07. Letting go of my Ego | Positive Recovery Mindset | There were times in my life where it was easier to hold onto my ego, than to admit I was wrong, and let it go. Even though I might have known letting go of ego would have been the right thing to do, I still chose to do it. It sounds insane, because it was insane. Letting go of my pride would allow me the ability to walk in the direction of progress. I would allow me to move forward in a positive light. But I can't really do that if all I'm ever doing is holding onto ego. 

07. Letting go of my Ego

There were times in my life where it was easier to hold onto my ego, than to admit I was wrong, and let it go. Even though I might have known letting go of ego would have been the right thing to do, I still chose to do it. It sounds insane, because it was insane. Letting go of my pride would allow me the ability to walk in the direction of progress. I would allow me to move forward in a positive light. But I can’t really do that if all I’m ever doing is holding onto ego. 

Ego can get in the way of everything. I can’t say my ego has ever done anything ‘good’ for me. It’s never really been a supportive idea. No good has ever come from making decisions with my ego.

In a nutshell, ego has gotten in the way of some really awesome things for me. I can’t say that my ego & I have done a whole bunch of cool stuff together. Holding onto my ego has caused more harm than good. I’ve done more constructive things without ego.

Trying to tell that to someone who’s suffering, someone who’s in the middle of their addiction. When they’re not willing to listen to anything. I know this, because that was me. People would try have a conversation with me, “Hey Jason, you know what? I think a habit has become a problem.”

At the time, my ego was so big, it won’t let anything else creep in.

It won’t let anything jump in there. It won’t give room for anything else.

In my addiction, with ego in place, my life became reduced down to two emotions. One emotion I would feel when things were really really good. On the otherside the emotion I would feel is when things were really really bad. There was no inbetween. It was either black or white. It didn’t matter what emotion I was feeling, in both cases I wanted to go out and party. I wanted to go out and celebrate, I wanted to go out and have fun. This meant getting drunk, do things I shouldn’t do, hang out with people that didn’t add value.

When I reduce my life down to just two emotions, it doesn’t really give room for growth. In that black & white mentality, I’m not motivated to want to change anything. I’ve reduced my life down to a handful of experiences, I’m viewing life as either really really good or really really bad. It’s a challenging way to live.

Once I stopped consuming substances. Once I stopped drinking, I had a lot more emotion to feel in-between the black & white. I had more room to experience more emotions. I no longer had two emotions, a had 50,000 new emotions in-between really really good and really really bad.

When I stopped alcohol & drugs, it hit me like a brick wall. It was like drinking from a fire hose, trying to make sense of 50,000 new emotions. I had a hard time making sense of them, I struggled because literally everything was new.
In the past I would celebrate regardless if things were really good or really bad, it didn’t matter what emotion it was, it defaulted to one of the two. The outcome was still the same back then.

Once I removed the substances and alcoholism, now everything else in-between was fresh, and raw. Trying to make sense of emotions can take time.

Have you ever had the ‘new car smell’? For me, it was more of a ‘new emotion smell’.

Everything feels new, almost child-like. In the sense where a child doesn’t know the differences between tired, being hungry, or angry, or frustrated. To them it’s one big ball of emotion. Before rehab, before going to a treatment centre, it was very challenging for me to try make sense of these emotions. I was living on the fly, white knuckling it through life. Getting exposed to that amount of emotion (in rehab), was pressure cooker for me. Having all those emotions released to me all at once. Having 50 other guys, we’re all in that same experience together. Some guys were there longer than I was, there’s always a guy who arrived before me, and a guy who arrives after me. But we’re all learning at the same pace.

In rehab there was no ‘healing’ done, but there was a new language I was learning. There was a new emotional appreciation I was feeling. That level of exposure to emotion, grinded me to a halt. I forged new meanings as I mapped each emotion I discovered. Each emotion had to be placed somewhere in-between the two emotions I had before (black & white). As I mapped each one, it took time. Making room for those emotions I didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

In the heat of my addiction my brain became clouded. When I entered recovery, I had this air gap. What fills that gap is whatever I have in abundance. That’s where the treatment program comes in, because it forces me to go to class, go to meetings, then I went to meetings after meetings. It was a lot of work to put into my recovery.

In order to become successful in my recovery, I had to become humble.

By humble I mean, removing ego from the picture. Beforehand ego was running the show. It was making decisions on the fly, it was filling my head with ideas, there was no good stemming from ego. When I say, I’ve become humble, I removed ego from the decision making process. To be humble is one thing, but to stay humble, would be to remove ego entirely from my life. Becoming humble is to put my ego in check. Staying humble is consistently removing ego.

I’m human, you’re human, we’re all human. Ego’s going to creep in there eventually. I have to remind myself continuously that it doesn’t have a place in my life. I have to remove that idea, that it has a place in my everyday interactions.

My ego drives me to hold onto resentments. My ego drives me to hold onto things that don’t add value. It’s crazy how ego, if left unchecked it can run the show and horrible things can happen. My ego would trick me into having beliefs that didn’t make any sense, my pride (another aspect of ego) gave me a false sense of security.

My ego & pride became so normal that I used pride & ego to shield me from everything else.

I would use pride & ego to be a mask, that I would put up in front of everything. That sense of security, that mask, would shield me from the rest of the world. That’s no real way to live life, because I’m not actually living life… I’m hiding from it.

There were times in my life where it was easier to hold onto my ego, than to admit I was wrong, and let it go. Even though I might have known letting go of ego would have been the right thing to do, I still chose to do it. It sounds insane, because it was insane. Letting go of my pride would allow me the ability to walk in the direction of progress. I would allow me to move forward in a positive light. But I can’t really do that if all I’m ever doing is holding onto ego.

Addiction & ego go hand in hand. They’re the one’s that can run rampant and there’s no good that can come from them. Together pride & resentment are the one’s who are building walls, pushing people away. Recovery & gratitude are the one’s who can break down the barriers.

Walls aren’t built overnight, walls don’t come down overnight either. Pride & ego don’t care who gets hurt in the process, it doesn’t distinguish friends, from family, from foes. It’s colour blind. Regardless of where you’re from, who you are, or what advice you’re offering, pride & ego can’t tell the difference. The challenge is everyone get’s pushed away, including friends & family we love.

What happens when we put pride & ego away?

I should chick-ity check myself before I wreck myself.

As soon as I put my ego in check, my life began to change. Everything started to turn around, I started having way more good days than bad days. We talked in a previous stream that there’s no such thing as bad days. We can have bad minutes, we can have a bad hour, but there’s no such thing as bad days.

As soon as I let go of ego, I no longer had anymore bad days. I still have bad minutes, bad hours, but I don’t have anymore bad days. Holding onto pride did cause pain. Holding onto pride, I lost more than I gained. I hurt more people than I helped. If I were to measure things in success standpoint.

When I first entered rehab, they asked us to make a list of all the people we had harmed. It took me a few weeks to get that organized (about three weeks). Only because my ego got in the way, and I didn’t want to do it. The idea behind the exercise is to prepare ourselves to make amends with the people on our list.

There’s a step where we actually take action, but there’s also a step where we prepare ourselves. Making the list of those I harmed is in preparation for the act of saying I’m sorry later. Before I completed rehab, they ask us to start working our way down the list. I followed up, followed through, and started making amends. It took me a while.

First I had to admit I was wrong, I put my ego in it’s place. I had to prepare myself to admit I was wrong, then follow through by making amends. It’s never an easy process, it’s not easy because I’m holding onto my ego.

The more I let go of my ego, the easier it became to make amends.

It’s easier to ask for feedback when I don’t hold onto ego. Without ego it’s easier to say, “Hey, you know what? I was a crappy friend. I was a crappy boyfriend. I wasn’t a good family member to you. I’m sorry, I apologize, you deserved better.”

The hard part for me was apologizing to my mom, “I wasn’t that good of a son to you. I’m sorry I let you down. I want to make it up to you.” It took a while, but we’re in a better spot now. We phone eachother every week.

Ego can slip in. The greediness behind ego (as if it’s some sort of a gremlin), if I’m not aware, if I’m not paying attention. That’s the benefit of getting into a ritual of developing good habits. I’m not saying cleanse yourself of ego,  what I am saying is it’s okay to identify that ego doesn’t belong in this equation. It doesn’t belong in this part of my life. I’m trying to live my life in a way that’s outstanding, and ego doesn’t have a place in it.

In rehab we make this list, we have to follow through by making amends before we leave. During that whole time, during the whole process (for me this took 9 weeks), I had to get into the habit of removing ego. It sounds way more challenging than it is. What had taken me years to build those walls up, took me weeks to tear down. I should have a badge on my arm that says, “I’ve been ego free since ….”

Being ego free for 9 weeks helped me make my amends. I didn’t make all my amends, but I made progress. I didn’t give up, I kept going through it.

It’s actually a little bit of both. The idea of making a list of people I harmed is going through the practice of identifying, “Hey, you know what? I’m wrong.”
First I admit that I’m wrong to myself, that I have done wrong. Then I contextualize that into what was the outcome of being wrong? Since I was wrong, it harmed my brother in the process of being wrong. I would put him on my list, and I would want to go make amends to him. Harm can be measured in any number of ways, I could have borrowed money from my brother, or maybe I took advantage of him, the idea is I caused harm to him in a way that he would measure harm. Either I’ve broken his trust, taken advantage of him, ultimately I’ve let him down really.

When it comes to the attempt of making amends, the treatment centre prepared us by saying, “There will be times you reach out to make amends, and even say you want to talk just so you can apologize to them. The receiver of your apology may be feeling harmed to the point that they no longer want to talk with you. They don’t want to entertain your apology, even though you’re there just to apologize, they don’t even want to have that conversation.”

In all fairness they may not believe me, I may have pulled this stunt before.

I might have tried this with them 17 other times, and they didn’t believe me then, so there’s no reason for them to believe me now. Or I haven’t given them reason to at least. It might take time to break down that wall, just as much as I’ve built walls and pushed people away, I can’t expect my apology to be received with open arms. After all, I’m the one who harmed them.

It’s not the end of the world, it’s the result of my addiction. It’s not their fault, it’s mine. If I try to make amends to my brother, and he says no. I can feel better, knowing that I’ve told him I’m prepared to apologize (even though I haven’t actually apologized to him yet). The important thing is I’ve let him know I’m ready to apologize. Maybe he doesn’t believe me, and it’s going to take me a month. Maybe it takes two, or three months, maybe it takes me hitting one year of sobriety my brother is willing to entertain the idea that I’m sorry. Maybe I have to show him I’m living this life now, that’s changed me. Maybe I have to hit some milestones first.

Sometimes I’ll go and make an apology but it doesn’t land with the other person.

In a previous episode we talked about making amends when it’s safe to do so. Not just safe for you, but for the other person. If me making amends with them will cause harm to the other person (if I’m really not supposed to talk with them). Or if it’s not safe for me to talk with them, if there’s actual harm that can come to me or them, at that point I don’t jeopardize safety just so I can feel better. That’s not the point behind making an apology, it’s about when the relationship is safe. What does safety look like? Does safety look like convenience? No, of course not.

I would feel better knowing that I’ve come to that idea. Yes I admit my wrong doings to myself, I escalate that thought to admitting to others, then I prepare myself to make amends, then follow through with it. The amends I make is genuine and heartfelt. I’m not just making a list of every family member running around making amends, I have to actually want to do it. If I try and run through it forcefully, like a check list, because I have to, that’s not going to be received as genuine, my brother won’t believe me. There’s no point in telling him I’m sorry, if I’m not actually sorry. There’s a way to make a connection and give an apology, where it’s not artificial. Apologies should be genuine and authentic.

No. In my treatment centre they didn’t. They said, “Make a list of those I harmed.” Who I started with was my own priority that I set. Who I put on my list first was my priority, I guess it was a priority that I created. They didn’t tell me to start here and work my way down the list. But they did tell me to dump everything into the list, and from there I was given instruction to work my way through it. By working my way through it, I identify, “Here’s the horrible things I had done.” Yes. “But here’s the mindset I was in. Here’s the actions that it caused. Here’s the outcomes I don’t want.”

By mapping it out, by playing the tape to the end, one grade school notebook captures everything. As I open up more and more, I fill it up more and more. It’s not a quick list of 20 names or anything, there’s a whole lot more detail behind it. By the time I’m done with my step 1, that notebook is full.

This is why letting go of ego can be a good habit to get into. In the ritual of moving through my pride & ego, I acknowledge that pride & ego don’t need to take up as much space in my head than it needs to. If I give it more space, again pride & ego are greedy gremlins who will take it. It doesn’t care if you’re a family member or friend, everyone gets alienated, it doesn’t see colour.

It’s a good habit to get into being humble.

The goal is to stay humble, that’s where living a life without ego comes in.

Ego’s always going to be there because we’re human, but I want to work through it when it pops up. I get into the exercise of, “Here’s how I can help minimize it’s impact.”

In the recovery program, we would have meetings 4 or 5 times in a day. There was a morning meeting, we had recovery class, we’d go to an offsite meeting, after dinner there was a meeting. With 50 guys we’re not all in one big meeting, we were broken down into different small groups throughout the day. This gave each guy a chance to share, and get feedback from the other guys.

During the whole process, we’re all going through the same steps together. We wrote down our lists together, we documented what happened, all the train wrecks of heartache we caused. When someone shared a win. It was super exciting, because we shared a win. When someone made amends, it gave us all hope that we can do that too. It was helpful to see someone else in the program, at the same level I am, on the same learning path as I was. The other person may have arrived in rehab the day before I did, or a week after me, but they are already making progress.

It gave me hope that I can do that too.

Their win, was our win, it was a selfless celebration. When someone made a mistake, we would all learn a lesson. As a group, we would discuss “What worked, what didn’t work. What can we do the next time we come around to this opportunity? Maybe we shouldn’t have talked with that ex girlfriend.” We would all walk away with ideas on what safety measures need to be put in place.

The process can’t be:
1) Make a list
2) Breeze through it in two days
3) And you’re done.

Rushing through this kind of process can cause more harm than good. We would trust eachother on what safety looks like.

Years of building walls don’t come down over a weekend.

Making amends is something that I’m always going to be doing. I’m not doing it simply once, getting it crossed off my list, and never doing it again, no. I’m going to have to be doing this all the time. This isn’t something that some day I’m going to do, it’s something that everyday I’m doing.

Listening to some of the guys there, I really made a connection with. I admit there’s friendships I made there, that I wouldn’t have made on my own naturally. But thanks to the program, it doesn’t matter. A win’s a win. Together we would celebrate getting back to the rooms (meetings), “You know what? Today was a tough day, today was really hard. But you know what? All of us are Sober today. All 50 of us went out into the world today, and all 50 of us came back tonight. That makes today a win. Tomorrow we’re going to get up and do it all over again. We’ll try again to make amends, to live life on life’s terms.” It’s actually a pretty cool bonding experience. I see why they call it a fellowship.

In order to look past my ego, I need to be grateful. It’s almost as if Gratitude and Ego can’t be in the same room at the same time. I can’t hold them at the same level, it becomes too challenging. One is going to have to take the other’s place. If I’m willing to look past my ego, if I’m willing to let go and bring down those walls. I can let gratefulness in.

To this day I still have my struggles. The main thing in recovery is, the message they tell you in the rooms (meetings). The struggle doesn’t get any easier, you just get stronger. Life is going to happen, I have to live life on life’s terms. No matter how I feel about something, things will happen that I can’t control. What I can do is prepare myself. What I can do is make amends while I’m here. The other person my not be here tomorrow.
There are some apologies that I’m not able to make anymore, that I could have when I needed to, but I didn’t because I was new to the process. Today I don’t let that make decisions for me. I don’t let it hold me down. What it does though is it motivates me to want to do more. It moves me to say, “Hey you know what? Let me keep my side of the street clean while I’m here, I have a chance & opportunity to make a difference, so why not do that now?”
Or I could be crippled with anxiety, frustration, and resentment, but then again that’s my ego talking. Ego doesn’t have a place in my world anymore. I’ve got too much going for me.

Everybody has their own struggles, people in recovery are on their own journey or a quest of some sort. As an addict we carry with us this idea of what we believe our reality to be. It’s almost as if we’re living in this dream, and until we wake up, (until we let go of our ego) everything around us appears as this horrible wretched place. Where everyone is out to get us. That no one understands us. This is what I believed. I thought there was no place for me. That no body was willing to take the opportunity and listen.

Ego itself can’t be changed externally.

There’s no ointment, or topical solution to getting rid of it. There is no Rub-A5-35. Taking a Tylenol doesn’t get rid of my ego. Ego has to be changed from within. We talked about a flood of emotion earlier, and adjusting to it. When I stop consuming substances (drugs & alcohol), my world clears up & gives room for more emotion to flood in. As I acclimatize to those emotions, I map those emotions down to feelings & sensations. Through this process I begin to appreciate there’s more to life than just addiction. This is where gratitude comes in.

Gratitude brings in the light. Gratitude fills the darkness with light. Pride & ego alienates friends and family, which gets us into groove (a habit) of suffering, by filling our world with darkness. When light is introduced, when light first enters the darkness, everything seems new. It hasn’t seen the light of day before. Nothing seems to ‘fit’ because I’ve alienated myself from the world, from what we can appreciate as spirit (or higher power), from connections we believe are the greater good.

Spirit appears to the person struggling, to the addict, as a world of darkness. In that state when challenges appeared, I felt my beliefs were being challenged. I thought my being was called into question. As an addict I felt that everyone was against me. I couldn’t see past my own experiences. That ‘stuck in a rut’ experience, I believed was all my life was ever going to become. I reduced my life down to a handful of experiences and I wasn’t willing or able to look beyond them.

By going to meetings, by having such a supportive community, by going through Rehab, by making amends, by connecting with others, by supporting others along the way. I began to connect myself with spirit, with a higher power, I connected with the greater good. When an addict connects with spirit, the darkness becomes filled with light.

This transforms the same challenges I felt before, into growth opportunities.

Our body mind and spirit are all connected, they always have been. But it’s when our alienation comes in, when ego is driving me, my world becomes filled with vanity and corruption. Until I appreciate that body, mind, & spirit are connected, until I believe I can change things, by choosing to remove ego from my life, by choosing to fill my life with gratitude. To have an appreciation for everything. To roll with the punches. To live life on life’s terms. Once I start changing my perception, once I start taking action in an empowering way, once I begin to walk in the direction of progress. Taking ownership, making amends where it’s safe to do so, I can change my circumstances. I can shape who I become, it doesn’t happen overnight. But I can free myself from bonds that I cannot even see, by waking up and letting go of ego.

Thank you,

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