On Selfs

“Selfishness and self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 62).

When I arrived at the treatment center, they told me I was the problem. “No shit,” I thought. I knew I was the problem. I knew I sucked. I knew that I was full of shit and you were full of shit and that the best we could do each day was to try to be a little less shitty than we actually were.

In the 1970’s my parents were caught up in the Jesus Movement that was popular at the time in Southern California. As a result, I was named after the Gospel of Matthew, despite the fact that I have no reason to believe that either of them ever actually read the Gospel of Matthew. And that’s fine; they were a young couple having babies and discovered friends and support within the social structure provided by the church. I have vague memories of getting dressed up for church in uncomfortable clothes and sitting on an uncomfortable bench. I just sat there and tried to pass the time without getting in too much trouble. I was religious for a long time, but that’s how it always felt for me. It just wasn’t quite the right fit and trouble was always looming.

When I was young, maybe 6 or 7, a new church was under construction near my home. I remember dirt mounds and lots of scaffolding. I rode my bike up and over the mounds and climbed the scaffolding. Kids love construction zones. Years later, I was regular attendee of that church. I would go every Sunday by myself, but I never felt as free as I did before the walls were built.

I used to have this recurring dream. I was in the neighborhood of my small town, running away from faceless and nameless pursuers. I climbed fences, ran through backyards, and scaled rooftops, leaping from house to house, but I could not escape no matter how hard I tried. They were relentless. I was exhausted, but it never occurred to me to stop running.

I bamboozled myself. As Steve the Rancher used to say, “There’s nothing to win, there’s nothing to prove, and you’re not going anywhere.”

Sober Matt can look back upon his life and identify three major distractions: sports, religion, and education. Now, to be clear, I didn’t realize that they were distractions at the time and distractions are not inherently a bad thing. In fact, they seemed like good things and everyone around me told me how good they were. They felt really good for a time, but then eventually they didn’t. They just sort of fizzled, like sparkling water without the sparkle.

I am an athlete. I am a Christian. I am a teacher. I believed these things. I took it all way too seriously.

This misunderstanding did not become clear to me until I blacked out and came to within the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. At the end of my drinking, the only thing I cared about was keeping my job. I am a teacher. That’s what I am. I didn’t care about my family, my friends, my health. All the “my”s had vanished, except for “my” job. And, it was the only thing that was taken away from me.

I’m not sure who cut my umbilical cord when I was born, but I have been trying to re-attach it ever since.

As Sam C. likes to put it, I had begun a journey from “selfishness to Selfness.”

My self was very concerned about my job. My Self felt trapped. And so, I sabotaged the whole damn thing.

“As long as I am this or that, or have this or that, I am not all things and I have not all things. Become pure till you neither are nor have either this or that; then you are omnipresent and, being neither this nor that, are all things” (Meister Eckhart, Sermon XLIX “Behold, I Send My Angel”).