Selfishness, self-centeredness, self-will-run-riot, these are all things we deal with a lot in the program. We come from lives where it was ‘all about us’ and we learn how to live differently. We learn how to live for others, how to serve others, instead of our own selfish ends. But do we really? If it makes me feel good to selflessly help others, then am I really being selfless? If the only way we can keep what we have is by giving it away, then are we truly giving? This is a great little not that I like to tie in my brain about the program. The larger idea gets talked about in psychology circles, too—is there really such a thing as ‘altruism’ at all? If people do good because it makes them feel good about themselves, then is it really altruistic behavior at all? In the psych classes I took, we would go around and around discussing this idea. Over the course of my Recovery, I’ve had a number of discussions about this with others in the program. What I finally came to rest on is this idea: what the program teaches us, is a healthy kind of selfishness. Yes, all my work with sponsees serves a very specific purpose—it helps me to stay clean and sober. But I don’t do my work with sponsees with that purpose in mind. If I go into it with that idea, that it’s all about me, then I’m being selfish and not acting from the best part of myself; I won’t be able to offer the best I have to those who need help. What happens instead is I go into it thinking of others, being willing to help them, and in return, I get helped in my Recovery journey. It’s about motivation. If I’m acting out of my own selfish needs, then that’s acting out of the Disease. If I act out of a desire to help others, then I get relief from the Disease. When I first started working the program, a consider a lot of the work we do in the 12-steps as ‘selfish’. It’s selfish to want a better life (I didn’t think I deserved one); it’s selfish to want to improve ourselves (I can’t ever change); etc. I was talking to another member just last week. She had come down off her pink cloud and was starting to face all the repressed issues of her life; all her feelings were bubbling to the surface. She was saying how she needs to remember that it’s not about her and to just ignore all that stuff and get over herself. I told her she was confusing self-concern with selfishness. It’s important to check in with ourselves, see how we’re doing inside, and deal with the issues that arise within us. Can anyone say, “Step Ten”? There is such a thing as healthy self-concern. We have to watch ourselves, pay attention, make sure that we don’t go overboard with it and obsess. But the program is all about having a healthy sense of self-concern. There’s another basic idea at play here, too—our selves are worth improving. We do deserve a better life than the one we lived as active addicts. Is it selfish for us to want to grow and change and become more than we were? Sure, but it’s a healthy selfishness, a selfishness based out of humility and the genuine desire for something better in life. And the program is all about that.
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