The following italicized excerpt comes from the How It Works chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book and contains the words I have found to be the most challenging to face within myself throughout most of my life.
“The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits. What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony? Our actor is self-centered—ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired businessman who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity? Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self, which later placed us in a position to be hurt.”
Bill Wilson wrote these words in the Big Book for those suffering from alcohol and drugs, but I believe that they can have great application to everyone’s lives in this world. All of what he wrote here can be summed up in one word…control. Many people love to be in control because deep down inside they know they’re insecure and their lives tend to get out of control because of how they’re living it. Through those controlling behaviors they also love to point the fingers and constantly say what’s wrong with everyone and everything else in the world. All of this essentially just highlights the fact that they are often completely self-absorbed, selfish, or self-centered. And most of my life, this has been me.
Letting go of control and not trying to direct the world around me has been an arduous undertaking. I grew up in a family that taught me to be this way and trying to break that pattern has proven to be quite difficult. With both of my parents having been alcoholics and never truly finding recovery, I watched how they constantly played the director in life trying to put off a good show. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t but nonetheless, everyone was often miserable in my family because of all of this behavior. When I left home and went out on my own, I essentially turned into my parents. In every friendship, relationship, job, or social interaction I was known as a control freak. And when I wasn’t in control, I was sitting back and saying how “this” or “that” was wrong and how things would be better if people would just do “this” or “that”. Most everyone eventually always got mad at me and in return I generally became self-piteous so that people would feel sorry for me instead. In many ways I was that little kid who had never grown up.
Finding recovery and the 12 Steps has changed everything. It has helped me find a Higher Power who loves me unconditionally. That Higher Power over time has also led me to finally beginning to grow up. And as I continue to grow up more each day, I have seen just how selfish I’ve been in every area of my life for most of it. The biggest realization though that has come in my recovery is the the fact that I had rarely ever let go of control with anything in my life.
I don’t want to be controlling or a director anymore in my life. Today I am working very hard to allow God to be in control and the only director. When I try to still do either, just like always, my show comes out terrible and most often will get seriously bad reviews and boos. The more that I have let God be in control and the director instead, the more my show has gotten great praise and standing ovations. And I think I’d rather have those instead…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson