Those who know me well know that I constantly joke that life is all about me. In keeping with that tenet, I brought up the subject of selfishness at a meeting the other day. Does putting my sobriety first make me a selfish person? I was reminded that when we travel on a plane, the flight attendants always tell us during the safety demonstrations to put our own oxygen masks on first and then help our children or anyone else who may need assistance. We must first take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. Without oxygen to breathe, we won’t be able to help anyone.
In my world, without my sobriety, I can’t be of any use to anyone else, especially my children. Without my sobriety, I’m not there for them. I’m not even there for me. When I drank, however, it really was all about me. And my drinks. And my time to drink. And my deserving to drink. So am I selfish now when I put sobriety first? I don’t think so. Without my sobriety, I slip back into a dark place— a hole that I would have to struggle to get out of.
By putting sobriety first, I mean that it is my first priority, every day. I have a friend who says she starts every day with her own “happy hour”—some quiet time of prayer and meditation. Many in recovery know that SLIP stands for “Sobriety Lost Its Priority”. There were too many really bad “selfs” while we were in the midst of our drinking—-self-doubt, self-loathing, low self-esteem, no self-confidence and very little self-worth. The selfish drinking washed those all away, for a little while at least. But in the numbing, dull ache that came with inebriation, I lost my “self”.
As hard as I work my program of recovery, a whole lifetime set in self-centeredness cannot be reversed all at once. But on this journey into sobriety, I have found a whole new world of “selfs”—self-awareness, self-discovery, self-respect, self-preservation. A twelve-step program has very little room for ego. In fact, in step three, we “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” Self-will is traded in for God’s will. Ego is thrown out the window.
When we get to the twelfth step, we encounter the dichotomy of helping others after all the time spent on helping ourselves. The truth, however, is that in helping others, we are in fact helping ourselves. Our selflessness is actually to our own benefit. Back to our selfishness as a recovering alcoholic. I find that the following quote from the Dalai Lama explains this best:
“It is important that when pursuing our own self-interest we should be ‘wise selfish’ and not ‘foolish selfish’. Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.”
I hope that I fall into the category of “wise selfish” and compassionate rather than foolish selfish. A few people have expressed their opinions that my life is too focused on my sobriety. That my recovery shouldn’t define me. My past mistakes and addiction may not define me, but they made me who I am today. And after 1,005 days without a drink, I am pretty proud of who I am today.