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.

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 2)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 2)

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

We have been discussing the first three Steps of Twelve Step programs (please read part 1 before continuing to read this post which is part 2).

If you understand that you are in a desperate situation that has grown so desperate that you have placed yourself beyond human aid, than you are at the point of deciding if you can accept “spiritual help” or not.  Can you or are you not willing to deal with spiritual tools and the topic of God or not?

We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the nonalcoholic. If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.

To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 44)

Did you notice that the terminology of previous quotes (“spiritual tools” “spiritual help” etc.) has now changed to living “on a spiritual basis.”  You may not have caught what just happened, but they just laid out what the desired end result of the program is:  THAT YOU LEARN TO LIVE ON A SPIRITUAL BASIS!   If you cannot deal with any spiritual topics or even discuss such things without tuning out or getting mad, how are you going to “live on a spiritual basis?”

Some people at this point try to say that I can talk of spiritual stuff on my terms, I just don’t like to talk about God.  As long as I accept that something is greater than me (get some humility) I can do everything.

This is true of working Step 1 and for starting Step 2, but is not the case for working Steps 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 and in fact is not even true for being ready to go from working Step 2 to starting Step 3.  I know some feel that God discussion is not necessary and some think it is somehow outlawed in all things 12 Step and that a person at most has to say blurbs about a “power greater than ourselves” of some sort.

I am proposing here that there must be discussion about “God” and that even the “power greater than ourselves” talk is really just a part of beginning the discussion about “God.”

Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?

Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem. That means we have written a book which we believe to be spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God. Here difficulty arises with agnostics. Many times we talk to a new man and watch his hope rise as we discuss his alcoholic problems and explain our fellowship. But his face falls when we speak of spiritual matters, especially when we mention God, for we have re-opened a subject which our man thought he had neatly evaded or entirely ignored. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 45)

According to this passage, the Alcoholics Anonymous book and all it contains (including the Twelve Steps which are the source of all other Twelve Step programs) are based on the idea of helping a person find God and learn to live by the principles of God.

Did you notice that God is mentioned directly and bluntly?  In this passage the authors mention that the struggle with the idea of or discussion of God is a problem for many in recovery at this point.  If you are having trouble with what you are hearing right now, it’s okay.  Many people do.  It is something that you are going to have to work through.

You may have to start with terms like “higher power” or “power greater than myself” but you are going to have to understand that we are talking about God and you simply are not there yet.

Did you notice that the word “God” is part of  Step 3.  Before you can start on Step 3 you are supposed to have started turning that corner.  In other words, if you cannot handle the topic of “God” or even the mention of the word “God” how can you work a Step the has “God” as part of its description?

The challenge of Step 2 is to not only believe, but to believe that he can and will free you of all of this alcoholism and addiction stuff.

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)

Notice the words “Being convinced, we were now at Step Three.  If you are not thoroughly convinced on these three ideas, you are not ready to start working on Step 3.  That means you can only go as far as Step 2 and that is where you are stuck.

  1. Are you an addict or alcoholic who cannot manage his or her own life?
  2. Are you so advanced in your addiction or alcoholism that nothing that normal human power has to offer seems to be able to help you?
  3. Do you believe that “God” can and will help you if you seek Him?

Until you can answer yes to all three of these questions because you are absolutely convinced that they are all true about yourself, you are stuck at Steps 1 and 2.

These two questions are like a test on Steps 1 and 2 and if you are not convinced you have failed the test and have to redo the previous classes before you can go on.

I leave you with thought in summary from the chapter in the Alcoholics Anonymous book that is supposed to teach us how to work with a newcomer:

Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 98)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 1)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 1)

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

Once a person accepts that he or she is actually an alcoholic or an addict, the next question is obvious…  WHAT NOW?  Well, in reality, knowing you have a problem that you cannot seem to solve is only Step 1.  That means that the answer to what is next is to do whatever Step 2 is.

Look at the first 3 Steps as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.
  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)

Step 2 is a polite way of stating the fact we started with from page 25:  “

…we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

The key is that the statement we started with from page 25 must be looked at first:  “If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were.”  So if you are as far along in your addiction to be one of the people who feel that

  1. Life is becoming impossible
  2. You have passed into the region from which there is no return through normal human aid

You may require more than what people who have not gotten this bad need to overcome your addiction.  A person this advanced in addiction or alcoholism has only two choices according to this passage.

  1. Keep getting more and more miserable on the road to a slow miserable death or
  2. Accept something called “spiritual help”

If you are a person in need of recovery and you do not know if you are “that bad” then you are still at Step 1.  That is why Step 1 has the wording it does.  Think about the idea of being “powerless” and admitting that your life is “unmanageable” when compared to the wording used on page 25 and you see that there is far more to Step 1 than just realizing you have a problem.

Either you life is becoming impossible and you cannot find your way back through human aid or this is not true.  That is Step 1.

A person who is deeply resistant to “spiritual help” or to talk of God is a person who is not finished with Step 1.  This is not necessarily the end of the world (that person may just need more Step 1 work), but there is no reason for that person to be trying to work other steps.

If the authors felt that the only solution is something called “spiritual help” then everything they put together is “spiritual help.”  A person who will not accept or even discuss such things does not want what the authors of the Twelve Steps felt was the only way out.

With that mindset, working steps is taking actions you don’t believe in or want and expecting the good results to come from something else completely. 

The sentence sounds complicated and ridiculous because it is.  The results you are looking for are supposed to come from the “spiritual help.”  The whole program is supposed to be “spiritual help.”  “Spiritual Help” is described as the only way out for people who are this advanced in alcoholism or addiction.

Either “spiritual help” is the only hope or it is not.  If it is the only in fact the only hope, then you  either are that advanced in your addiction or alcoholism or you are not.  If you are, your only choice is if I want to be more and more miserable or accept “spiritual help?”

If you have accepted that you are that desperate, but are having some challenges with the ideas we are talking about, consider this:

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

It is the only option and the longer you resist, the longer you are resisting even starting your journey towards freedom.  If you cannot turn the corner and still find yourself completely uncomfortable with this topic, YOU ARE STILL ON STEP ONE.  It is okay to realize this if you plan to work through it.  If you just want to avoid the topic and move on to other steps, you are simply running on a treadmill like a hamster in a cage running in place.  You are doing stuff and getting no place.

If you are one of those people, you should probably spend some time reading all of the previous posts on this blog and reading the Alcoholics Anonymous book (where all things 12 Step found their start) before reading part 2 of this post.  Part 2 will only disturb you more by belaboring the point more and by taking a far more detailed look at the facts behind Steps 2 and 3.

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)