“If the rest of the world would only behave… Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity? Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” – Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A. World Services, Inc.
When any of us first begin recovery from a substance abuse disorder—whether in a treatment center, an impaired professionals program or other addiction treatment program—it’s typical to hear about the concept of “selfishness vs. selflessness.” In fact, you may find members of the treatment program staff (and/or your 12 Steps sponsor) guiding you early on to engage in practicing selflessness. Why is this?
From my own experience, I had tons of evidence that my way of living wasn’t working. Still, being shackled by my obsession and compulsion for alcohol and drugs, I couldn’t stop being consumed with “getting what I want when I wanted it,” regardless of who I hurt, including myself!
As an anonymous blogger wrote: “In treatment centers and the various rooms of recovery, it is often said that drugs and alcohol are but symptoms of a much greater problem. ‘Self-will run riot.’ A burning desire to affect and control not only yourself, but those around you as well. All things in your sphere of existence. In reality, believing that you can control the world around you is the ultimate example of selfishness.”
In my case, I had no idea—no matter what my ex, my family or even my newly acquired 12 Steps sponsor were saying—how much of a “control freak” I’d been while drinking and using drugs. I also was (apparently) unable to “put two and two together” to understand that what was going wrong in my life—my ‘significant other’ relationship, my work, my health, problems with the law—often stemmed, at least in part, from my straining to strategize and control how people behaved and how situations turned out.
It was not until I began really listening to others in recovery and honestly, openly looking at myself that I began to learn just how self-centered and self-seeking my attitudes and behaviors were. I recall being told, “The world does not, in fact, revolve around you and your desires.” Ouch! Yes, that hurt, but I needed to hear it loud and clear, so I could begin to see that change was necessary and I was the only one responsible to initiate it!
Fortunately, there were many recovering people around me, both those who’d been in treatment for addiction and others from 12 Steps programs, who helped me learn about my misperceptions about how to live life. They gave me suggestions to follow, including volunteering to help where help was needed (simple tasks like setting up chairs at a meeting, folding pamphlets, etc.) and being there for my peers when they needed someone to share with or just be heard.
By willingly following those suggestions, to the best of my ability, I quickly found my self-centered, controlling “my way or the highway” attitude was being replaced by an inwardly rewarding tendency to allow people and situations to “be what they are”… and to be more selfless in my attitude and behavior. It didn’t happen overnight, but I saw signs of progress immediately, and felt better and better about myself as I continued practicing what had been suggested to me.
Another anonymous recovery expert added, “When you let go of control, you realize you were only seeing things from your point of view. When you let go of ‘the self,’ you give up pressures that add stress to your life. Others couldn’t give you what you wanted because what you wanted isn’t a reality, just a manifestation of your internal obsessions.”
I look back at my recovery and see how valuable it is that I recognized my self-will run riot and began practicing “letting go of control.” My predecessors in recovery helped me begin using my energy in a new, much more healthy and beneficial way. Instead of focusing on trying to control “people, places and things” (which ultimately were never really mine to control) to meet my selfish needs, I found myself living, more and more, with a mind to serve the needs of others, allowing them to be who they are and do what they do.
The result has been my living life with a lot more peace in my heart, which is a priceless gift. I want that to continue growing stronger, so I’ll keep practicing “letting go and letting God,” one day at a time.