When I was a barroom drunk, the lounge was my living room. The only reason that I went to my apartment was to shower and to sleep. Words like humility or ego were never mentioned. As I look back, I realize that the bar was my place of refuge, where I felt safe rationalizing just about anything to avoid the truth.
Living in a bubble of denial, I would eventually run out of oxygen (options) and have to face life. Alcoholism is a dead-end street which leads to hospitals, prisons or death. When I was facing desperation and out of resources, I surrendered. A.A. replaced the denial with hope. People encouraged me to get realistic about life. The obsession to drink was lifted and has never returned.
In the middle of two extremes
Intuitively understanding life didn’t happen overnight. I had to go through the process of unlearning all my ego-driven habits and replacing them with more unselfish values. As noted by many philosophers and world religions today, ego is the biggest obstacle to the process. My conscience now stands between my ego, my thoughts and actions and it’s starting to do a pretty good job of it. It has been a slow process adopting new ideas and discarding the failed mentality of the past.
Gradually, I developed trust in what I found in the program and in myself. Basically, I must never let down my guard. I examine my motives for every decision I make, and look for a proven, unselfish principle to apply. That takes decisions which used to derail me out of my hands alone. I make less mistakes. As I repeat this process, it becomes second nature. Old behaviors that caused my discontent are replaced by positive action.
I was on the phone with a man who wanted to argue
Defining the word “humility” was not easy. It took a long time to settle on an understanding that put it to rest. The final piece of the puzzle came to me in my 22nd year of sobriety. I was on the phone with a man who wanted to argue. When he realized that I wasn’t going to bite, he fired his last volley by saying: “Well, I’ve heard stories about you, and you’re no angel.” I thought about it for a few seconds and replied, “I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m not proud of, but I’m not ashamed of anything that I’ve done in the past 22 years.” The phone call ended peacefully.
Later, in a step study meeting where the topic was humility, I remembered that phone call and realized pride was not the opposite of humility—it was the opposite of shame. Humility fell right in the middle of the two extremes. When I boiled it all down, I concluded that I should not be proud of, or ashamed of, the things I do. I could be in the middle somewhere. This applies to my receiving as well as my giving.
Aristotle referred to this as the Golden Mean. For example, when we are in the habit of giving compliments to our friends when they deserve it, we should not be so stoic that we cannot accept a compliment with the proper amount of appreciation when we deserve it. To me this means finding the balance between the extremes and exercising it until it becomes second nature.
With my ego on the sideline and my conscience in control, I stay on the unselfish side of the ledger. At the age of 77, I am always involved in some form of service to give purpose to my life. I plan to live to the age of 104, so I can’t quit now (LOL).