One of the main characteristics of an alcoholic or addict is his self-centeredness.
He or she is full of pride, though there may be little he can be proud of. He may be lying in the gutter, but still looks down upon others.
“Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.”
T S Eliot
Psychologists say that this sense of pride is a cover for low self-esteem.
Addicts loose so much due to their addictive behaviours – time, opportunity, health, wealth, jobs, relationships, reputation.
Their colleagues and friends avoid them and overtake in most areas. This impacts their self-worth.
What is pride?
But what exactly is pride? Pride derives from the French word “prud”, which means “excellent, splendid, arrogant, haughty”.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers multiple definitions for “pride.” A positive one is “A feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by others.” Now, that sounds healthy.
However, there’s another definition: “A feeling that you are more important or better than other people” and “inordinate self-esteem.”
The latter appears more appropriate for the addict since he may have too much pride to ask for help and it prevents him or her to admit that they have a problem.
Pride is Shame-Driven
Pride is considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. People who have an inflated view of their abilities or wisdom are not very popular.
They talk more about themselves than take an interest in others. They appear snooty and arrogant.
They try and make others feel small and incapable. They exude a cavalier attitude that makes others avoid them.
While proud people try and induce shame in others, their pride is often linked to their shame.
They point to other’s flaws in a bid to hide their own. This is the typical behaviour of an alcoholic.
“Shame is pride’s cloak.”
He hides behind his superior projection and pushes away well-wishers. It becomes part of his denial mode.
It is a self-defence mechanism to avoid looking at his own shame-based behaviours.
Pride prevents the individual from acknowledging his or her vulnerabilities. It makes the addict rationalise and justify his or her addictive behaviours.
The addict’s pride is shame-driven, and an attempt to conceal his or her shortcomings.
From Pride to Dignity
Addiction recovery is all about replacing pride with dignity. There’s a difference. If your our sense of self-worth or value is too tied up with our accomplishments, it is a fragile foundation.
As Buddhist or Hindu philosophy suggests, we should try and not cling to transitory things – our material achievements or worldly belongings. This, according to Buddhists, is the root cause of all misery.
A more authentic and solid foundation of self-worth is based on affirming and valuing ourselves as human beings. It is based on a life lived with integrity and dignity.
Our inner self becomes hollow and craves for more things to fill the void. The addict loves things more than values or relationships.
Recovery: from pride to dignity
Addiction recovery starts with the recognition and admission of the problem. That is the first step toward humility.
Humility is accompanied by an open-mind – the realisation that he or she is not a know-it-all.
A comforting reality follows that it’s okay not to be okay. We don’t have to be always right or perfect.
Humility makes us more approachable. We learn to say “sorry”. It opens the doorway for friendships and rebuilds relationships. We begin to appreciate others’ contribution and become grateful.
Loneliness begins to fade, and the person starts to belong to a family and community genuinely.
“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride”
Sophocles in Antigone
The addict begins to understand that strengths and weaknesses are part of human nature, but it doesn’t define the person.
He or she doesn’t need material frills to be recognised or defined; it is the values that make a person.
This release from the bondage of false pride is a joyful experience. It is real freedom. We don’t need the burden of pride.
As our dignity is restored, we move more lightly through life. We allow ourselves to bond with others, connecting with them as equals.
Sobriety can be a trap
Undoubtedly, when a person gives up an addiction, he has a great deal to feel proud of.
They have come out of a condition that has had a significantly destructive impact on their lives, possibly escaped death.
Gradually, their affairs begin to get sorted, and they are getting material benefits arising from gainful employment and prudent expenditures.
However, they need to be careful that their pride in attaining freedom from addiction doesn’t become excessive.
Addiction recovery is rarely a one-man-show. It is usually the result of many people’s efforts and contributions.
But if he doesn’t take care, the addict starts to think he has all the answers and should be respected for his achievements.
Such an attitude can lead to relapse, reminding the person in a cruel way that humility, open-mindedness and gratitude are the stepping stones for continued sobriety.
Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that a recovering person gets involved in service.
He or she is encouraged to reach out to those still suffering and pass on the message.
This way, he is going beyond his self, ever reminding himself where he’s coming from. Moreover, he or she shall be grateful for what they have received.
This is ensuring that pride doesn’t rear its ugly head and spoil the joyful journey of addiction recovery.
Remember the words of the French philosopher: “On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.”