As a kid, I was convinced that deep down inside, at my core, there was something wrong with me—something fundamentally broken. I constantly apologized, I'd over-thank people, I'd pay more than my share. It was as if I had some kind of deficit and needed to compensate for it.
Then, when I was 14, I started drinking, and I didn't get sober until I was 31. After five years in Alcoholics Anonymous, I met a woman who impressed me. So I asked her to be my sponsor, and she said yes.
That night I walked into a meeting and saw my new sponsor sobbing uncontrollably, with a group of women huddled around her. And my immediate thought was: "What did I do wrong? Did I say something to her? Was I supposed to call her?" And then, "She's upset with me because I'm a bad person." I had only known her for 12 hours! While everyone else was tending to her in her time of need, all I could do was think about what I had done wrong.
Then it struck me: "This has nothing to do with me. Whatever happened was not my fault. I felt a wave of relief, an internal shift that felt like I had just had a chiropractic adjustment. I saw that I had been living with a self-centered sense of unworthiness.
It's significant that I had this epiphany at an AA meeting, because when I took away the booze, all I had left was me. That moment forced me to shine a light on my shadowy areas; it was like turning a huge spotlight on myself. I realized that if I'm obsessing about my own feelings, I'm not present with the people around me—and am frankly of no use to them.
Today, if that instinct to take the blame gets triggered, a mechanism inside me kicks in and asks, "Is this really about you?" It's helped me become a better friend, a better partner, and a more helpful person. It's hard to focus on what someone else needs when you're so focused on what their problem could mean about you! I still have to take a deep breath and collect myself, but I'm no longer so wrapped up in my own feelings that I deprive other people of theirs.
From the June 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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