Not I

I’m no Copernicus, but give me a few minutes and I will convince you exactly what the world revolves around.

You guessed it:

Another way of defining my recovery is the perpetual re-discovery that life is not about me.

I need to be reminded that I am not the center of the universe often, so often that it’s a wonder I can’t just accept it as fact and move on already.

I’ve got a few theories as to why. They all stem from that tyrannical three-letter word—that scrappy part of the mind that never quits—that showboating hider of insecurity: ego.

Did you know that ego in latin means I? As in, Ego sum magnum ego, meaning I have a big ego (an ego so big that it starts and ends my latin sentences). I’ve heard it all before: selfishness and self-centeredness is the root of my mental illness. Addicts and alcoholics suffer from an acutely ego-centric mind. The most genius part of 12-step work, in my humble opinion, is that those programs turn service into selfish action. Why else would a sponsor volunteer all his free time to lead some newcomer through the steps if it wasn’t for their own benefit? For that matter, why would a newcomer—knowing the selfishness inherent in the disease—trust anyone with their deepest secrets if they imagined that person was working out of the pure goodness of their heart?

Step work takes the strongest characteristic of addicts and alcoholics and uses it against them, like Chuck Norris on the Judo mat. I think it’s brilliant. And it’s only the beginning, of course. One can only sponsor another for so long until they learn that self-less-ness—masquerading as the selfish desire for self-preservation—is responsible for the newfound freedom and happiness they are experiencing. A real “bait and switch” proposition, of the spiritual variety.

 

It’s not like I didn’t have opportunities to learn that self-less-ness is the way of happiness before I got sober.

I remember asking my Mom on Mother’s Days or her birthdays, or any such occasions what she wanted to do—it being the one or two days of the year that I could recognize it was not about me. Every year, every occasion, she’d say some version of: “I just want to be with my kids. With you. That’s all I need.”

I doubted the authenticity of her response so much that I asked her the question twice a year. Without fail, she always said she just wanted to be with us. Amazing consistency in the lie, my selfish brain thought to itself. There is no way that’s actually what she wants, it often added.

When I was young, I assumed she said it because it made me feel good and she always wanted to make me feel good. As I grew older and more cynical, I assumed she was guilting me into some sort of reciprocation, even if it just meant putting me on a self-imposed arrest for that day.

Several decades later, I understand the sort of love she taught me—the love that floats freely without any strings attached to ground it. But, I wasn’t ready then.


And I’m not always ready now.


Take Thursday night.

I come home at nine p.m., buzzing with ideas. I’m typing late into the night. It was the sort of creative outburst that could take the whole weekend to capture in words. Then Friday comes with it’s flat tire. And then it’s the weekend with it’s busyness of all kinds. It was an especially busy weekend because it was my wife’s birthday. I found myself asking her, on several occasions, what she wanted to do. I floated baby-sitter ideas and dining-out options, and pockets of time I could give her to herself—knowing that, in my ghastly desire, all I want a lot of the time is time itself and the space to enjoy it.

She wanted none of it. She wanted to go to the birthday parties of our kids’ friends all weekend and spend time being there for our children. Ho-hum. Where’s the excursion? Where’s the wild return to our pre-settled antics? Where’s the exotic weekend away from all the tension that puts us at odds? No. Not for her. We dove deeper into the mundane, immersed ourselves more fully in the ordinary, celebrated what we have by doing what we would do on any regular weekend.

It got me thinking.

Happiness is not easy. In fact, it’s damn hard. It involves countering my instinct at every turn. My instinct told me to steal time all weekend, to hole away in some hovel of the house and type my way to satisfaction: like happiness is some gorilla I need to wrestle into submission on the page. That’s not what happiness is about. That’s what ambition is about. And I have a lot of that, and it’s not going anywhere and that’s fine. I’m just grateful for the intervals of time that my wife, on her birthday, shows me that happiness is not about me.

“It’s not about me,” is a good prayer. A sober friend gave it to me years ago. I use it all the time. Weddings, celebrations, anywhere, really. My friend called it a prayer; I’ve began to use it more like a chant. A meditation.

The words are a good reminder of what I’ve learned in recovery.


We are all unique souls, like stars. And we all have our own orbits and energies. To assume my star shines brighter than yours is to doubt the majesty of a star-lit night when we all shine together. It’s why the greatest joys are shared.


I don’t remember the first time I rode the subway, but I remember very well the first time my son did. It was the best time I’ve had on the metro, watching him look around in awe of all that was happening: the rocking of the train car, the bubbling conversations, the world rushing by.

He’s now an experienced metro-rider, as the picture form this weekend shows.

How could my happiest moment on a train be spent watching someone else just sit there?

Love, generally speaking, is the answer. Specifically, it is the joy of living a life “not about me.” There is a great power in caring for other people. There is majesty in caring for all people. If I could care for all people the way I care for my son, for example, I think my heart would explode like a star in a supernova.

Some people—my wife, my mother—learn this and know this in life. Others, like me, have to let life and all its selfish distractions nearly smother them to death before becoming willing to breathe that fresh air waiting for them above the ego’s melee.

It’s not all about me. The more I can harness the power in that acknowledgement, the happier I become.

Happiness held is happiness had.

10 Responses to “Not I

  • Oh my goodness! So many great lessons in this post!
    1. Happiness is not easy. In fact, it’s damn hard.
    2. Ego sum magnum ego, meaning I have a big ego (an ego so big that it starts and ends my Latin sentences).
    3. it is the joy of living a life “not about me.”
    This post totally made my day. Thank you for sharing!

  • It’s funny to watch my hubs, as he delights in the just being with me, or sharing a meal with me, and he is one of the most unselfish people I know.
    For me, I have to remind myself many times during the day, that it’s not about me.
    We do need all the stars to shine!
    xo
    Wendy

  • A truly amazing post my friend, multi-level profoundness!

    I feel I shall be wrestling the gorilla of happiness until I die, I just pray I always have the upper hand!

    Thanks

  • Unselfconsciousness, happiness is a subtraction problem

  • LOL, Mark: you are speaking directly to ME these days! (With and without pun). I will never forget “whining” about some issue and Paul letting me know this was my ego; what a revelation! Sorry to miss you this weekend but we will get together soon!

    • HD! Our correspondence has definitely been a source of inspiration. I think that explains some of the coincidences happening here.

      Yeah, sorry to miss you this weekend. But, catch you this summer some time!

  • Yes I think it is important to recognize joy in the mundane as your blog is entitled. The difficult times come so we need to take joy, and recognize that joy, when life is quiet. Those beautiful children look like bundles of joy! You are a lucky man!

  • I love that prayer – “it’s not about me”. I need to tattoo that to the insides of my eyelids.
    My big takeaway from this fantastic post is the difference between happiness and ambition. You nailed it! I can be ambitious, yet miserable. I can also be happy and have some ambitions. I remember one of my therapists telling me that that alcohol destroys ambition. And it’s true – it only amped up my ambition to take myself into further oblivion. Other than that, it wiped it all out.

    Happiness *is* hard – I think it’s also hard because it’s hard to define and to put into a neat box. It means different things to different people. I think part of my role here is to find what it means to me and to live it. Not an easy task. My busy mind will find ways to thwart it – work more! Stay busier! Get shit DONE! – rather than just luxuriate in it. Harder to do with a demanding family and work life. But we do our best, Mark. We do our best and that is the miracle of sobriety (and the mundane!)

    Thanks dude – awesome work.

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