I've been wanting to write this post for awhile, but over the last few weeks something else would come up and I would write about a different topic. But this week I'm finally talking about self-care vs. selfishness in recovery - two very important, albeit different concepts. They are often confused and it's not unusual for a person to use self-care as a reason for doing something, but actually be coming from a selfish place, or vice versa. So, what's the difference between self-care and selfishness and why are both relevant to recovery?
Selfishness is defined as, "concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others." When I got sober, I had absolutely no idea that selfishness was a component of my disease of addiction. I thought putting down the drink and the drugs was enough for me to heal, but I was wrong. It wasn't until I started going to 12 step meetings that I learned about the role selfishness played in my disease. Addiction is a disease that takes over a user's reasoning, logic, and emotions. Substance users who are in active addiction often choose their drug of choice before all else - family, friends, children, jobs, or any other responsibilities. For me, I was in deep denial that I had ever done this. Because I wasn't a morning drinker or a person who lost everything to addiction, I didn't consider myself to be selfish. However, the more I learned about addiction the more I agree that it's an inherently selfish disease. When addiction has taken over your brain, you are almost incapable of thinking about anything except yourself.
I don't agree with everything that's in the Big Book of AA, but there is one part that I think is relevant here, "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." -p.62.
I felt like I had just experienced an epiphany when I found out I had been being selfish during my drinking years. It was a definite blow to my ego because despite my drinking and using, I was sure I had still been able to be there for my loved ones and get along pretty well in life. Understanding the role of selfishness in my disease has allowed me to learn how to be a person who cares about others, enjoys doing things for others, and has a broader vision in terms of viewing the world, not just through my own lens.
Self-care is another concept I never knew about until I got sober. Self-care, what the heck is that? Self-care is the act of taking care of oneself, by whatever means necessary. Self-care normally consists of regular pampering, meditation, eating healthy meals, exercising, a warm bath, or spending time relaxing. It also includes setting healthy boundaries and sticking to them. Some people do not know that this is an essential part of life. I certainly did not. Today it's a crucial part of my recovery program.
If you're looking to stay sane, stay sober, and able to make the best decisions for your life every day, self-care should be a part of your plan. To some, self-care may sound selfish, and to an extent it is. You have to put yourself first, whether you're in recovery or not. If you're not healthy and content on the inside, you won't be able to be an asset to the world on the outside. I believe that self-care actually helps me not to act selfishly. By taking care of myself, I can be sure that I move through the world with more mindfulness and loving kindness towards everyone I encounter.
It's not unusual for some people to confuse selfishness and self-care. Addiction has a selfish component to it, and normally self-care is not present in active addiction. In recovery, we begin to learn about our selfish nature and what we can do to change it. Self-care is a component to eliminating selfishness and keeping our mind, bodies, and spirits prepared for any hardships life might throw our way. In nurturing ourselves, we begin to heal and truly become aware about the world around us. Only then are we capable of tending to the needs of others and gain the ability to be our best selves.
Self-care and selfishness are two very different things, but they also depend on each other. For me, self-care was one essential part for me getting well and being able of showing up for my family, friends, and the people who I come in contact with in my daily life. Today I am able to be loving, kind, tolerant, and know that the world doesn't revolve around me. So the next time someone says, you don't need that massage, or that hour by yourself with a coffee, you can argue that's it's imperative for you in order to be the best version of you.