He had created a whole universe centered around himself
MANY YEARS ago, When I was just a small boy, filled with curiosity, I went to my father and asked him what heaven was like. Wisely, instead of trying to describe something no one really knows anything about, he asked me this question: “Suppose you were in the kitchen and found the last piece of a chocolate pie. What would you do?”
“Well, I love chocolate pie,” I replied, “so I guess I would eat it.”
“But what if you knew your brother hadn’t had a piece?”
I was trapped. Now, I could see where his questions were leading me, and this was not going to be what I wanted to hear.
“If you were in heaven,” he said, “you would save that last piece of pie for your brother. That’s what heaven is like. It’s a world where we all share and think of others’ needs before we think of our own.”
Well, I decided right then and there that I wanted nothing to do with heaven if that was the way it was going to be. Even though a part of me understood how nice it would he if that degree of harmony was possible, another part of me just couldn’t give up that last piece of pie. Looking back, I can see that I’ve spent enormous amounts of my time and energy arranging people, places, and things in order to get that piece of pie. And not until I nearly destroyed myself with alcohol could I see that my way wasn’t the road to happiness after all.
Not long ago, in an AA discussion meeting, my sponsor was talking on self-centeredness. He quoted from the Big Book: “Selfishness–self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” My sponsor declared that all of us probably had that phrase underlined in our Big Books. Well, I didn’t know if I had or not. Believe me, when I got home that night, I looked it up, and–what a relief!–I had it underlined in my book, too.
But at the time I underlined it, the real significance of the statement had not been clear to me. Sure, I could admit that on occasion I had been somewhat selfish–staying out all night, spending the grocery money on booze–but it wasn’t until I finally got around to doing my Fourth Step inventory that I could see how much self-centeredness had contributed to my failure at life. It was on every page of my inventory. I had created a whole universe centered around me and what I expected out of life. I was my own God; therefore, I really had no God. How miserable life was when I saw the world only through my own eyes! I was unable to reach out to others, and they were unable to reach me. The wonderful experience of peace of mind eluded me until I found the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Self-centeredness is a poison to my emotional system. It frustrates my every effort toward a comfortable and happy existence. A terrible chain reaction begins. Fear sets in. Anger, resentment, and self-pity become my guiding forces. My only escape is to put this awful selfishness aside and become involved with the world around me.
Alcoholics Anonymous is the perfect solution for our selfishness. This program gives us a purpose and a vision of something much greater than self. We work with others daily. We are forced to become involved with the problems of the newcomer. As a result, our own problems just naturally pale in comparison. When I haven’t been to a meeting in a while, simply talking to one of my friends always helps.
Discussion meetings are my favorite cures for reducing this magnified image I sometimes get of myself. There is a magical power that works around those tables. I can go to a meeting wound up tight as a drum, and about ten minutes into the meeting, I invariably begin to feel better. Whatever the problem was may still be there, but my attitude toward it has changed. Sometimes, the only place on earth that makes any sense to me is a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
But old habits are hard to break. Occasionally, I still catch myself saying something like: “Why is this happening to me?” or “What is it ever going to take to finally make me happy?” Blinded by my selfishness, I perceive things that way. But in truth, I don’t believe it takes anything to be happy. It is an inside job, something I choose, or refuse to choose, for myself. Circumstances outside myself have nothing whatever to do with it.
Anytime I feel that life isn’t treating me right, and that everything is against me, then I’m trying to play God again. The longer I’m in this program, the more convinced I become that I really have no idea what’s best for me. Who would have imagined that becoming an alcoholic would be something to be grateful for? But indeed I am. Had I not become an alcoholic, I would never have found this way of life that I have always wanted so desperately. My surrender to alcoholism was necessary to open my heart and mind to the healing love of God.
When I joined Alcoholics Anonymous, you told me that if I would walk with you, I would be a free man; that I would never have to drink again if I would only follow twelve simple Steps. But. you told me that in order to keep what I had found, I would have to give it away. I would have to work with others, put their needs before my own. Sometimes, I don’t feel like doing this. I’m still a very selfish person. But I know that if I want to remain sober and free, then these are the things I must do. “Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!”
I know that my life is no longer my own. My life now is in the hands of “a new Employer.” Even though I still complain now and then about the working conditions and sometimes have trouble getting along with my fellow employees, it’s a great improvement over the way things were when I was in charge. Although I sometimes take my sobriety for granted, I am never ungrateful for it.
Today, I still don’t know that much about heaven, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons about life on earth. For so many years, I had always believed that the important thing was to be able to draw other people’s attention toward me. I felt I had to have this attention in order to establish my self-worth. This was my only means of security. Today, I know that the opposite is true. The real gift of love is to be able to give it to others. The ability to love can never be taken away from me, except by me. When I can get myself out of the way long enough to love another human being, it’s the best feeling I know of. I guess you might say it’s heavenly, just the way my dad described it many years ago.