What does it mean to “destroy your ego long enough” so that you can get recovery?
I never would have understood this concept until I actually went through with it in my early recovery journey.
The fact was that I was struggling with my ego when I was stuck in addiction, and I had no way to break free from my own self defeating behaviors until I became willing to let go.
That “letting go” process involved pushing my ego to the side.
I had to learn how to get out of my own way in order to embrace recovery.
I couldn’t do it alone. I wished very hard that I could figure out how to recover all by myself, but that wasn’t working out.
So I had to listen to others. I had to follow directions. I had to take advice other than my own ideas.
And that’s hard. That takes guts. You have to squash your ego in order to do those things.
How the ego gets in the way of recovery from addiction
I made an assumption before I ever became sober that I was smarter than the average alcoholic.
This was a bad assumption to make. We all would like to think that we are probably smarter than average. Statistically speaking, this is true–if you look at the data out there, most people believe that they are smarter than average. But of course this can’t be true–we can’t all be smarter than average! And so in spite of our hopes we can get ourselves into trouble.
And what does it really matter anyway, even if you are super smart? This has nothing to do with recovery. You don’t get an advantage in terms of quitting drinking when it comes to your intelligence. It doesn’t make it any easier to put down the bottle just because your IQ score is 5 percent higher than the average person. That has nothing to do with sobriety. We are deluding ourselves in believing that our intelligence has anything to do with overcoming alcoholism. The two things have nothing to do with each other.
And yet our ego will not believe this. It refuses to believe it. Our ego insists that we are smart, that we have figured things out in the past and we have overcome difficult challenges in our lives, and so surely we have what it takes to beat this addiction thing. That is what our ego stubbornly insists. But of course it is wrong in this. Just because you have willpower and determination and success in your past does not mean that you are exempt from the laws of addiction.
Our ego gets in the way because we refuse to believe that we can listen to someone else that can tell us how to find happiness.
I refused to believe this for a long time. How is listening to someone else going to lead me to a better life? How is it going to create happiness in my life if I take direction and advice from others? How in the world could those people possibly know what I want in life? How could they possibly know what would make me happy?
And so I did not trust them. I did not trust in the recovery process, nor did I trust in the AA program. I thought that everyone just wanted to take my drugs and alcohol away from me because they didn’t like me or something. It was really pretty ridiculous in retrospect. The last person to know about your denial is always YOU. I could not see my own denial because I was trapped in a certain way of thinking. I believed that alcohol and drugs were the only possibly path to my happiness and fulfillment. I believed that taking away the drugs and the alcohol could only lead me to misery. I did not believe in the possibility that I might become happy one day in sobriety. I did not even register that as a possibility. My ego did not even consider it during my years of addiction.
Making the decision to squash your ego out of existence
At some point I decided to squash my ego out of existence.
How did I do it?
I will tell you how, but first let me back up for a moment.
I did not just suddenly make this decision after waking up one morning with a hangover.
No, I would say that the decision to kill my ego probably came a few weeks after my moment of real surrender.
This is an important distinction in the timeline and I want to make sure that you understand the progression here.
I don’t want anyone to get discouraged. You do not have to be a super hero and make the decision to stop drinking and then kill your ego and work all 12 steps in one afternoon. That is not how it worked for me and I do not want you to get overwhelmed at the ideas here.
First of all, I surrendered one day. I am not sure how or why this came over me, I believe it was because I had been focusing more and more on my misery in addiction lately. I was looking at the truth, in other words. I was getting honest with myself. And of course I did not like what I was and what I had become, and so I really did not like myself. I was disgusted with my life and what I had become and I knew that I wanted something different.
I wasn’t 100 percent sure what I wanted in life, but I knew it wasn’t where I was at right them. I was a mess and I did not like myself. I wanted to change.
I surrendered and I asked for help. My family directed me to treatment and I was willing to do anything.
In the past I had been willing to attend rehab twice before, but it was always at the request of others. It was never my own idea, never my real intentions. But this time was different. This time I had surrendered. I had surrendered for myself, and I was asking for help. This is a critical point and I believe that it makes all the difference. I wanted to change.
