A gentleman sent me a note recently and asked my opinion on selflessness and it’s role in alcoholism – how one could be giving of themselves so much and yet find themselves at odds with others and the tie-in to craving the drink. It had me thinking about my own initial struggles with those very same questions…and how truly at odds the truth and my version of the truth were.
You see, I had always had this image of myself as a selfless and unselfish man. I felt I did all the cleaning, cooking, grunt work of the house. I made sure that I kept a clean home and a decent looking exterior (a gardener, I am not, but I try my best). I always sacrificed my time and energy to let my wife and others do what they wanted while I would take care of kids (mine and others), run errands for them or just take on stuff so that they could go out and enjoy life. I felt that I rarely got asked what my needs were or what I wanted to do. I watched whatever shows or movies people wanted to watch, never argued with anyone about anything and let people have pick of whatever they wanted. I was pretty damned selfless, wasn’t I? A man of good standing? Of charity and do-gooding? Didn’t I exude a whiff of, shall I say, sainthood?
During those times, deep down, I was an angry, resentful, lonely, broken man with no self-esteem, yet selfish and self-centered. I played martyr and victim. I thought I was totally selfless when at times I was really making everything about me. “Poor Paul, works too hard”, “Oh Poor Paul, look at him sacrifice himself so much”, “What a guy, never asks anything in return,” etc. This kind of throwing myself on my sword was my way of seeking approval and attention. I was passive-aggressive at times, which certainly screams anger and I took digs at people in the kindest, gentlest way without them even knowing it (sarcasm with a smile!). You could practically hear me muttering by dishwasher machine as I cursed all those on my grudge list under my breath. If you asked me what was going on I would cheerfully tell you I was extolling the virtues of the new detergent I bought that week (“It’s in cube form – it takes the guess work out of free pouring, guys!”) I also wasn’t honest. This was all the stuff my alcoholism fed off of.
I saw all this in my working the steps, namely the fourth step inventory, in seeing my part in things. I know that when it was suggested I wasn’t as snow white as I made myself made out to be, I balked at that suggestion. How dare you! Do you see the shine on those floors? And how about those stubborn grass stains gone from the kids’ jeans? I work hard so you don’t have to. But you see, I had no boundaries – I let people treat me the way they did because I did that to myself and they saw that I was fine that way. I had a perverse sense of control and high-and-mighty-ness when I played the martyr. I felt better than you while I made myself less than you. Sick thinking eh?
And of course in doing so, I took offense easily to things. Deep down I wanted pats on the back and thank yous and applause when I should have been doing what I did out of love, service, purpose and most importantly, out of humility, rather than for something else. I sometimes catch myself doing that today. The thing is that I can see it now, and correct it to the best of my ability.
Today, it’s different. While I offer myself in service to those who would accept it (or even when they can’t accept it), I now too take service in those who would offer it. I am leveling myself to others in my realm and scope of existence. I no longer placate the parts of me which want to play God and determine who I am better than or less than. I’ve had to look and examine my motives for everything I do. Is it out of love, or applause? Is it ego-driven? I have to sort these things out sometimes, but I’m getting better.
I may have put the halo away, but it doesn’t stop me from following in the paths of those who truly wear them.