This is a selfish program

I other day I was at a meeting when I heard someone say, “I not working with anyone. I need to work on me. I need to take care my sobriety, my health, my needs, afterall this is a selfish program.”

But what does our Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous say about that?

Page 20, paragraph 1:

“Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.”

Page 97, paragraph 2:

“Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many nights’ sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your business. It may mean sharing your money and your home, counseling frantic wives and relatives, innumerable trips to police courts, sanitariums, hospitals, jails and asylums. Your telephone may jangle at any time of the day or night. ”

Page 14-15:

“For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead.”

Page 62, paragraph 2:

“Selfishness, self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.”

Page 62, paragraph 3:

“So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kill us!”

I always remember when I hear someone say, “This a selfish program”, the words from the Joe and Charlie steps series:

“When I take care of God’s business, God takes care of me.”

For years I tried to stay sober and clean on my will power and my need to stop and could not. It was not until I started putting the needs of others ahead my own that things changed. When I focus my energy on helping the other person stay sober, God takes care of my sobriety. It took a tremendous leap of faith to practice this principle but, for many years now this has been my experience.


14 thoughts on “This is a selfish program

  1. Whoever made the statement that they were not helping others because they need to help themselves did not understand the program but they were correct is the statement that “This a selfish program!”. Basically we need to help others to maintain our own sobriety so we are not selfless in helping others but rather selfish because if we fail to help others, we drink and eventually die. It’s kind of like someone putting a gun to your head and saying that if you don’t help someone every day, I’m going to shoot you. So when you help someone is that act selfish or selfless? Even if you truly want to help people and you would do it anyways then it is, at it’s best both a selfless act and a selfish act because you are still doing it in part to save yourself. But it could also be argued that if you are doing something that you want to do, like helping others, then you are getting something from doing it and thus it is, in part, a selfish act even if the gain is simply feeling good for helping someone.

  2. My judgment of the selfishmess/selflessness continuum is based on whether I want to stay alive or not. I do not know if I was born one or if the behavioral environment shaped me into one. What matters is for me to stay away from alcohol at all costs. Therefore, if another alcoholic drinks, I am in a dangerous predicament. Ultimately, I keep myself sober. If anyone gets/wants credit, it is God himself.

    Calling it a selfish program is not wrong. Or right. However, if I am behaving selfishly, natural consequences will happen to me.

    Persons in positions of authority suggested AA attendance for good reason. I was a social problem without regard for others.

    One promise states “we will lose interest in self and gain interest in others”.

    This is the natural, positive consequence occurring as part of working with others.

  3. Here is what Bill W. had to say on the subject.

    I can see why you are disturbed to hear some A.A. speakers say, “A.A. is a selfish program.” The word “selfish” ordinarily implies that one is acquisitive, demanding, and thoughtless of the welfare of others. Of course, the A.A. way of life does not at all imply such undesirable traits.

    What do these speakers mean? Well, any theologian will tell you that the salvation of his own soul is the highest vocation that a man can have. Without salvation — however we may define this — he will have little or nothing. For us if A.A., there is even more urgency.

    If we cannot or will not achieve sobriety, then we become truly lost, right in the here and now. We are of no value to anyone, including ourselves, until we find salvation from alcohol. Therefore, our own recovery and spiritual growth have to come first– a right and necessary kind of self-concern.

    As Bill Sees It pg 81

  4. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but I don’t think the things I do for others are ‘selfish’ just because they help me keep my sobriety.

    I do those things, not because of some simple equation of ‘if I don’t = I die’. I do them because of the guilt and shame that I experience, the self hate, the loneliness, the irritability/restlessness & discontent that returns within me when I am not doing things for others.

    When I am making decisions based on only what benefits me, it feels WRONG. And it is my opinion that we alcoholics are extremely sensitive to that feeling.

    So I don’t want to help others just to save my own bacon. I want to do it because it feels right. Because some innate part of me knows it wants to do that.

    And that’s the part that isn’t selfish.

  5. I do not like those words “selfish program” I tought It was a bad translation to spanish because almost every day I hear it in my group I I do not like. Why selfish??? I think we must erradicate selfishness from our lifes. An alcoholic person was not selfish when he or she become one??Sorry for my english what I want to say in Spanish is No me gustan las palabras programa egoísta, yo pensé que se trataba de una mala traducción del inglés al español porque casi diario las escucho en el grupo al que asisto y no me gusta, ¿Porqué egoísta?? Pienso que debemos erradicar el agoismo de nuestras vidas o acaso una persona que se volvió alcóholica entre otras cosas ¿no fué por egoísta??

  6. “This is a selfish program.”
    Excellent topic for a meeting.
    Answer: Yes, No, and Maybe.

    The common currency of clichés goes in cycles; I hear this expression 1:6 open discussion meetings, on average. If people say they run a selfish program (“this” = “my”), who am I to dispute that? The Fellowship* rules, and it is what it is. We are talking about the most hedonistic individuals of the most selfish generation in the most greediest and most entitled nation on earth and in human history: what would you expect?

    Let’s be reasonable here: AA is full of very sick people. Are we aware that +25%-35% of the average large meeting is comorbid addict/alcoholic individuals w/ Cluster B PDs? There’s no way to estimate what percentage of disordered AAs are getting effective psychiatric/psychological treatment, but a safe bet is 1:5 AAs will be on the spectrum for narcissism and untreated.