My family was gracious enough to get me into treatment. About two or three weeks later I made a decision when I was going to AA meetings in rehab and attending groups and lectures. That decision was this:
“I am not going to make any decisions for myself for the next year. I am going to listen to the therapists, the counselors, my sponsor, and my peers in recovery. But I am not going to just fly solo based on my own crazy ideas without getting feedback on them first. No more decisions from me, I am relying on the wisdom of others to guide me instead. For at least one year.”
That was my commitment that I made to myself. I can remember thinking those thoughts (or something very similar to them) while I was in rehab. I made a pact with myself.
The reason that I did this at the time was due to self sabotage. I was afraid of tripping myself up in recovery. I was afraid that I would sabotage my own efforts and cause myself to relapse if I was not extremely careful. So this was my way of protecting myself. I would remove the decision making process from my own brain and simply outsource it to others.
This turned out to be a really good decision. When you remove the ego from the decision making process it frees you up to actually get a whole lot more accomplished. This is almost impossible to describe to someone who has not really experienced it for themselves.
It is a leap of faith, and not necessarily a religious leap at that. It is simply a blind leap of faith to put your trust in other people. Because when you live by their advice rather than your own ideas, you are never sure if you are going to be happy in the end. What if it turns out miserable, will that make you feel stupid inside? This was my fear I think. But of course what happened instead is that I started taking advice from others, I started taking positive action, and my life got really, really good. After only a few short weeks of this little “non ego” experiment I was already sold on the technique. My life was improving rapidly and I did not even feel like I could take any credit for it. I was simply doing what others told me to do, living according to the advice of others.
It almost seemed to easy. It was like a massive shortcut to success. Just borrow the wisdom of others rather than having to discover the wisdom on your own.
Then again, there is a massive catch in all of this. The catch is that no one really wants to do it.
No one wants to listen to other people’s advice. They would rather give advice, or take their own advice. But to listen to others and actually take action based on their suggestions? That is not most people’s idea of fun. It’s hard work to keep your ego in check. But this is the path to true growth.
Who can you trust in recovery other than yourself?
“Who can I trust in this world other than myself?”
You may not have anyone that you can trust. If that is truly the case then you need to build trust with someone. If you are truly in this situation then I would recommend that you start with professional help–go see a therapist or a counselor if you can, or find one in a rehab setting. Then you can hopefully build from there. A paid professional is in a position where you are much more likely to trust them and confide in them. If you cannot trust a therapist or a counselor then you will probably have trust issues with everyone. At that point you should find a professional to work through your trust issues with so that you can start to heal your life.
Everyone in recovery needs someone that they can trust. Everyone in recovery needs that pillar of strength and support, someone that they can confide in. Without this outlet it would be extremely difficult for a person to achieve meaningful sobriety in the long run.
You can attend local AA meetings and get to know someone there. You can keep going and trying different meetings until you find someone who you find comfortable talking with. You can go out for coffee after the meeting and build friendships and relationships with such people.
And once you have done this sort of relationship building in early recovery, these people can help you to keep your ego in check. They can help to “be your eyes and ears” in recovery. Because think about it: When someone relapses in recovery, do they really see it coming in advance? Were they really prepared for that relapse to occur? Or was it more likely that it took them by surprise?
When you are wrapped up in your own ego you will never see a relapse coming. And if you do see it coming it will be far too late, because your ego will have talked you into it. At that point you have justified the relapse fully in your mind and you “deserve it.”
No, in order to avoid a relapse you have to be willing to listen to others, take advice from others, and accept feedback from other people. We can help hold each other accountable in this way, but you will not be open to this type of protection if your ego is still in charge of your recovery.
Building discipline based on the suggestions that you receive in recovery
The amazing thing about killing your ego is that it builds discipline.
I am not sure exactly how this all works, I just know that it is the process that I went through in early recovery.
First, I made the commitment to kill my own ego. Or at the very least, to ignore it until I got my life back on track.
