Overcoming self-centeredness in recovery

There’s a form of self-centeredness that isn’t intentionally selfish at all. The adage that applies is, “I’m not much, but I’m all I can think about.” Our ability to get in our own way, take everything very personally, and make everything about ourselves is part and parcel to early recovery. All of these are products of how raw we are emotionally and how fear & shame-based our perceptions and behavior are.

Mired in guilt and without sufficient use of supports and coping strategies, we’re poised on the edge of our seat, anticipating and dreading attacks that never arrive. We prepare for everything our anxiety tells us will inevitably go wrong and forget to notice that most of it never comes to fruition. We are perpetually surprised when things go well.

Early recovery is akin to being a kid in middle school. It involves copious amounts of self-consciousness, emotional immaturity, and a ton of what is most often deemed, “drama.” We alternate between being hyper-aware of self, condemning self, and being highly avoidant of self.

We worry that perhaps we’re narcissistic or otherwise mentally ill. This is almost never the case, but the waters are very muddy. Who we were in active addiction is someone we’re ashamed of and who we’re becoming is a person we don’t yet know how to be. I worked with an addictions counselor for years who called it, “Something’s wrong. It must be me.”

It’s not that we’re egotistical or grandiose in the way that arrogant people are. It’s that we’re insecure and overcompensating. Our disposition leaves us projecting and otherwise believing a lot of things that simply are not true. In response to the stories my clients share with me; I often tease them by saying, “Maybe it’s not all about you.”

We are learning to be okay but we get caught up in the feeling of not being okay, which leaves us running back to our comfort zone, secure in the knowledge that sooner or later, everything is going to go directly to hell. All of this becomes progressively clear as sobriety affords us a greater awareness of our interactions with others and with self. Progressively, we notice that the things we do when we’re afraid have the net effect of making us more afraid.

Ideally, we accept that greater use of supportive others is necessary. Better yet, do the work of recovery and gain confidence and faith in self. In time, we come to a place of believing that we’re okay, even when we don’t feel it. The healthier among us learn humility and to laugh at ourselves in a way that isn’t mean.