“Evolution is the single greatest force in the universe. It is the only thing that is permanent, and it drives everything- from the smallest subatomic particle to the entire galaxy.” Ray Dalio (Principles, 2017)
Looking back on my experience of three and a half decades of recovery, it occurred to me that what has taken place is what might be called an inner evolution.
Evolution is the process of the maximization of fitness for and survival of a species. It is always going on- everywhere. all the time. Growth and change are constant in all life forms.
To evolve- to gradually develop into what might be called a higher form of life could be considered the underlying plot of existence- the story of all of us ascending from the same original life form, emerging from the same primordial ooze.
Being pervasive and all inclusive, it would be safe to say that the force of evolution works on the inner life as well as the outer. This writing describes my experience with this phenomenon that I call self-evolution, which seems to be part of recovery.
The starting point is self-centeredness.
This earliest stage of personal evolution means exactly what it says- I saw myself as the center of the universe. This is how I (and most of us) enter recovery. I saw people as objects and was primarily concerned with getting my own needs met. I viewed everything and everyone around me in terms of what they could do for me or else saw them as obstacles to me getting what I want.
In this stage the tendency is to be self-absorbed. The mind is dominated by the ego, so thoughts are concerned with separation. Comparison, competition, criticism, resentment, and acquisitiveness are commonplace. I find myself plagued by self-delusion, self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-condemnation. The overriding emotional state is fear.
The sense of separation that results from the ego-dominated mind is one of the main reasons that addiction is a disease of isolation.
This was a highly uncomfortable state of existence. I needed to numb out this discomfort using various substances and distractions. Addiction to these activities and substances gradually led me to a state of self-disgust and eventually self-loathing.
By the time that I was in my mid-twenties, desperate circumstances and the unbearable mess and turmoil that had become my life brought me to the point of hopeless surrender. This was when I became genuinely teachable. I was now correctly positioned to move into the next phase of personal evolution.
Surrender born of desperation brought me to the turning point. I began see myself as I was- with all my faults and limitations. I became willing to ask for help, to become different, to see all of life, including myself, differently. From self-acceptance, I gained a new perspective and a realistic appraisal of the state of my being and the state of my relationships.
Immersion in the 12 Step recovery community was my first real feeling of being part of something larger than myself. The impact of this was (and continues to be) transformational.
This stage of evolution then became largely about self-governance– I learned about self-restraint and self-discipline. This was not fun. In many ways it felt like training a puppy. There were many messes that needed to be cleaned up.
The work of recovery and the steps causes the ego to become diminished. As this happens, feelings of separation became less and less. I became part of something larger than myself. I was moving away from self-centeredness and toward connectedness.
3. Self- Awareness
Progress in recovery results in awareness that there is something bigger than the self. At first it is the AA group—I feel part of something that is bigger than me. The separation that resulted from the over-sized ego gets weaker. I feel a part of rather than apart from.
The Twelfth Step promises “…a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps”. When this happened for me, I became aware that I am a part of Life. The words Higher Power, God, Life, and Nature could be used interchangeably. I call this the Self (with an uppercase ‘S’.
As I become Self-centered rather than self-centered, I begin to be more concerned about what I can give and less about what I can get.
As I become Self-centered rather than self-centered, I feel more and more connected to everything around me. What a gift!
As I reap the benefits of new behavior patterns and continued to adopt new perspectives on myself and the world, I slowly moved into self-love. Not to be confused with narcissism, self-love incorporates self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and self-acceptance. I recognized that although I am not really anybody special, I am just as worthy of love as anybody else on the planet. I learn to ask for what I need. I learn how to give myself love.
The paradox was (and is) that the more I’m able to love and accept myself, the more I am able to love and accept others. Conversely, the less I accept and love myself, the less I am able to love and accept others.
Self-evolution (recovery) can be stalled or blocked. This can happen if I forget the ‘three essentials’ mentioned in the appendix of the Big Book of AA: honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. The importance of these cannot be overstated.
Evolution works toward selecting favorable traits that help ensure the survival of a species. It would be safe to say that the old ego-centric, competitive, and self-centered state of existence no longer worked toward my survival. An inclusive, cooperative, wholistic, and biocentric view of myself is the way I must evolve if I hope to survive on this planet.
Recovery (self-evolution) is available to all of us. It is a matter of being open to change and creating the proper environment for it to happen. Just as tilling the soil and adding water creates the optimal environment for a seed to grow, the 12 Steps are one way to create the conditions for this evolution to take place. The growth of the plant from the soil, and our own recovery, occurs by forces that are greater than ourselves.