Tuesday, December 8, 2009

“Negative Egotism”

Some people have difficulty recognizing when their Higher Power is working in their life. This is not a problem I share. I may have difficulty accepting what I am being told, I may have difficulty recognizing or understanding the lesson, but it is usually quite clear to me when that force is at work. It’s a kind of synergy, a string of coincidences that add up very clearly to something more at play. Perhaps I’m struggling with a particular issue and the Just For Today reading just happens to be on that exact subject. And then I go to a meeting and the topic happens to also be on it. Outside, someone will talk about or ask me about, again, this same thing.

There is an ebb and a flow to it; sometimes there is more of this synergy happening than others. Lately, there has been quite a bit. With the guidance of my sponsor, I have been re-working Step 6. At my regular step-study meeting this week, we read and discussed Step 6. I get the ‘Just For Today’ through my email and today’s just happened to be titled ‘Calling a defect a defect’. It is helpful to know that the power greater than myself is there and wants me to succeed. That doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it easier.

One character defect I struggle with in particular is egotism. Not thinking I’m the greatest, but thinking I’m the worst—negative egotism. I can be exceedingly hard on myself. My instincts seem permanently wired to look for the worst of myself, to the point that it becomes impossible to see any of my good qualities. I get lost in the things I’ve done wrong and can lose all sight of anything I might have done right. This is still egotism, in that I am focusing on me.

The way I was raised, I learned that being proud of my accomplishments, my achievements, my good qualities, was sinful—the sin of pride. This knowledge is something that is taking me a while to unlearn. I try to remember that true humility includes being honest with myself about not just my flaws, but my strengths as well. It is hard to shake that feeling, though, that I am a bad person if I feel good about myself.

I have an especially hard time giving myself a break. I learned to be a perfectionist, was raised by parents who were constantly struggling to be ‘perfect’. I think my father considers his perfectionism one of his best qualities. He doesn’t see it as a detriment. To him, it is an asset. I’m going to try to be spiritual here and venture a guess that, maybe because he works so hard to be perfect, because he holds that bar so high for himself, that he is more successful in his endeavors. He sets a hard, harsh course, one he knows he will never achieve, in an attempt to get as close to that high standard as possible. Maybe it works for him. Maybe, for him, it is a good thing. On the other hand, the man does practice his signature.

For me, one of the greatest benefits of Recovery has been learning to accept that I am not perfect. That doesn’t mean it isn’t something I still struggle with. That instinct, those tendencies, still play out in my life. And there are still plenty of times where I fall short of some unreasonable bar that I hadn’t even realized I’d set for myself. For me, when this happens, I immediately come down on myself. I’ll launch a tirade of insults, tell myself I’m worthless, that I’m nothing, that I’ll never succeed, etc. And all of this because I didn’t achieve something I’m not capable of achieving. I beat myself up for failing at something I wasn’t capable of succeeding at.

It is as though I have the idea stuck in my head that I should be able to fly. I jump from the ground, don’t fly, and curse myself for it. So I find something to jump off of. I fall, and again curse myself. Thinking that I am the failure, I find a taller building, and again fail. Knowing the problem is with me, but completely misunderstanding what the problem is, I find taller and taller buildings to jump off, hurting myself more and more with each fall to the ground. Eventually, I am in enough pain from my failures that I am forced to admit I can’t fly after all. Recovery has helped me to accept I can't fly, but there always seems to be that nagging voice telling me I should be able to.

(As a short aside, this is the perfect example for why I have found it useful to eliminate the word ‘should’ from my vocabulary—it forces me to focus on what is, not what might or could be.)

Being hard on myself, being unable to recognize my good qualities and be grateful and properly proud of them, is only one of my character defects. Thank God for the program and the 12-steps. It gives me the chance to work on this issue. Being sober gives me the opportunity to be who I truly am, as I have been created. Working my program helps me to be a better me. Listening to the voice of my Higher Power working in my life helps me to stay focused and let’s me know that God really does want me to be not what my disease tries to make me into, but who I really am.

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