I heard someone say, once, 'recovery is personal journey of the discovery of self,' or something to that effect. Often one hears very impassioned talks in AA about the emotional and intellectual twists and turns of the journey from the head to the heart. The observations may be accurate, and the emotions, heartfelt.
However, the point, paradoxically, of all of the self-searching and self-awareness is self-forgetting. Without that, the rocket never reaches orbit, and all you have is a lot of showy fire and smoke. More worryingly, without reaching orbit, the rocket will crash back to earth, at ten, fifteen, twenty years sober. Forget yourself or die, one might sternly admonish, but without excessive drama, because sticky ends are not exactly a rarity amongst people who have been in the world of recovery for a long time.
To some extent this is fuelled by the 'always recovering' principle. If you're 'always recovering', you're never quite up to the challenges of the world, so are exempted. A world which, if one pays attention at all, needs far more work on it than you do. There's nothing wrong with working on oneself, per se, but when there is a world that is desperately in need of practical help, once one has cleared away the basic blocks to usefulness (alcoholic drinking, neuroticism stemming from resentment and secrecy, and a lifetime of amends that have never been made), that is where one's main obligations lie. If one were actually to recover, one would be forced to forget the residual emotional discomfort, for a great deal of the time, take up the hammer, sickle, and spade, and work. You see, there is a selfish advantage in never fully recovering.
'The work' is not the work on oneself: that is preparation for 'the work'. The work is really the living sacrifice of oneself (meaning one's own desires and ambitions) through effort to contribute to the world around one. This does not mean that one does not continue to perform a little inventory, say a little prayer, confess wrongs, and quietly apologise for misdemeanours. It does mean, however, that this is relegated to a support function and is no longer the main business of one's life.
Here are some quotations:
For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that. My wife and I abandoned ourselves with enthusiasm to the idea of helping other alcoholics to a solution of their problems.
If sex is very troublesome, we throw ourselves the harder into helping others. We think of their needs and work for them. This takes us out of ourselves.
THE RELIGIOUS VIEW ON AA 'The basis of the technique of Alcoholics Anonymous is the truly Christian principle that a man cannot help himself except by helping others. The AA plan is described by the members themselves as "self-insurance". This self-insurance has resulted in the restoration of physical, mental and spiritual health and self-respect to hundreds of men and women who would be hopelessly down and out without its unique but effective therapy.'
THE MEDICAL VIEW ON AA 'In this atmosphere the alcoholic often overcomes his excessive concentration upon himself. Learning to depend upon a higher power and absorb himself in his work with other alcoholics, he remains sober day by day. The days add up into weeks, the weeks into months and years.'
A salt doll journeyed for thousands of miles and stopped on the edge of the sea.
It was fascinated by this moving liquid mass, so unlike anything it had seen before.
'What are you?' said the salt doll to the sea.
'Come in and see,' said the sea with a smile.
So the doll waded in. The further it went the more it dissolved till there was only a pinch left. Before that last bit dissolved, the doll exclaimed in wonder, 'Now I know what I am!'
The Song of the Bird, Anthony de Mello
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps we think of our day's work and the chances it may afford us to be useful and helpful, or of some special problem that it may bring.
the surest help of all—our search for God's will, not our own
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions