To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 3

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 3

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

We have been discussing the importance of overcoming selfishness for the past few posts.  That may mean learning to think about someone other than yourself to those of us who are quite obviously self focused.  But, with the definition of selfishness that I used for this study:

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.

…there are other changes from different personality types.  Some of the most giving people or those that spend the most time taking care of others do so simply because of compulsive need to feel needed or to have a person rely upon you which is a passive way of controlling a person.  This is actually not about the other person this is also about being focused on yourself.

I suppose there are many other subtle variations of this, but the variations are not the issue as all of these must be changed.

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 6061)

The actions are not the focus of the change.  The motivations behind the actions are the focus of the changing that we must do and once the motivations behind the actions change, then the actions change also.

In the last post we looked at some of the key actions that must change and touched a bit on a couple of the motivations behind those actions.  The thing we haven’t really looked at is HOW to change the motivations behind what we do.  After all we are talking about changing selfish motivations and we have no idea yet of how to do that.

Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

According to this passage, nothing is more important to our recoveries than overcoming the selfish motivations behind what we do.  “Above everything” else we “must” be rid of it or what?  That is the real question.  The answer is most plainly outlined in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book.

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. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.  (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions pg. 70)

One word best encompasses the change of motivation that we must have to be “rid of this selfishness”:  “Humility!”  According to this passage from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Getting this “humility” is the deepest point behind each step of the Twelve Steps.

This stands to reason in light of the information that we have been studying from the Alcoholics Anonymous book which states several different ways that the biggest obstacle that we have to overcome is selfish motivations.

I Googled the word “humility” and here is the main definition I found in return:

A modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness (Google search=humility)

In light of my previously stated definition of selfishness I would define humility as:

Having a mindset that does not see one’s own comfort as most important, but that sees the comfort of others as at least as important.  This mindset also understands that experiencing discomfort is a necessary part of life and growth not some ultimate evil to be avoided at all costs.

The gaining of this mindset of humility is key to the Twelve Steps and key to any part of the Twelve Steps.  In other words (according to this passage), anything that you do from the Twelve Steps or as a part of working a Twelve Step program that does not help you gain more humility is not being done correctly.

Something else found in this passage from the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book that is interesting is the idea that you can get enough humility to remain sober, but still need to gain more to find happiness.  According to this passage there is a level of sobriety that involves simply being abstinent from drugs and alcohol, yet lacks happiness.  Then there is a higher level of sobriety that has both abstinence and general happiness.  Both levels require attaining some degree of humility but what determines which kind of sobriety you get is the amount of humility one gets.

Plainly put, what this passage is trying to communicate is that the more (genuine) humility you gain the better the quality of your recovery experience.  The more humility you gain the better you will be able to overcome adversity through summoning “faith.”  The more humility you gain the more you can live to useful purpose.

It is a misconception that the point of the program to get you to act differently.  If all you do is “act” differently you are the same at the core of your being and forcing your outward expressions to be something different.  The point is to change the source of the ideas and reasoning behind your actions and the natural result will be the changing of your actions.  If you want to really be different and not just act differently you will have to change the source of the actions and not just change the actions.

Here is the catch.  You know how commercials have that part where the tell you the catch or if it’s a medication they will tell you all of the terrible possible side effects.  Here is that moment in this overcoming selfishness discussion.

Gaining humility will most often require situations that force us to gain more humility or force us to see the need for more humility.  A good word for situations that will nudge us towards gaining more humility is “humiliating”.  Recovery is humiliating to the point of humility.

I Googled the word humiliating and found:

  1. Causing someone to feel ashamed and foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect  (Google search = humiliating)
    • – a humiliating defeat

Think of the injuring as not just an injuring of one’s dignity and self-respect, think of it as tearing down one’s unhealthy levels of dignity and unhealthy levels of self-respect.

Another definition in that same Google search was:

    • demeaning: causing awareness of your shortcomings; “golf is a humbling game”

…which I think best captures the idea of the word “humiliating” in reference to the experience of our recovery.  The experience of taking actions and encountering situations that cause awareness of our shortcomings as part of a process that leads you to real change.

The problem is that we are resistant to being humbled and many of our attempts to be humble are surface deep, simply covering selfish motivations which lie below.  How do we overcome the desire to be self focused, self-protective, self-driven, etc.?

Well let’s just look at where you start.  In Step 1, you get the humbling experience of admitting you are “powerless” and that you are “not like other people, or presently may be”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30).  Then you move to something we have just touched in the quotes from the Alcoholics Anonymous book, but have not really discussed in this selfishness conversation yet:

Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

This is the obvious answer if you ask yourself one question:  “What comes next after Step 1?”  The answer is obviously Steps 2 and 3:

2.        Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3.        Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

When you see the words “we had to have God’s help” above describing the way that we overcome selfishness, we are discussing Steps 2 and 3.  Step 2 is accepting the idea and Step 3 is committing to the idea.  Let’s take these three steps and simplify them by reading more from page 62 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

We had to have God’s help.

This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 62)

The beginning of unselfishness and selfish motives is find a higher motivation for your life.  If you are to stop believing that the world is here to keep you comfortable, you have to focus on the comfort of one other than yourself.

