Our series on the Twelve Promises offers something interesting that you won’t get from our series on the Twelve Steps or the Twelve Traditions. While each of those other series focuses on things you must do in order to maintain a principled way of life, this series focuses on the benefits of living in such a manner. Of course, we can’t discuss these benefits without discussing how to get there in the first place. Concerning the Eighth Promise, this might hold truer than it does for any other promise discussed thus far. This is because the Eighth Promise is in many ways all about the development of compassion.
This compassion may be defined in a few ways. The Eighth Promise applies to charity, service work, and a sheer lack of self-seeking. Like the rest of the Twelve Promises, it pertains to our changing mindset as we learn to embrace recovery. But it also pertains to the actions we perform as our manner of thinking begins to change. The thoughts and actions described by the Eighth Promise can ultimately affect our relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. Even the manner in which we approach perfect strangers may begin to change as a result of this promise.
As per usual, we should mention that the Twelve Promises cannot be forced. But the Eighth Promise can be ushered along in greater fashion than many others. Usually, the Twelve Promises begin to occur after completing Step Nine. In this case, however, you might start to see this change occurring much earlier. Step Nine will certainly help, but Step Four and Step Five might prove beneficial as well. By the time we reach Step Twelve, it will be nigh impossible to avoid the wonderful changes described below. Simply work a program of recovery, and you will be amazed by the rewards.
Fulfilling the Eighth Promise
According to AA’s Big Book, the Eighth Promise states:
“Self-seeking will slip away.”
This sounds rather similar to the promise before it, which states that we will gain interest in others while losing interest in selfishness. But the Eighth Promise looks a bit different if we alter our perception of “self-seeking.” When we think of selfishness, we often think of greed. We think of a person who cares only about material gain. Selfishness instills in our minds the image of someone who only cares about money, power, sex, glory, etc.
These things might fall under the category of self-seeking, but let’s look at it another way. Instead of rehashing these same old topics, perhaps we should see self-seeking as sheer narcissism. A self-seeking person might not care about material gain at all. Rather, they might care about attention. They need to have the spotlight on them at all times. Many of us were like this in our addiction. When we needed to hide something, we hated the spotlight. But at all other times, we lavished the attention of others. Anyone who got the attention we deserved was seen as an enemy.
Our need to move away from self-seeking comprises a huge part of our recovery. In Step Six, we learn to identify self-centered thinking as one of our character defects. Eventually, we form a list in Step Eight of people we’ve harmed through self-seeking behavior. And even before we get to these steps, we see in Step Four and Step Five that we often hold resentments against those who didn’t indulge our narcissism. Keeping this in mind, it seems no great surprise that working these steps leads to fulfillment of the Eighth Promise.
Looking more closely at the Eighth Promise, we may note two distinct ways in which it can change our lives. As noted above, fulfillment of this promise can affect both our thoughts and behaviors. It’s important for us to think back to our way of life while in addiction. We may come to realize that our thoughts and actions were both rather self-seeking. If we continue to let this be the case, we may never achieve spiritual growth in recovery. And without spiritual growth, we run a great risk of relapse. As such, both self-seeking thoughts and behaviors must be allowed to slip away. Our sobriety depends upon it.
Our self-seeking thoughts generally stem from emotional dependency. We lack self-esteem, so we must gain it by seeking the approval of others. This saps our sense of freedom and autonomy. It’s hard to judge ourselves objectively when we’re too busy relying on others to do it for us. The result is that we never feel accomplished unless we seek recognition. By contrast, we never see a problem with our actions if no one voices disapproval. And even then, we might just be happy that someone noticed us. In short, our entire view of ourselves and those around us becomes warped.
Even after entering recovery, this sort of histrionic thinking sometimes persists. We don’t feel the need to listen to shares in meetings that don’t ostensibly pertain to our own lives. Nonetheless, we feel as if everyone else should be listening to us. When people seem less attentive to our shares than to those of others, we become resentful. Not only do we resent those who didn’t pay us enough attention, but also those who received the attention we felt we deserved. Our narcissism therefore results in anger toward everyone around us.
The main problem with this type of narcissistic rage is that anger tends to build up. Over time, it may lead to emotional disturbance—which in turn leads to relapse. This is not to say that every single self-seeking person is doomed to relapse. But if we don’t learn to work on this particular defect, many of us will certainly find ourselves back on the path of addiction. And if we continue thinking that the universe should revolve around us, we may never return to recovery again. This is why we absolutely must fulfill the Eighth Promise and allow self-seeking to slip away.
In order to fulfill the Eighth Promise and combat our self-seeking thoughts, we must learn to listen. Many humble people have important things to say. Even if they aren’t demanding the spotlight, we should give it to them anyway. Someone who you never met before seeing them at a meeting just might say something you’ve needed to hear for quite some time. If you allow yourself to be receptive to their words, you’ll pick up on this much more quickly. But nobody can force you to give up on self-centered thinking. You must do it on your own. And one of the best ways to change your thoughts is by changing your actions as well.
During our addiction, it wasn’t enough to simply resent those who didn’t indulge our self-seeking. We instead found ways of ensuring that our desires would be fulfilled. This is why we so often surrounded ourselves with other addicts and alcoholics. These were the people who embraced, rather than criticized, our more troublesome behaviors. As long as our substance abuse continued, we knew they’d continue to provide us with attention. Parties at which drugs and alcohol flowed freely became our bread and butter. With the synthetic courage our drug of choice provided, we knew we’d always be able to find companionship.
The problem is that this companionship was often as synthetic as our substance-fueled euphoria. If we didn’t continue these same behaviors, we’d lose the attention of fellow users. There may have been times at which we were actually tired of drinking and abusing drugs. But we continued anyway, for the sole purpose of maintaining our dysfunctional social life. Self-seeking became more important than our health, our careers, and our relationships with the people who truly cared about our well-being. In this way, self-seeking ironically became the thing that led to the bulk of our losses. And in retaliation for these losses, we spent even more time resorting to self-seeking as a crutch.
This is why we need the Eighth Promise. We need to let go of self-seeking in order to stop doing this sort of harm to ourselves. This means that we must embrace service work as a part of our recovery. Some of us may resent the work at first. We feel as if we receive nothing in return. But in many ways we receive more than we give. We receive a sense of good will. More importantly, we instill within ourselves a sense of true purpose. This is why the Eighth Promise tends to fulfill itself after we begin amending our relationships with those we’ve harmed. We must see ourselves as capable of doing good. And in doing so, we learn that we are at our best when we resort to compassion rather than ego.
By fulfilling the Eighth Promise, we allow ourselves to be a part of the world rather than pretending to be its center. We learn that we don’t deserve anything more than those around us. Our importance doesn’t outshine that of anybody else. To some, this can sound upsetting. But in reality, it’s one of the best parts of being human. Because when we realize that we’re all equal, we tend to get along with others much more easily. Narcissism can be quite lonely, and being the one with all the answers can be boring. But being part of a community, and of the world at large? That, simply put, is the best way to live.