So I did this by ignoring my own ideas and taking suggestions from other people in recovery instead. People that I trusted.
And I still had my own ideas–don’t get me wrong. But I did not act on them recklessly without first checking with others in recovery. I sought feedback. You have to whip your ego down a bit in order to force yourself to get feedback and double check your own ideas. As in: “Do you think it would be a good idea for me to do this?” Or “What do you think about the idea of me doing that?” And then asking several different people in your recovery circle to see what their advice and feedback on the issue is. If it is your own idea that you conceived of in total secret than I would strongly urge you to seek feedback first. If the decision involves a major life change or involves any degree of risk then why not bounce it off of other people that you trust first to get their opinion? It can’t hurt. A bit of humility can save a lot of heartache down the road.
After you are taking suggestions from other people in recovery and putting them into action, you will start to build a new kind of strength in recovery. This strength comes from consistency. The suggestions that you take to heart in recovery are going to be based on positive action. They are suggestions that will improve your life in some way, possibly in multiple ways. Some examples of suggestions that I have taken to heart at different points in my recovery are:
* Daily exercise.
* Chairing an NA meeting once a week.
* Going back to college.
* Quitting cigarettes.
And so on. These are some things that were suggested to me that I tried out for myself.
And actually, these specific things are what I continued to make a habit of. I turned each of those things into something that I followed through on, that became a part of my daily routine, a part of my life.
And through this consistency and persistence came strength. What it did was to build discipline.
I got a lot stronger in my recovery, not necessarily because the action itself was helping my recovery directly, but rather because the persistent action I was taking was building strength and discipline for the future.
So it was more than just learning something. It was really “learning how to learn.”
It was more than just establishing a positive habit in life when I started exercising every day. Rather, it was in learning the discipline that it takes to get into good physical shape to begin with.
Look at someone who is already in great shape. Maybe you see them running or at the gym and you wonder “why is it so easy for them?” It is because they already are doing the hard work, and have been for quite some time. They are already in the sort of habit that you want to establish for yourself.
The same is true of recovery. A struggling alcoholic may look at me and say “It just seems like it is so easy for this person, and yet it is impossible for me to get sober.” The concept is the same–I have been doing the work all along, for quite a while now, and I continue to do the work of recovery. Because I know what it took to get to this point, I also know what it takes to maintain this lifestyle. And it takes hard work. Just as the runner who is in shape knows that they have to keep running in order to maintain their fitness.
There is a saying in recovery that touches on this concept: “It is easier to stay sober than it is to GET sober.”
Very true indeed. Just as we look at the fitness freak and say “why is it so easy for them!” It is easy for them now because they have done a lot of hard work.
And the same is true for recovery. They also say “it gets greater, later.” They say this because eventually the hard work becomes much more automatic, and yet you still get to reap the benefits of a life well lived in sobriety.
It is the “getting there” that is the hard part.
And if you don’t hold your ego in check for a while (by listening to other’s advice) then you will find it really difficult to make progress.
You were really in control all along, you just tricked yourself
How did it turn out after my one year experiment was over, the one in which I decided to outsource all of my decision making to other people and thus squash my own ego?
What happened after a year was over?
I will tell you what happened.
I looked back and reflected quite a bit.
And I realized that I was in control all along.
My ego was always there, just underneath the surface. It never really went away entirely.
There was always this little man in the brain, sitting in a chair pulling levers, and making the final decisions for myself.
And that little man pulling the levers was ME.
I was still in control, and I always had been.
But the truth was that I had tricked myself for long enough that it no longer mattered.
I had tricked myself into believing that I could outsource my decisions for a year, and live entirely on the advice of other people.
The trick worked.
And it doesn’t matter that it was a trick.
You can never fully kill your ego. But you can fool yourself into thinking that you can kill your ego for a while.
And that is good enough. You can still get amazing results just by taking a few suggestions from other people and applying them in your life.
No one wants to do it. But the results are amazing if you can just fool yourself for a little while.
What about you, have you been able to overcome your ego in recovery? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!