Pride Can Halt Recovery

With all the interest in self-esteem and self-worth, there is another element to think about when we consider pride. Some of us come from families where we were not taught healthy emotional language and habits. We did not get a balanced perspective on the world and on relationships. Some of us actually got a distorted view of where we stood in relation to the rest of the world. We felt less than. In order to make up for that, we learned to exaggerate and lie and blow our accomplishments way out of proportion in order to feel of some value. To  succeed in our recovery and in life, we have to stop thinking we are worth less than others. We need to see the glass half full instead of half empty. We have to get rid of feelings of inability before we can make progress. As we learn more about how false pride has held us back from our full potential, we come to see that our main problem centers in our mind rather than in our body. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that we alcoholics don’t just have a drinking problem; we have a thinking problem.

Many of us still think our value as a human being is in what we do or don’t do, rather than who we are. We think our value is about results – the car we drive, the person we marry, the house we live in, the job we have, where we go for vacations, or the clothes we wear. We’ve shifted the emphasis from who to what. This is not emotionally healthy. Taking a look at pride means gaining a new perspective and looking again at who we are, not exclusively at what we have or what we do.

Out-of-control pride is dangerous. Too many people are convinced they wrote the book. They take false pride in their accomplishments and feel they have nothing left to learn. They are eager to tell everyone how much they know. They become unteachable. This is a sure way of closing a mind that needs to remain wide open. This kind of pride becomes arrogance, and it turns many people off. False pride and settling for inferiority will accomplish nothing. We have to stop choosing to have low self-worth, or to settle for less in life. We ask, “What value do I have as a human being? What do I have to offer others in the way of service, wisdom, and help? Who have I become, and who am I becoming in order to increase my value to the rest of humankind and myself?” The thought that must go with us constantly is, “How can I best serve you Lord? Your will be done, not mine.”

Although pride is at the top of the list of the Seven Deadly Sins, the real sin is having arrogance or false pride. Healthy pride is a necessary part of self-esteem and character growth. Remember, pride goeth before a fall. This is speaking of unhealthy pride, including character defects such as egotism, grandiosity and arrogance. No harm will come to spiritual growth from the pride experienced when we freely admit to ourselves that our progress is not made by us alone. Humble pride acknowledges the guidance of others and a faith in and reliance upon God. With humility and God’s help, we learn to have healthy pride in our progress and growth in our recovery.

When people give up an addiction, they have a great deal to feel proud about. They have managed to escape a condition that was ruining their life, and could easily have led to their death. If the individual puts enough effort into their sobriety, they will have many more things to feel proud about in the future. Feelings of pride can be one of the rewards of recovery, but care needs to be taken that this emotion doesn’t become excessive. Some people can become so full of pride that it stops them from making any further gains in sobriety. They start to believe that they already have all the answers, and may start to view other people as inferior. We have every right to be pleased with our accomplishments, but we should never allow our pride to become a liability.

If people are excessively proud, it is referred to as hubris. The definition of hubris is “a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence; exaggerated pride or self-confidence.” In other words, their self-esteem is unrealistically high. They overestimate their importance in the world, and may look upon other people as inferior to them. An old timer named Wally C. used to share in AA meetings that we should never look down on another alcoholic or addict no matter what their station in life. We never know if they are the one who might save our life. (Wally died sober late last year.) Even those individuals who generally suffer from low self-esteem can exhibit excessive pride in an attempt to hide their true feelings. Most people who have fallen into addiction also suffer from low self-esteem. They can regain their feelings of self-worth once they are sober and are able to rebuild their life. A healthy level of self-esteem for people in recovery is fine, but it needs to be realistic and tempered with humility.

Humility does not come easily. I’ve heard it said that if you think you’re humble, you probably aren’t. Benjamin Franklin said, “In reality, there is, perhaps, not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself.” To develop humility, we need to examine our own actions, words, feelings, and thoughts. If we regularly probe ourselves, (asking “When have I been arrogant, vain, snobbish, self-absorbed?”), we are likely to reduce the pleasures of vanity, arrogance, and the like, and loosen their hold on us.

One dimension of humility is realizing your progress in recovery is not a matter of self-sufficiency in your actions and accomplishments. You become willing to receive advice and correction. You are able to acknowledge the contribution of others to your success. This rules out hyper-autonomy, which is the excessive desire to go it alone, to be the sole author of your accomplishments.

It is significant that Peter tells us, “In the same manner, you who are younger, submit yourself to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because , ‘God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.'” (1 Peter 5:5, NIV) The first aspect of this renewed mind the Apostle Paul mentions is humility. Paul describes for us how the renewed mind thinks. In the Greek text, Paul uses the verb “to think,” or some aspect of it, four times. This shows us that humility is a matter of how we think before God. Often we can see the attitudes and behaviors of pride in others. When I act from a position of pride, I assume my recovery is complete. I begin to feel as though I am better than others. Before I know it, I believe the lie that I don’t need to work on my recovery any more. I forget that I am supposed to work out my salvation daily with trembling and fear. When in this particular frame of mind, I begin to justify my actions. Once again I live by my rules.

It is very important to note Paul’s struggle with this same issue. In his letter to the Romans, he writes,”But I need something more. For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help. I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it! I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway…I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” (Romans 7:17-25, taken from the translation The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Even if we could hide our pride from others, we cannot hide it from God. This is a mindset that we have to develop before God, where we watch for episodes where we depend solely on ourselves, thinking “I got this!” Then, instead, we affirm our dependence on God, grateful that He is there. As James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” I have come to the point in my recovery that I am able to humbly admit I can do nothing by myself. My addiction is too strong. It waits during periods of abstinence for a weak moment when it can take me hostage once again. The convincing evidence of this is that I can stay clean and sober for 10 months, 12 months, and, on one occasion, 18 months, only to fall off the wagon.

I cannot continue to let my addiction make me do things I would not normally do. I am in the presently in the very midst of the struggle Paul speaks of in the above passage. I see now how it applies to me; especially to my struggle to stay clean. I must work on my recovery daily. I need to work out my salvation with fear and trembling on a daily basis. How is it that I forget to be humble? To admit defeat? To accept help, not only from my sponsor and my pastor, but from Jesus Christ who made recovery and redemption possible? How is it that I can hurt the ones I love without setting out to do so? How can I break this addiction? By remembering that there is power in the Name of Jesus to break every chain. I no longer need to know why I can’t drink like other people, or why I can’t safely take narcotic painkillers. It is as much a fact of life for me as it is for people who have diabetes and can’t eat certain foods.

When I feel the urge to get my hands on narcotic painkillers, even through taking them from someone else’s prescription bottle, I must remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.” It is a matter of not giving in to my flesh. Of not letting the disease of addiction dictate what I am going to do. It is at these times of temptation that I must remember I can do nothing by myself, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13) Once again, I have returned to the place in my recovery where I make it a habit to thank God every morning for my continued sobriety, and I submit daily to His will for me. I ask Him to keep me away from a drink or a drug for the next 24 hours. I say to Him, “Lord, if something is not true, I pray that I don’t say it; if something does not belong to me, I pray that I don’t take it; and, if something doesn’t feel right, I pray that I don’t do it.” If I do these things every day, I will be granted a reprieve from my addiction one day at a time. To deviate from this can lead to jails, institutions and death.

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