This was the title of a college mid-term writing project for Richard this summer. He is an intern here at Helping Up Mission - I have known him for quite a few years and he has come a long way in his recovery. I got to read what he wrote and thought you might appreciate it, too. So, with Richard’s permission:
My inherent selfishness is about a lot more than just the nature I was born with. The importance of being able to manage a character defect that controls my selfish outlook on the world is one of the biggest challenges in my life. The quest to overcome the adverse effects of self-centeredness is central in the journey I am now on so that I can increase the overall quality of my life.
I was born into a family of eleven children and I had six older siblings. By the time I was five years old I had four younger siblings. The ability to keep anything for myself had a direct correlation with my selfish nature. I can remember times when I even had to fight in order to have something to eat. When I was fortunate enough to get a new toy or even a book I found out that the only way to keep it in my possession was to hide it. Growing up in this kind of environment led me to believe it was okay to keep things from other people. The idea that if something was lying around it was okay to pick it up also played a major role in my early development. I did not consider taking things that were not mine to be stealing till much later in my life.
I started to drink and take drugs regularly at the age of thirteen and the nature of that disease also contributed to my overall concept that I could take whatever I wanted from whoever I wanted as long as I did not get caught. My selfishness grew in proportion to my general disregard for people overall. Having had an alcoholic father who was abusive to all his children made it seem natural to distrust everyone I came in contact with. His disregard for other people and their property reinforced my warped belief system and allowed me to believe that this kind of behavior was normal.
My father would often have trouble with the law as a result of his behavior and he would often voice his opinion about how the system was unfair. I incorporated those beliefs into an already faulty belief system. That reinforced an attitude of selfishness because it taught me that everyone was out to take away from me what was mine. It was okay to take what I felt belonged to me and to protect it at all cost. I was eighteen when I went into the military and while in there I came to believe that even the majority was willing to fight and to die for what they believed was theirs. I took all this information into an alcoholic and drugged mind that had already twisted the world around me to fit into my selfish and self-centered way of thinking. The world became mine for the taking.
I lived with those warped ideas for several years before it dawned on me that my selfishness had lead to my total disregard for the feelings of the people around me. No one wanted anything to do with me. The importance of managing my selfish outlook on life became the biggest issue I needed to deal with when I realized that in a world full of people I was all alone. The drugs had been put aside several years ago but the alcohol had become more important to me than people in my life and I came to realize just how selfish I really was. Five years ago I decided I needed to make some major changes in the way I lived.
When I quit relying on substances in order to avoid life’s situations I quickly saw where my selfishness had created major problems in my relationships with people. I was so self centered I had convinced myself that I did not even need other people. The process I choose to change my life was contained in the twelve steps of a spiritual recovery program that was designed to help people such as myself. The first thing I had to do was to admit that I even had a problem. I had developed numerous problems in my life by this time so it was not very hard for me to see and understand the futility of my self-centered life style.
They say that God looks out for fools and drunks and it did not take me long to realize that it was God’s grace that had allowed me to stumble through a life that was so destructive. My self-esteem had arrived at an all time low because I had allowed my selfishness to alienate me from everyone I had come into contact with. The first thing I had to do to improve my outlook on life was to learn to have a caring spirit. When it came to dealing with other people I had issues with things such as how to carry on a meaningful conversation. After living for well over forty years as a self-centered and uncaring individual that was no easy task. I work on my attitude on a daily basis through prayer, meditation, and action.
I have been able to increase the overall quality of my life by learning how to give of myself to other people. When I began this journey I did not even realize that I had anything to offer to anyone. Through the guidance of a caring sponsor and the moral support of a good mentor I was able to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship allowed me to have the confidence to start to trust the person I had begun the journey with. As I developed a trusting and caring relationship with my sponsor he was able to reveal more things to me about how to live a life with purpose.
When I get up today the first order of business for me is to pray, meditate, and read daily devotions. When I have an overall sense of peace about myself I am better equipped to face the people I encounter throughout my day. I like to take a daily inventory at night in order to reflect on how well I did during the day. If I have done anything that I feel was detrimental to my overall well being I make a mental note of it so I can address it the next day.
When I deal with people in a personal or professional capacity today I strive to be honest. This has been a challenge for me because of the lifestyle I lived for so many years. I still want to put my own personal interest ahead of the good of the community even though I know that it is not always the healthiest thing to do. My carnal nature will always tell me that I am the most important person in the world even though I know today that I need other people to live a meaningful life. It is fortunate for me that in the program I am in they stress that we are supposed to focus on progress and not perfection.
A large part of my morning prayer is focused on asking for forgiveness for the things in my program that I feel I have failed at. I also have made a habit of praying for other people and this helps me to be less selfish and self-centered. The defining factor in my progress to improve my life is my desire to reach out and help other people who have succumbed to the same false beliefs that I so willingly embraced for so many years.
It has been a rewarding journey so far and I get excited when I anticipate the possibilities that my new lifestyle opens up for me. Today as a result of developing and working towards improving a caring and giving attitude I have been able to develop several rewarding relationships. As I journey further down the road of recovery I know that the steps I am taking are increasing my overall quality of life. Today instead of begrudgingly plowing through life and running over the people I encounter I am able to look forward to having meaningful and rewarding relationships.
I am pround of my buddy and am glad to report that this stuff still works, one day at a time!
Pastor Gary Byers
Spiritual Life Director