Getting out of self is the key ingredient to getting better
I adjusted my shirt as I prepared to sit down at the very long table — one of three that lined the giant room of a church basement.
It was one of my first meetings, and it was about to start as I headed back to my seat from getting my coffee. My nerves were on edge as I wasn’t yet used to these giant rooms filled with people.
I sat my coffee down and pulled out the chair, but as I began to sit down, my arm knocked the cup over, sending coffee down the table. My heart sank. I watched it quickly make its way to a stack of brand-new meeting pamphlets.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” I said, as I awaited the “awes” and “ohs” and “God damn its.”
I quickly grabbed all the books nearby and saved them from the stream of coffee headed their way.
But not even a negative sigh could be heard.
I turned to get the napkins, but someone was already there with them, cleaning up my mess.
“Thank you, I am so sorry,” I said, apologetically, as I felt the other 30 people in the room looking over at me.
“It’s no trouble at all,” the man said to me as he finished wiping off the table.
I looked around to meet some of the annoyed glances I expected from the rest of the attendees. There were none.
Every set of eyes I met just smiled at me, patiently — comfortingly.
At the time, I had no idea why these people were so understanding, patient and kind. But I felt catapulted into another dimension.
The dimension I found myself in was a fellowship called Alcoholics Anonymous. And helping others with understanding and tolerance was their code. Patience, understanding and selflessness were their way of life.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. — Big Book, pg. 84 (Into Action — step 9)
Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code. — Big Book, pg. 84 (Into Action — step 10)
Helping others is the foundation stone of recovery. A kindly act occasionally isn’t enough. We must act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many nights’ sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your business… — Big Book, pg. 97 (Working With Others — step 12)
When I began my recovery journey, they told me that I had an eighty percent higher chance for long-term recovery if I did service work and focused daily on what I could do to help others. Since they also told me that only roughly one to two percent of us would ever recover, I decided that I needed all the insurance I could get. So, I did.
I threw myself into these principles and did everything in my power to live by them. When I went out into the world, I stopped praying and wishing for things that I wanted and started hoping to find ways that I could give help to others.
I stopped focusing on what I could get and started focusing on what I could give. I sought out ways to be of service, and I always stayed to help clean up.
I took these principles out into the world, and instead of trying to get the first spot in line, I let the person behind me go first. I opened doors for people and picked up the fallen items in the grocery store to assist the staff. I helped my neighbor carry her groceries and volunteered wherever I could.
When people or the world would upset me, I wouldn’t wish for them to give me my way, but I would hope for a way to be more understanding — more helpful.
It works for unknown and mysterious reasons that we humans will never fully understand. But it also works for practical reasons. It works because sometimes you can’t see things when you are in them, like a fish in water. It works because when we shift our focus to helping others we are less discontent about our own selfish concerns. It works because being of service to those around us develops a worthwhile pride and self-esteem. It helps us feel useful and see past our own noses.
And, just like our predecessors warned, everyone who did not practice these principles with an earnest resolve failed. Turns out, they were right. It’s just How it Works.
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. — Big Book, pg. 58 (How it Works — steps 1–12)
Over time and after developing a working and living knowledge of the twelve steps, this way of love and tolerance becomes a way of life. In the beginning, though, it is more of a practice.
Any time I was going into a situation that tempted my self-will to run riot, I would practice the principles I learned in step three with the aid of these three prayers:
Third Step Prayer
God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life. — Big Book, pg. 63 (How it Works — step 3)
Serenity Prayer Short Version
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference. — Reinhold Niebuhr
St. Francis Prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
— Unknown Author
These three prayers hold the principles by which I changed the way I look at the entire world. They have certain religious roots, but what matters — as stated in the Big Book — is not the exact wording or belief system around the words but their spiritual nature and the earnestness of their expression.
Helping others has proven for me, those I have worked with, and legions of others to be the most crucial ingredient to long-term recovery.
My hope is that whether you are seeking recovery from addiction, grief, abuse or any other life-altering obstacle, you can find solace in practicing the principles of tolerance, understanding and love.
Written by Holly Kellums
Originally published on Medium.com