Selfish; a word which has evoked so many emotions in my life. Emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt, shame and most often confusion. I was told I was selfish a lot as a kid. Depending on the day, and the mood of the house, I have been told I was selfish when I wanted to show my achievements in school, such as my report card. I was told I was selfish when I needed a break from all of the responsibilities in my life. I was often told I was selfish whenever I wanted to better myself…and I didn’t understand why. This confusing emotion kept me questioning my own personal-growth motives for years. If I was told I was selfish for so long, I must be, right?
While moving through my 12-step program, I have come to realize how much my misconception of the word selfish has affected me. Deep down I knew that the word should be linked to a negative action, and not to taking care of myself. But because my feelings surrounding this word were so volatile and confusing, I moved through life on my tippy-toes, careful not to be selfish in anyone’s eyes ever again. I learned through trial and error who I could share my accomplishments with and who would be proud of me. For example, I learned months after I ‘lost’ my college report card that my brother Ross had had it in his wallet all along, and had been showing it to his friends because he was so proud of me. I learned that my colleagues were genuinely happy with my career advancements and didn’t see me as selfish at all. I learned that my kids were so proud of me when I walked across the stage and accepted my Advanced Care Paramedic Diploma, and when they both helped me press ‘enter’ to send the last research paper I had written to Victoria University in order to obtain my BHSc degree. But all of these examples of love and pride in my achievements still couldn’t erase my misconception of the word selfish. In fact, any personal accomplishment left me feeling that ‘selfish’ just masqueraded as pride.
The shame-based messages I received growing up also affected my ability to set healthy boundaries. I would often ‘go with the flow’ and not voice my personal opinion for fear that it would appear selfish or hurt someone’s feelings. In a crowd, I never ‘rocked the boat’. I wanted to be honest and direct with people, but outside of work the line between selfishness and self-care was as clear as a puddle of mud. I had confidence in my skills at work and knew my roll and responsibilities well, so I rarely had a problem saying what I needed to there. But in my personal life, if someone seemed to be helping me, I went with it, because I was too afraid of them leaving or appearing selfish if I questioned any of their motives.
Through this amazing journey, and more specifically through completing Step’s 4&5 (completing and sharing my moral inventory) I have come to learn the unselfish importance of self-care. Doing what is best for me, regardless of anyone else’s opinion is what I should do! Who knew?! I don’t need to justify my choices to anyone, and I definitely don’t need to feel selfish for developing boundaries I need for my recovery. My recovery is number 1! I’m so grateful for every time my sponsor corrected me during my 5th step when I thought a resentment I had stemmed from some root of my selfishness. She reminded me throughout my steps that what I was finally doing was self-care!…and she also reminded me how far I’ve come with this!
After completing my moral inventory, in the interest of self-care, I stopped drinking the poison of resentment. And I again wished anyone who had hurt me, wellness and happiness…genuinely. I’m a different person than I was 8 months ago. And this new person deserves every ounce of love and care I can receive. My greatest accomplishment has been my recovery! And as you can see, I don’t tippy-toe around about that. I’ve been shouting out my accomplishments in this blog and will continue to do so for who knows how long?
It’s not to say that I never received the encouragement or praise a child needs while growing up. Just like most parents, mine did the very best they could with the tools they had. Love was there, but so was struggle and words which were mindlessly spoken…I am guilty of the same. But moving forward I am all too happy to express my knowledge of the difference between selfishness and self-care in hope that someone out there afraid to set healthy boundaries may do so, and feel the freedom of smiling whenever they want to.