by Dale H. (Walker 1995)
I knew I was in the right place when I heard another alcoholic share that he had both a superiority complex and an inferiority complex. That described how I’d felt all my life! Smarter than other people, but defective in some way. Always an outsider, thinking I was better than and less than, all at the same time. Drinking was the only thing that made me feel remotely the same as other people.
So I was pretty confused when we started talking about humility during my stay at Renascent. I realized I didn’t even know what the word meant. Out came the office dictionary.
I read: “humility is derived from the Latin humilitas; that which is abject, ignoble, or of poor condition”. I thought, “Well, I already think this about myself. I already think I’m a loser, that there’s something terribly wrong and defective about me. I can’t possibly have a humility problem, so this step really doesn’t apply to me.”
So much for Step 7!
A couple of days later, I decided to buy a traveler’s coffee mug so I could take decaf coffee to the evening meetings we attended. Since we were restricted to a one-block radius whenever we left the house, the only place to buy a mug was the Coffee Time across the street.
They had the ugliest coffee mugs I’d ever seen. I was a Starbucks girl, don’t you know! I wanted something stainless steel, smooth and reeking of coolness. Yet here I was, my only option a huge white plastic abomination with a red lid, red handle, and “Coffee Time” emblazoned across it in the brightest, sickliest of reds. Even the girl behind the counter agreed that it was too ugly for words.
I thought to myself, “I can’t take this mug to AA meetings! What will people think? They’ll know I’m a loser. They’ll think I have no money, no taste, no culture, no esthetic discernment. People will think I’m … I’m low class!” I was in a dilemma. It was this mug or no mug – but I couldn’t possibly buy this horrible thing!
And then a moment of clarity hit me like a brick: how arrogant I was to think that all those people in the AA meetings were all going to be looking at, and thinking about, me and my coffee mug! I saw that this was ego, pure and simple. I suddenly realized that nobody in the darn meetings was likely to notice or care what kind of coffee mug I had at all. They weren’t all sitting there waiting for my entrance, analyzing my every move. And I thought, “Hmmm, maybe this is what they mean by humility”.
So I bought it. I named it my “Humility Mug”. I took it with me to the meeting that night and, sure enough, not one person gave me and my mug a withering glance of disapproval. No one noticed or cared. Not that night, or the next, or the 22 nights after that, or the next 10 years after that. No one gave me or my mug a second look.
I know it was just a coffee mug, but it represented so much more to me. For years I’d thought that everyone in the world was judging me the way I judged myself – with absolutely no mercy. It would literally take me hours to get up the nerve to walk down Bloor Street for 10 minutes. I thought everyone was looking at me with disgust – that they saw how ugly I was, that I had no friends, that I was a loser. Those 10 minutes would seem like a lifetime and I would scurry back home to the safety of my apartment.
And now, in that moment of clarity, I realized that everyone wasn’t looking at me. Everyone wasn’t judging me. Everyone was thinking about themselves, not about me. I wasn’t that important! And the feeling of freedom that I experienced then was indescribable.
I had had it all so wrong. Because I had felt so terrible about myself, I assumed I couldn’t have an ego problem. But I discovered that thinking you’re the worst is just as egotistical as thinking you’re the best. The truth is, I’m just one of many. I’m just a human being like everyone else – no better, no worse. Knowing I’m no worse helped me to develop a sense of self-worth. And knowing I’m no better helped me accept that there just might be a power in this universe greater than me!
Whichever way you look at it, to me it means freedom from self. This is why my favourite prayer is the 3rd Step prayer, where I ask to be relieved of the bondage of self. An over-exaggerated sense of self continues to be at the root of all my difficulties.
The freedom of humility remains one of the most priceless gifts of recovery for me. I know that 99% of the time what people do and say has absolutely nothing to do with me, even if it’s directed at me. It’s almost always about them. And if it IS about me, I can take responsibility for it – and hopefully learn from it – without thinking I’m a horrible person. I no longer feel a need to be superior or inferior to anyone.
This knowledge leaves me free to be me, whoever that might be. It takes the weight of the world off my shoulders. I don’t have to be thinking about me and what people think of me, or what I think about them, all the time.
The burden of self-importance and self-obsession is a heavy one. I want to travel lightly through the world now. Humility is the gift that lightens my step.