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.

“The Watch Four” to Watch For!

“The Watch Four” to Watch For!

This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime. Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

This passage is an overview of the process we are to learn to do at Step 10, but this is actually a brief overview of the way we are supposed to live year to year, day to day and minute by minute.

There is a brief process listed here that could be more detailed or more complicated, but what is listed here does a great job of summarizing it.  These things are not to be relegated to just a process, but are supposed to gradually become the way you live.

This passage lists a process; the process is just stuff until you take action.  Once the action is taken it is supposed to be repeated constantly.  Once the process has been repeated constantly for a period of time it will become a habit.  Once a habit has been with you long enough it transition from a habit to a part of who you are.  It becomes a part of your lifestyle.  It is a part of who you are.  That is the goal.

Lets start by looking at the process briefly outlined in this passage:

FIRST, we continue to watch for negative and destructive thoughts or actions.  If you are at Step 10 and working your steps as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book, you probably have a good idea what destructive thoughts and actions are most destructive to your life and those around you.  The authors also included four that are often common to us working through recovery:

  1. Selfishness
  2. Dishonesty
  3. Resentment
  4. Fear

Even if you have your own personalized list, these four should be included.  We will call these “The Watch Four.”  These are the things that you are supposed to be on watch for at all times.  These (along with whatever other items you may list) are indicators that you are about to unleash crazy in your world or that you have already been unleashing crazy in your world.  If you are watching for these and see that one has begun arising in you, you are in deep trouble.  That is why it is imperative that you keep watch.

NEXT, you have to know what to do if you are watching and one of these crops up.  Before you respond or act in any way or even give all of this too much thought, STOP!  Ask God to remove the destructive thought, attitude or behavior on my part.  It does not matter who else is involved or what is going on, first I must stop my own crazy train.

AFTER ASKING GOD call, visit or somehow discuss whatever you have going on with someone helpful.  That means someone who is at wise enough to use common sense, far enough in recovery or in life not to give you stupid advice and strong enough to tell you the truth (even if it will make you angry). 

Too many people look for advice from people they already know will agree with whatever stupidity they are thinking or who won’t say anything they don’t want to hear.  It is helpful if you can find a few that have been through this process properly and understand.

The point is to test your thinking and get an outsider’s perspective and guidance.  For that to happen you need to be actively looking for these people and discussing this with them before something happens.  Then, when something like this comes up, these people will be expecting your call or visit and will know exactly what you are expecting.  (maybe you can prepare them by showing this to them)

AFTER TALKING TO SOMEONE, you need to take action to change.  If there was another person involved, you probably owe him, her or them an amends.  If this is the case do not put it off, do all you can to repair the situation as soon as possible.  Try to do anything you can as fast as you can to undo your part of whatever happened.

ONCE YOU HAVE MADE AMENDS focus on intensively working with someone else who is struggling with addictions, alcoholism or whatever you are struggling with.  This is the best way to deal with this sort of struggle (along with the other parts of the process).

PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics!  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 89)

Not only is working with others part of getting immunity from destructive thoughts or actions, working with others is part of ensuring immunity from relapse. 

This is the way we are to deal with the negatives and destructive things that enter into our lives.  I did skip one point from the passage on page 84 until now.  It is four very important words: 

When these crop up…  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

We are not discussing something that might happen, we are talking about things that will be trying to creep back into your life at every turn.  At first all of this may seem tedious or annoying.  After you do all of this long enough it will just become normal and seem less and less of a tedious effort and eventually just become the way you think. 

The point is to stop letting ridiculously foolish things from pouring out of your life or to stop holding in ridiculously foolish thoughts and feelings and deal with these things.  This is all a huge part of learning love and tolerance and these things are the code of all things Twelve Step.

Learning to live like this is change and change is what recovery is all about.  Like I always say:

IF YOU ARE NOT CHANGED YOU ARE THE SAME AND YOU CAN EXPECT THE SAME RESULTS!

Wade H.

Active Leadership and Your Recovery

It may seem incredible that these men are to become happy, respected, and useful once more. How can they rise out of such misery, bad repute and hopelessness? The practical answer is that since these things have happened among us, they can happen with you. Should you wish them above all else, and be willing to make use of our experience, we are sure they will come. The age of miracles is still with us. Our own recovery proves that!
Our hope is that when this chip of a book is launched on the world tide of alcoholism, defeated drinkers will seize upon it, to follow its suggestions.  Many, we are sure, will rise to their feet and march on. They will approach still other sick ones and fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous may spring up in each city and hamlet, havens for those who must find a way out.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 153)

A HUGE part of the process of recovery is the approaching sill other addicts and alcoholics.  But, then there is the statement “fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous may spring up in each city and hamlet, havens for those who must find a way out.”  I would like to explore that a bit more on this post.

