I’m a pretty selfish person. I’m not ashamed of that fact. I seem to have found a way to align my own personal interests with that which is in the best interest of some other humans, so me looking out for number one has some pleasant byproducts. That last part has not always been the case.
But I have always been selfish. The two differences between my selfishness then in active addiction and early sobriety, and my selfishness now in permanent, long-term sobriety, are awareness and impact. The impact my selfish drinking and my selfish focus on transitioning into sobriety had on others was quite negative. Gaslighting, denials, mood swings, rants, temper, inconsideration, emotional immaturity and down right meanness took a huge toll on me and the people inflicted with my presence. Anyone who has experienced addiction first or second hand can likely relate.
What is foreign, or at least confusing, to many is the awareness piece. I am well aware of how I present myself to the world these days. I know that my mind is always churning away, and that it makes me distant and isolated sometimes. I know that when I “help” someone else, I am doing so in order to learn new things, or to feel better about myself, or to inspire others to help me accomplish a personal goal. Selfish, selfish, selfish.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. This secret has unlocked a truth that could have, if only I had understood it sooner, ended my destructive drinking years, even decades earlier. This is a foundational truth so powerful that it could bring high-functioning alcoholism to its knees.
What’s the secret? Everyone else is selfish, too.
There is no doubt that operating in the world with your eyes open has revealed that selfishness is pervasive among inhabitants of the dark underbelly of our towns and cities, but everybody? What about your friends, family, coworkers and neighbors who seem to really care about you? What about them?
Yep, they are driven by internal motivations of self-preservation and prosperity, too. They are selfish.
Let’s say you are buying what I’m selling. Let’s say you can find a way to get on board with the idea that everyone is putting on their own oxygen mask first. Who cares? What does that “foundational truth” have to do with sobriety?
For a very long time, fear of the opinions of others, and the resulting consequences, was a huge part of what kept me drinking. I thought that if I didn’t drink, I wouldn’t fit in at parties. I thought I would have to answer lots of invasive questions about my moral failings and lack of willpower. I thought I might lose promotions at work because I could no longer hang for hours at the bar. I thought sobriety would cost me friendships and make me look like a teetotalling pariah. And I hate the word, “teetotalling,” about as much as I hate the phrase, “falling off the wagon,” so I couldn’t dream of having it assigned as a descriptor of me.
I chose, instead, to continue to battle in vain to control my drinking. I chose debilitating alcohol-induced depression and anxiety. I chose to put myself, and those around me, at risk. I chose to traumatize my family.
There were certainly multiple factors that kept me making those terrible choices, but my concern about what other people would think of me if I stopped drinking was very high on my list.
The funniest part of that now, as I continue to operate with my own self-interest at the forefront, but with more awareness of the motivators of others, is that I actually used to think that people outside of my immediate family thought about me at all. What a joke. They are selfish, too. How could they think about me with all of the time they were spending thinking about themselves?
I can count on one hand the number of follow-up questions I have received in over six years of sobriety when I declined an alcoholic beverage in a social setting. I have never experienced being openly shunned or “othered” for not pouring toxin down my throat. And as for the fear of a lack of career advancement brought on by responsibly abstaining from mind-altering substances, that one makes me laugh out loud for its ridiculousness.
I have managed lots of people in different industries and at different rungs on the ladder. That statement is not intended as a brag. I am trying to establish my experience in personnel management before I say, hiring and firing sucks!
It sucks so bad. It might be my least favorite thing on earth. I would rather be a proctologist than go into HR. And it is getting worse. Our entitlement culture makes it so hard to find people who care enough to show up with consistency and professionalism, and exchange the agreed upon work for the agreed upon pay without expectations of being owed something for their very existence. I know I sound like a crusty old man. I know it. I don’t care because I am both crusty and right.
But I digress. The point is, why did I ever dream that someone would fire me or refuse to advance me because I didn’t drink with them at company happy hours? Unless my career was as a wine critic, that is a ridiculous fear. I always was and always will be employment and promotion worthy simply because I show up on time and do what I say I’m going to do. The bar is pretty low these days. Sobriety is not ever going to keep me from getting over it.
Honestly, in professional, social, and family settings, I have found lots of people who are actually impressed with my sobriety. Do you know what I call the rare few who scoff at it? I call them alcoholics. Not to their faces, but you know, while I am selfishly evaluating (internally making fun of) the people with whom I am interacting. If someone is threatened by my choice not to consume poison, it can only mean one thing.
I hope I have convinced you to embrace your selfishness. It is not a dirty word as it is used in our culture. Selfishness can change the world for the better, especially when we align our goals to positive outcomes for ourselves and others. It’s not really that hard. Just stop being a drunk asshole, and you’ve probably got some pretty helpful selfishness to contribute.
I know you don’t care what I drink. Now you know that I know that you don’t think about my beverages at all. And I know that you don’t care that I know what I know.
If we would all just mind our own selfish business, I bet the world would be a much more sober place.
If you are ready to start or continue your own selfish pursuit of sobriety, maybe check us out at SHOUT Sobriety.