    Narcissists (NPDs) are often the very definition of selfishness: you hear it in their shares AND their odd interpretations of our Program, always seeking loophole and staking claims, viz. “You people didn’t judge me,” “AA is not judgmental,” etc. Actually, AA (1939) is full of judgments: we value GOOD judgment above all (even regarding guidance). The basic text warns about the Psychopath, Narcissists and Psychopaths are untrustworthy, by nature. They are constitutionally incapable of honesty – but that counsel is ignored, and see how often self-seekers become Secretaries, Treasurers or Representatives.

    This expression sounds like a perverse rationalization of an, still-sick individual: unrecovered addicts love whatever validates their defects. Ignorant newcomers, often seeking loopholes, may hear and repeat it, “like going to the gym” etc. For many that’s how AA goes, in practice.

    Nothing in the Big Book (the original Program) endorses this queer notion. In fact, the text much more deliberately, repeatedly and systematically contradicts the selfish opinion: in this sense, we can say it’s absolutely wrong.

    Semantics maybe, but Very Important: “Self-preservation” isn’t “selfishness.” Here the terms are not synonymous in any meaningful way; on the contrary, that’s willfully confusing. Selfishness here is the exclusionary focus of MY wants and needs, above all else; it’s well beyond milder shortcomings like “unfairness.” But modern definitions are varied interpretations in today’s vernacular and may lead lesser minds deep into the thickets of confusion. I’m not convinced the 1938 dictionary provides the intended meaning, from the Big Book’s true sources. How deep do you want to go? Most, not that far.

    “This is an altruistic program for selfish people” is an appropriate rejoinder – let the narcissists scream “Crosstalk!” all they want; AA is not Group Therapy either.

    The Big Book is but one exceptional tool, often misunderstood or disbelieved by most AAs. (It’s creation appears shrouded in lies: neither co-founder ever taught from it; each did his own thing.) There’s also a real disconnect between Bill’s character (classic Narcissist) and lifelong behavior (sordid preening, womanizing, hitting on newcomers, sponging off AA) and what gullible dupes think. Forget the manufactured history: on closer scrutiny, Wilson’s own Program does appear extraordinarily selfish. AA’s ‘singleness of purpose’ – crafted as much to protect Bill from fair accusations of pill-popping as any imagined takeover threat from outside elements (c.1948 hysteria) – has all the hallmarks of naked self-interest, also.

    On some level, without even thinking too hard, people do ‘get it.’ (I doubt most want to exorcise these demons or lift that stone to see what’s underneath, actually.) At the end of day, I would hope we can all be honest enough to tell the truth (addicts are deeply-flawed individuals; the solution is spiritual & communal) AND to counteract whatever narcissist falsehoods.

    The program shouldn’t be selfish, true, but individuals do act individualistically.

    *I’m speaking of my own experience in AA; I don’t presume to know anything of how dozens of other 12-Step Fellowships address this issue.

  7. I simply want to add that I primarily attend an AA meeting to keep myself sober. A counselor once told me, “Selfish is a double-edged sword.” I believe this to be the truth. another truth: “What goes around comes around.”

    This includes bad and good alike.

    Another truth: “Karma ia a bitch.” LOL.

    Somehow, I set the ball rolling on my own misfortune. Smoetimes, life just hjappens whether I want it to or not.


  8. I am curious. How many people would feel that parents tending to there own needs first so they could be the best possible parents for their children or the school teacher that puts his or her education first to better educate our children, that this in any way is selfish. Same idea applies to AA . It says we give it away to keep it but that is secondary to helping another. Love your neighbor as yourself, not love your self and to heck with your neighbors

  9. charity begins at home,so i must deal with mt self first so that i can deal with others,but still in dealing with my self i need others experience,sharings of courage,hope and strength.thus sponsor to me is very important.

  10. Alcohol is not my problem ! The lack of power is my problem . The problem is all about me.. The solution is in the vital spiritual experience, our living the program of action, and our fellowship of AA , that allows us to overcome the obession ! All of which is about self and must come first!
    If not altruism is not possible for us alcoholics !
    This at least, is how I understand the statement of ” Selfish Program ”
    All know is it is very simple and does not require but little willingness for the program of AA to work in all 3 aspects!
    The physical , mental, & spiritual !

  11. If I work hard enough and align my wants with gods will, then it is a selfish act while doing the right thing. Thing of beauty.

  12. We can only keep what we have by giving it away. Hope, faith, love, etc. *But practicing spiritual principles is just that ..practice! I learn what’s right for me. Example: I just came from a convention and this member was wheeling another member (in a wheelchair) onto the beach. I happen to be leaving the beach. He asked me to help. 1. My initial thought was, this is not a good idea. Yet, he insisted. So, I helped and rushed back to in order to make it to a meeting I wanted to be at. 2. I ended up not being happy about my part. I am working on time management; on standing up for myself. To me, this was a missed opportunity to be selfish. In the end, my recovery is my responsibility. If I’m not taking care of myself, you can bet that I won’t care for anyone. I have to have hope, faith, love (for myself) ..before I can give it away to anyone.

  13. Step 10 11 and 12 Daily insures i take care of my own self, life and inventory, helping others willing to help themselves and continuing to improve relations with myself, God and others. Setting boundaries and not accepting threats coersion and manipulation from others cause they act as authorities. Tradition 2, there is one ultimate authority, a loving god as he may express himself i our group conscience, our leaders are but trusted servants they do not govern.

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