After the book appeared we all became very busy in our efforts to save all and sundry, but I was still actually on the fringes of A.A. While I went along with all that was done and attended the meetings, I never took an active job of leadership until February 1940.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 229-230)

Here is a big challenge many have in recovery.  There are many who are convinced that recovery comes from simply being in the right place and trying to stay away from non-recovery people and things.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a great place to start, but in actuality it is a very small step on a very long journey.

In a previous post named “Intensive Work…Making Coffee???” I spoke on the importance of working with others.  Here, in the story of one of the pioneers and founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous (the start of all things Twelve Step) there is something described as an “active job of leadership” that was apparently very important to the early membership.  Apparently, it was possible to take “jobs of leadership” with the people that were already working together in recovery and also in places where there were not yet groups (“They will approach still other sick ones and fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous may spring up in each city and hamlet”)

Let’s take a second to look at how all of this was tied to recovery of the founding member who I just quoted:

…I never took an active job of leadership until February 1940. Then I got a very good position in Philadelphia and quickly found I would need a few fellow alcoholics around me if I was to stay sober. Thus I found myself in the middle of a brand new group. When I started to tell the boys how we did it in New York and all about the spiritual part of the program, I found they would not believe me unless I was practicing what I preached. Then I found that as I gave in to this spiritual or personality change I was getting a little more serenity. In telling newcomers how to change their lives and attitudes, all of a sudden I found I was doing a little changing myself. I had been too self-sufficient to write a moral inventory, but I discovered in pointing out to the new man his wrong attitudes and actions that I was really taking my own inventory, and that if I expected him to change I would have to work on myself too. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 230)

This person found himself in a place where he could not get the support he needed in recovery that we call fellowship.  For some of us this may be because of proximity like this man who moved to Philadelphia where there were not yet any groups of this nature.  But, for some of us we may be in a place where there are plenty of recovery groups for whatever we are in recovery for,
the problem may be that the groups in your area may not be organized in a way that you can get what you need from them (before I go any further I feel it is important to note that there is a chance in this situation that you may just be resistant and trying to find an excuse not to participate as another option).  If there are no groups or no groups that seem to give you what you need in recovery you may find that as you work with others, they will need something they cannot find nearby also.

In the case of the man we were just reading about, he knew he desperately needed something that was not available.  Here is the concept:  If you can’t find it make it!  

This person was on the fringes (a member but not really an active participant in A.A.), who had not truly done the Steps (“I had been too self-sufficient to write a moral inventory”) and who knew the details of the information yet did not do the things he knew (practicing what I preached).  He was just hanging around a group talking recovery stuff. 

When he started working with others and started his new recovery group, just hanging around talking recovery backfired.  The people he was working with immediately realized that he was asking them to do something he wasn’t doing himself.  The newcomers he had started in the recovery process were able to do something that the rest of the founding membership of Alcoholics Anonymous could not accomplish:  They somehow managed to get him to start working the steps fully.

As an example, he states that he “had been too self-sufficient to write a moral inventory” in modern Twelve Step terms he is saying bluntly that he had not worked Steps Four and Eight because he didn’t feel he needed to.  Without Steps Four and Eight the whole Twelve Step process stops at three (which if you read the whole story is where he was stuck: working Step 3). 

It was not until he started working with others that the clarity of where he was in his own recovery became clear.  The fact that he describes himself on page 230 as “on the fringes” let’s you know that the others probably had a pretty good idea as to where he was at in working his recovery in spite of the fact he attended meetings and talked recovery language.  Even the newcomers he was starting with knew where he was really at in his recovery.  Everyone but him knew. Suddenly, when working with others it became clear.

This may run contrary to many people’s ideas as to how sponsorship works, but everyone knew he was on shaky ground and had done very little toward recovery.  Everyone knew he was “self-sufficient” which means he really didn’t even buy Step One and would have seemed like the most unlikely person to lead anyone to recovery.  The truth is, not only is he one of the founding members of Alcoholics
Anonymous in Pennsylvania, but he could not even grasp recovery until he started working with others.

There are two huge points I want to want to convey through this founding member’s story:

  1. We all need to be working with others in recovery (even if just assisting another who is more advanced to work with somebody else)
  2. If you do not have a fellowship that is actually growing you in the process of recovery, you either need to find one or start one.

No matter what you took out of this post, I again return to one basic idea:

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)