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Still an Alcoholic, but Am I Still Selfish?

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I want to start out by saying, “You can get sober.” Period. Whether it is through 12-step programs, psychotherapy, coaching, psychiatry, exercise, nutrition, Reiki, whatever, I’ve heard it all. And while I once was a proud, Big Book-thumping alcoholic, I’ve heard enough stories of recovery to prove that there is no one-way to beat addiction. For me, a spiritual path has been vital to long-lasting recovery from alcohol and other substances, but I recognize some prefer a more rational approach. What I tell clients now is that as long as you’re honest about what is working and what is not, then there is a great amount of freedom available in recovery.

What is most up for me right now around my recovery is the question of selfishness and self-centeredness as it pertains to addiction. When I first got sober and was participating heavily in 12-step work, it was clear to me that my actions were hurtful to others. I acted selfishly and irresponsibly in nearly every aspect of my life as I pursued substance abuse by any means necessary. There was no debate when I was told that I needed to acknowledge my selfish behavior if I was to find a relationship to a Higher Power—one necessary to heal my obsession around substances.

But now I’ve been sober for about as long as I was drinking. My life is much different than it once was. And while I trust I can never drink moderately, I do wonder, is this tendency toward self-centeredness really something I need to buy into anymore? Upon contemplation, my answer today is no. I honestly and humbly do not believe myself to be any more selfish or self-centered than my fellows, and I honor this truth as a testament to the power of recovery, not some denial of my condition. I can get frustrated at times when I’m in meetings and hear others talk about the steps as a way of dealing with a stagnant, permanent condition. Just because we are addicts, doesn’t mean we need to struggle with life the same way we did when we initially got sober.

I guess what I’m saying is, let some space come into your experience. You don’t have to stay stuck. Allow a orientation to manifest in your thoughts and actions. You don’t have to be the same selfish person that got sober. You’re not obligated to tirelessly and repetitively slave over step work in order to overcome moral failings. You can be transformed. The twelfth step states that we have had a spiritual awakening. Renewal through the twelve steps is possible—mind, body, and soul. You are not the addict or alcoholic you once were, and you don’t have to ever be again. From this viewpoint, while we may always be alcoholics, we no longer have to identify with our selfish, self-centered actions of old. We can embrace an entirely new life, free of guilt and shame, open to fresh ways of being in the world.

Chris Cole is the best-selling author of The Body of Chris: A Memoir of Obsession, Addiction, and Madness. He works as a life coach for people in recovery. Follow Chris and his work at thebodyofchris.com



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