Step 2 is about who that somebody else is and Step 3 is about changing your focus from your own comfort to a focus on the comfort of that “somebody else.”

Look at this passage from the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

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.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 60)

The point this section of the book is trying to reveal to you is that everything that one has read prior to getting to this point was focused on convincing the reader of three things:

  1. That the reason that you are reading this and working Twelve Step stuff is because you cannot fix yourself.
  2. That nobody else seems to be able to help you
  3. And that God can help you and will.

That is Steps One and Two.  If you are convinced and truly know you are powerless and are convinced that God can and will help you, then you are ready to look at working Step Three.  The next couple of pages discuss the biggest challenge to this before really discussing Step Three.  That biggest challenge to working Step Three that keeps a person stuck at Step One or Step Two is “selfishness” and “Self-centeredness.”

This is just a taste of what it takes to overcome the selfish motives and selfish desire to be comfortable at all times that we suffer from and a demonstration of how a couple of the steps focus on this, but it is a good place to start.  This is a brief description of the battle with selfishness we have in the first three steps.

The real question is not about this information, but about where you are in readiness to truly let go of control of your life and your attempts to control others for your own comfort.

The key to freedom is letting go of control.  The key to bondage is trying to hold on to control.  The key to the whole thing is God control!!!

Wade H.

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To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!! Part – 2

To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!  Part – 2

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

If you are in recovery self-centeredness is a challenge that needs to be overcome.  As I stated in the previous post (To Be Selfish Or Not to Be; That Is The Question!!!) 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.

If you are the friend or loved one of a person in need of recovery you are probably well acquainted with the fact that that person is concerned with his or her own comfort at the expense of others including you.

In the last post we explored that self-centeredness, but what does the desired objective look like.  What does a person free or well on the way to being free of self-centeredness look like?

Here is a conversation from the “Working With Others” chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous book instructing us how to describe this to a potential newcomer:

Outline the program of action, explaining how you made a self-appraisal, how you straightened out your past and why you are now endeavoring to be helpful to him. It is important for him to realize that your attempt to pass this on to him plays a vital part in your own recovery. Actually, he may be helping you more than you are helping him. Make it plain he is under no obligation to you, that you hope only that he will try to help other alcoholics when he escapes his own difficulties. Suggest how important it is that he place the welfare of other people ahead of his own. Make it clear that he is not under pressure, that he needn’t see you again if he doesn’t want to. You should not be offended if he wants to call it off, for he has helped you more than you have helped him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 94)

Notice how unselfishness is the message.  The person trying to work with the potential newcomer first describes how unselfishness actually is a huge part of helping yourself.  Then that person describes how the biggest reward he or she is looking for is for that potential newcomer to get better through gaining the same unselfishness. 

In other words the message is that if I want to help myself I have to get you to get it and to help others in the same way.

Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends – this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it. Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)

Notice the words “to see a fellowship grow up about you.”  The “host of friends” and the people you will watch recover are the people you work with.  Getting outside of yourself and helping others to recovery becomes “the bright spot” of your life.

Working with others is not the only evidence of unselfishness, but it is a very key one.  That is why this statement is true:

Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 20)

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 89)

I understand that there are people who do not get the unselfishness aspect of all of this and do some attempts at working with others (usually because he or she feels forced).  What I am talking about looks and sounds more like this.  (if it is you going through recovery this is a feeling you should experience that becomes a part of who you are):

While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work with others.

My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me. Faith without works was dead, he said.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 14)

It was a feeling and thought that Bill W. had and his sponsor reinforced.  Working with others is one of the key evidences that a person is at least growing in unselfishness.  For those of us who have traveled Alcoholics Anonymous circles we are probably at least somewhat familiar with what are known as “The Promises.”  Listen to this part of “The Promises”:

No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)

The death of selfishness is a huge goal in for all of us looking to remain sober.  As we come to see that our experience can benefit others we “lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.”  Then “Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84)

If you think you have reached some major milestone in recovery (finishing a program, someone says you have finished all the steps, you are abstinent currently and feel fine) and you do not feel or think in the manner described here, there is much more to do.  You seem to have missed something.

If you are the friend or loved one of person who has reached one of these milestones and that person has no desire to reach others, that person is in deep trouble.

Here is an end note for the friends and loved ones.  If the person does get this change of focus and begins to focus on working with others be as supportive of those efforts as you can.  Do not hinder their work with others or you may be choking the life out of that person’s recovery.

The following passage was written “To Wives” bit applies to all friends and loved ones:

Still another difficulty is that you may become jealous of the attention he bestows on other people, especially alcoholics. You have been starving for his companionship, yet he spends long hours helping other men and their families. You feel he should now be yours. The fact is that he should work with other people to maintain his own sobriety. Sometimes he will be so interested that he becomes really neglectful. Your house is filled with strangers. You may not like some of them. He gets stirred up about their troubles, but not at all about yours. It will do little good if you point that out and urge more attention for yourself. We find it a real mistake to dampen his enthusiasm for alcoholic work. You should join in his efforts as much as you possibly can. We suggest that you direct some of your thought to the wives of his new alcoholic friends. They need the counsel and love of a woman who has gone through what you have.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 119)

Wade H.