Tag Archives: selfishness

Selfish?

31 Oct

I must have heard it hundreds of times as my children were growing up.  Someone would see them in the stroller or in my arms and comment on how fast the time goes and how quickly they grow.  They spoke from experience, longingly remembering the days that their own children were small enough to ride in a stroller or be carried. They were right.  The time goes so quickly.  As I help my oldest child with college applications, getting ready to send her off next year, I can’t help think that those days of diapers and bottles were just yesterday.

I’m writing this piece, as I usually do, to share my story with others in the hope of helping someone who is struggling.  But today, I’m also writing this as a reminder and help to myself.  On the days when the intense battle to resist the urge of picking up a drink ramps up, it’s helpful to be reminded of the joys of sobriety. The gift of being present is way up there.  I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories about families torn apart by alcoholism and addiction.  People who are estranged from their children or parents.  Older generations not allowed to spend time with their own grandchildren.  Friends cut off completely by loved ones because of their repeated offenses while drinking or using.  I have had it clearly presented to me exactly what could have happened had I continued down the path I was on.

But today, as I read my daughter’s college essay, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for the gift of sobriety.  And for the opportunity to understand what that means to her.  While the first line of her essay might suggest otherwise, my daughter has benefitted from my recovery more than I might have thought.  She begins her essay by saying “My mom is selfish.” Yup.  I am.  My sobriety comes first and foremost, and for that I will not apologize, even to friends and people in my life who don’t understand and criticize me for that.  My daughter goes on to say that she has learned that it is not only okay to put ourselves first, it is essential and actually selfless, in order to be the best version of ourselves that we can be and allow us to help those around us. I had shared with her my analogy of oxygen masks on an airplane.  Parents are always told that they should secure their own masks first so that they can then be able to assist their children with theirs.  My daughter describes how she has come to understand that I had to secure my own sobriety first so that I could assist her (and her brothers) in keeping safe on the airplane, or that crazy roller coaster called life.

She also questions her own role and responsibility in my recovery.  I am also grateful to read that she understands that ultimately no one else can stop me from picking up that first drink.  That’s all me.  Not her. Not anyone. The choice is mine.  And I have to do the work and all that I can to not let that happen.  But those who love me, like she does, can be there to support, encourage and ensure that my oxygen mask is still secured.  To tighten it when it gets too loose.  To remind me to put it back on if I get too cocky or complacent.

Her first choice for school next year is my alma mater.  In a corny act of superstition/hope for good luck/acceptance “rain dance”, I put on my college sweatshirt, torn and tattered from so many years of wear, and we pushed the send button together on the computer and submitted her application. Now we wait.  I have told her that it’s out of our hands.  That she will end up at the best place for her, even if it isn’t her first choice.  I remember well what a stressful time it was for me and I am grateful that I am sober and present to ride through this part of the roller coaster with her. And when the ride gets really bumpy, I’ll make sure my mask is on securely and double-check hers.  I am selfish. And so is she.  And I’m so proud of her.

“It is not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority.  It’s necessary.”  –Mandy Hale

Life Is All About Me

27 Feb

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.

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