AA First and the “Selfish” Program

I shudder, shudder, shudder when I hear someone say AA is a selfish program.  Back to the dictionary and the meaning of words. Selfish, the way it’s commonly used, means taking care of oneself only and without regard for others or to the detriment of others.  The word selfish is used many times in the Big Book to mean just that, and it is presented as a bad thing.  Not a good thing.

It’s in As Bill Sees It and certainly elsewhere that Bill W said AA is a selfish program.  He said that it’s selfish in the same way that a person cannot enlighten someone else while the person himself is not enlightened.  You can’t make someone believe in something you don’t believe in (or rarely).  You can’t give away what you haven’t got.

If an alcoholic is not sober, she is a danger and detriment to herself and everyone else.  This alcoholic must first set about achieving sobriety.  When a new person comes into the rooms and is told what a commitment AA needs to be in the beginning, sometimes the person protests.  People feel they cannot neglect or leave their children or parents or jobs or what have you in order to go to meetings or to rehab.  The point is, this person may actually lose all those things and much more if she doesn’t attain sobriety.  In that way, sobriety has to come first.

Rarely, but unfortunately sometimes, I hear a newcomer say that his family or friends are actually against his attendance in AA.  There are lots of reasons for that.  The family or friends may not want to stop drinking, may  be dependent on that person and fear a change, or may have a bad opinion of AA.   In those cases, the newcomer has to defy the people who don’t want him in AA and attend, and hopefully most of them will come around to realize that is best.

Usually, though, I hear the “selfish” program phrase thrown around when someone is considering giving less than is appropriate to some other area of life.  We are not encouraged to neglect our families, careers, or other responsibilities in order to devote time to AA or our other spiritual quests.  It is plainly written again and again that we are to rejoin society and serve and contribute, not crawl away into an AA insulated cave where we selfishly look after our own needs and fulfillment.

It’s a pet peeve and a prejudice of mine that I see lots of “therapy” and pop psychology as being too introspective  and  selfish to do good for anyone besides the therapist or book author.  And I’m NOT commenting on all therapy and all books.  I know that people have real needs and realize real benefits every day.   Still, for many of us, I do believe that the AA program well worked gives us a good balance of introspection and encouragement to take care of our own – our own being this place and all the people here with us at this time.


4 thoughts on “AA First and the “Selfish” Program

  1. Hi, Lydia. This “selfishness” issue is an interesting one for me, too. The word is pretty loaded with negative connotations. If we can push those aside, I do feel that sobriety is an essentially selfish process. I’m in recovery because I will die if I drink. I will throw away love, career, and happiness if I drink. I had to admit that I was powerless over alcohol and that MY life had become unmanageable.
    Fortunately, the side-effects of getting sober for ourselves include being in a position to repair our relationships with the world and our loved ones. You’re so right that we have to learn to live WITH and IN the world. For me, the world was a source of fear. Now I’m a person among people.A worker among workers. A little “good” selfishness took me a long way.

    • If you look up selfishness in the dictionary it IS a ‘negative connotation” word, Bill. Now if you mean to change the meaning of the word in order to remove the “negative connotations”-well that will get confusing rather than keep it simple.
      Why not keep it simple and just use correct words in the first place?
      The A.A. Book states “above everything we alcoholics must be RID of this selfishness. We must or it kills us”, on page 62.
      Don’t see how you “push aside” the negative connotations that selfishness kills us, unless you rewrite and re-define the Big Book..many do that. But then we are not practicing/teaching THE Program, but just our individual opinions…I used to get drunk on those opinions..

  2. Pingback: Selfishness « Don’t Drink and Don’t Die

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