After Me, you Come First

Leaves From the Fool’s Handbook

1. How to Become Unhappy

Sit down quietly where you are not likely to be disturbed. Relax the body – and begin to think about yourself. It does not matter very much what you actually think, so long as it is about yourself. Think about yourself, and every time your thoughts wander to something higher, bring it back gently but relentlessly.

If possible think about the past. Think over all the mistakes you have ever made, going right back to childhood. Think of all the foolish things you have ever said or done. Think of all the opportunities you have missed and the time you have wasted. Especially think of all the occasions upon which you have been badly treated. Consider carefully the injustices of which you have been the victim and think how much better off you might be in various ways today if only other people had behaved properly in times gone by. Remind yourself vividly of the unkind things other people have done to you and rehearse the incidents in detail, feeling as angry or hurt as you possibly can at each recollection. Even if a particular person has not actually offended you realize that he might have done so if he had had the chance, and tell yourself that he has probably talked about you anyway.

Think about your body and wonder if your age or your job or the climate isnt beginning to tell. See if you cannot discover an ache or a pain somewhere; you probably can if you search long enough.

Think about business or finances as gloomily as possible and even if they are going well now, insist that this is probably too good to last.

In any case, think about yourself, that is the main point, and if you will keep this up faithfully for 15 or 20 minutes, there will be no doubt about the result. You will have attained your goal.

– Emmet Fox

Reading this last night made me chuckle at first because of how ridiculous it sounds at first blush. But really, isnt this an addict’s unconscious default? This is exactly the shit I say to myself in the back of my head in that Charlie Brown’s Teacher tone; “Blah, blah, blah Neil Blah, blah, Neil blah, blah…”. It happens all day long. So much so that I’m actually impressed with myself, jarred in a way, when my thinking turns towards someone else, their welfare, or (shock of shocks) the present moment. I feel better for a minute, become impressed with myself for thinking of others, slip into a little righteousness over how other people should think like this, and Voila! I’m right back to default sleep mode.

It’s no small wonder that those of us so inclined to that Anonymous Thing actually go to meetings and have epiphanies regarding higher thought and thinking of others. It isnt our default to do that.
I often joke that when I got sober I thought about Me 99% of the time. If I thought of you it generally had something to do with how you effected Me. 28 years later, on a good day I bet I think of Me 75 – 80% of the day. And Holy Shite, those are AMAZINGLY GOOD days!!! My hope is that by the time they’re standing at the urn of me, getting ready to spread Me over the shield at the 50 yard line of the Oakland Coliseum I will have lowered that ratio to a steadfast 60/40. Me first of course.

But you get the point – Me thinking about Me never ends well. For Me or you. It’s invariably a closed loop system with the gears greased by fear, pride, sloth, envy, greed, lust, anger, gluttony and so on. And it’s always focused on the past or the future. Never right now, this second, writing this blog (or in your case, reading). Love – brotherly or otherwise, integrity, courage, willingness, honesty, open mindedness, humility, service; they cant happen anywhere but now. And they are much more apt to happen when I’m looking you in the eye, wondering how I can help. How can I add to. How can I give back. Behold, that 40%. You first.

A sponsee texted me last week wondering how he was supposed to love himself. I responded ‘practice esteemable acts’. I have poked fun over the years at people who slap post-its on their mirror reminding themselves how great they are. I’ve always considered this to be sort of a punchline to that aforementioned closed loop thought process.
A few years back I hit a horrible bottom in sobriety. It leveled me, and in my little phoenix act I recommitted to the Steps. I especially recommitted to being in service to others. Helping others was a duty I’d performed over the years because it was what was expected of me. I frowned on the idiots around me who gleefully proclaimed that it was a selfish program and that the justification for that hypocrisy was that it was a save your own ass deal; that they stayed sober when they worked with others. That always left a bad taste in my mouth. It felt like a lie, a betrayal of everything I’d ever read in The Book. Like it was performing the act without it’s soul. All that duty and ‘what’s in it for me’ reminded me a bit of married sex.
But now it was different; I truly enjoyed being in service. It donned on me that as I was looking you in the eye, looking to add to you in some way that those principles I was sharing washed through me as I offered them to you. Three years into this experiment in altruism I was brushing my teeth one morning and it dawned on me – for the first time in my life that I wasnt bad looking and was a pretty good guy. Epiphany. No post-its. This change in consciousness happened while I was busy doing other things. Busy not thinking about me. Loving myself was a bi-product of thinking of others!
Now I know the alanons are going to pipe in with some drivel about how they’ve been thinking about others their whole lives and boundaries and yadda yadda. I call bullshit. Go back to that 1% I referred to at the beginning of this manifesto. Alanons in their throes (of which I have been from time to time) are among the most underhanded and manipulative humans I’ve ever known, all the while ‘thinking of others’. In service with the expectation that I’ll get mine. No better than sober drunks practicing that brand of ‘I’m doing this service for me’ except without the guts to admit it. Either way it’s soulless.

My sponsor back in the 90’s was a fiery old man named John. He always used to say that I had to do it for free and for fun. He’d pump his fists in the air when speaking and rage passionately about the 12th step being the Joy of Living. Yes, I thought he was a bit off his rocker, but there was no denying his sense of surety and conviction. He knew of what he spoke! I had faith that he knew something i didnt. Last week I found myself pitching at a meeting. I gave a good deal of what i just shared right now and by the end of it my fists were raising, I was roaring (just a little bit) and nothing else mattered but that maybe just one person out there heard it, got what I needed to give. It didnt matter if I pissed people off. Hell, sometimes that’s precisely when I know I’m on the right track! The Truth shall set ye free! But first it’ll piss you off. And i caught myself. I lowered my hands and apologized, laughing. Just like a wild-eyed old man who once met me where I was at. Thanks for planting those seeds, John Carney. Altruism aint such a bad deal.