“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo
Around the world, in both addiction treatment centers and 12 Steps programs for substance abuse, there is a widely held understanding that one of the core “character defects” or shortcomings prevalent in those afflicted by alcoholism or addiction is self-seeking behavior, aka being inconsiderate of others. And yet, the vast majority of the people I’ve met who’ve made their way to recovery, gotten free of the obsession and compulsion to drink or use, and are “living the program” are some of the kindest, most caring and big-hearted people I’ve ever encountered!
I recently pondered, How does such a massive transformation occur? Going from someone who ‘couldn’t care less’ about the welfare, likes or dislikes of others to a person whose behavior demonstrates they’re truly concerned about others’ well-being, and consistently treating their neighbor as they themselves would like to be treated?
To deepen my own understanding of the matter, I turned to my own experience of addiction recovery. (Hopefully, those of you reading this will be able to identify with something I share, regardless of the specifics of how you came to recovery.)
When I look back, I could not agree more that not only had my use of alcohol and drugs spiraled horribly out of control (and had been that way for years), but my behavior—the way I acted toward others—was quite often geared toward what I wanted, what I could get and what served my needs. It was rare, if ever, that I gave any care whatsoever to the wants and needs of-… well, anyone! Not my ‘significant other’ (with whom I’d been living for 10 years), not my family members, my friends, my boss or my coworkers. I know this to be true because…
Once I got into recovery, I was relatively quickly introduced to a process of “taking inventory” of myself, my life and how my behavior while actively addicted had affected others (including the specifics of how I’d wronged them). Through some honest, often arduous self-reflection, it became crystal clear that I’d been living solely for myself, ignoring what others wanted or needed, being disrespectful and inconsiderate of them, regardless of what I told them or how I believed myself to be.
I mean, if I repeatedly say “I love you” to my lover or that “I care about you” to a friend or employer, but I steal from them, cheat them out of something that is rightfully theirs, don’t do for them what I say I’m going to do, or completely ignore their wishes or wants, then at some point I need to ask myself with all the objectivity I can muster: “Where, in this picture, am I showing any love or care at all? Any respect at all? Any consideration of this person at all?”
When I’d finally “hit my bottom,” I was told if I wanted to recover from the disease of addiction, I’d need to become honest, open-minded and willing to do whatever it would take to change my old attitudes and behaviors and adopt new ones. Part of this healing process, they said, was to take “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, so I could be in a position to decide what I needed to change in my life.
After discovering how deplorable and inconsiderate my behavior had become, I struggled for some time with shame and self-loathing. But with the guidance, support and role modeling I received from my recovery network, including my learning from them the “how to” and value of practicing spiritual principles in my life, I eventually became able to surrender my old self-centered way of life (including how I thought and acted) and start acting with care, respect and kindness toward others. And in time, I did start to show (and feel!) what I’d previously only spewed words about: love toward others. Indeed, today I have many loving relationships in my life, all of which I feel so grateful for and blessed by.
Whether you’ve found recovery in a drug and alcohol treatment program, an impaired professionals program or a 12 Steps program, the bottom line seems to come around to this often heard saying: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” It’s possible to transform from a selfish, inconsiderate so-and-so into a caring, kind and considerate person who brings goodness to people’s lives. And it starts by stopping the runaway train of active addiction and beginning something new: asking for help, taking suggestions, adopting new attitudes and practicing new behaviors. The result for countless recovering people has been nothing short of a new way of life!