this key point. If you run into one of these people who are always describing what an expert he or she is or is otherwise trying to prove him or herself important to others in recovery, that person may possibly have (probably has) missed this extremely key point. A person working the steps and not changing is possibly a person who is not getting this key point. If any of those people just listed is you, you may have missed this very key point.
The point of all this is to make sure that gaining humility and losing selfish motives have to be a huge key to everything we do in recovery.
Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him. Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?
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. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 60)
According to this passage, if you get past Step 2 and are moving into Step 3, you cannot even say that you have begun Step 3 if you are not convinced that these selfish motives must die and humility must start to grow in your life.