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One must love themselves before they can love others…really?

Valentine’s Day is upon us which can be a painful reminder to the unattached that they are single. The day actually originates from the Catholic Calendar of saints as the feast day of St. Valentine who is, amongst other things, the patron saint of happy marriages-depending on which Valentine you are referencing. There are seven on the Roman calendar, five died for their faith. February 14th is actually the feat day of a priest that was arrested by the Roman authorities, made the ‘mistake’ of trying to convert the Emperor and was beaten and beheaded for his efforts. Aside from being the patron saint of love, marriage and those preparing to marry-this Valentine is also assigned to bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings-I guess where the cards come from (?)-plague sufferers and travelers none of which apparently merits a box of chocolates or roses. That being said, what does it have to do with anything especially anything having to do with abstinence and recovery from addiction(s) and what does love have to do with it?

There is a difference between respect for oneself and love of oneself: Most folk in the course of their addiction neglect their own basic needs and wind up not only harming themselves but others as well-admittedly this is by degrees and both tend to get worse the longer one remains in the problem. It is natural consequences that simply treating oneself as a human being instead of drug fueled machine helps the afflicted feel better. If I sleep and eat right and maintain some semblance of basic hygiene I am going to feel better than if I do not. If I am treating myself better it is more likely and certainly easier to care about and feel like treating others better. Other things required for my self-perseveration and development are important and worth striving for but are not technically love. It is true that all of the above are better than the hate and disrespect served up to self and others in addiction but is not technically love of oneself but the beginning and process of treating oneself as a human being.

Self-love, on the other hand is identified as the problem in the literature of every 12 step support group of any kind and what needs to be addressed. Here we are talking about the self obsession about me, mine and my feelings and what do you mean no one bothered to tell you your world revolves around me. The Basic Text of Alcoholics Anonymous states that self-centeredness/self-love is the root of the problem and it, not only alcohol, has the power to kill. From this self obsession comes the isolation and alienation in the mind that cuts the afflicted off from the world mentally and to fell unloved and unlovable since any and all demands are not being met-demands for attention, power, prestige, money, sex, etc. It is not so much what one wants out of life; love, security and companionship and/or a place amongst others, but how those are approached. Most folks know the simple difference between are request and a demand.

According to the Greeks by definition there are four types of love: Platonic which drives philosophers to toward truth; Storge/affection which is experience as a close bond as in between familymembers, Philia/friendship that grows out of companionship and is experienced as the intimacy between friends regardless of their sex; Eros/romance which is what gets folk all hot and bothered on Valentine’s day-and generally every other day; and Agape/selfless and unconditional love such as that God, or higher power, has for humanity and in human imitation when one gives without expecting anything in return.

So if ‘love is the answer’ how does one get there? The personality change that is a lifelong process involves a change in outlook, attitude and motivation. If my demand that come from placing my needs and wants over and above others is the issue, maybe I need to be concerned and interested in things outside of my own head in the world and lives of others. Philia and Agape are the types of love that most find in ongoing recovery and the point of ‘asking for God’s will for us and the power to carry it out…’ and “working with others and practicing principals in all areas of our lives…’ If service to others is a large part of the solution to my problem maybe there is something to learn from the real Valentine. He was under the sincere position that he was being of service to his higher power and fellow man by trying to convert the emperor and was willing to die for that belief. In preserving and developing our own lives and passing on what has been give us we will probably not get beaten up or beheaded. I am not saying that acting out on ones’ character defects won’t have that result but that, again, is the problem not the solution. The fact is if I have been given the gift of recovery I have something very valuable that will not only save my life, mind and freedom, but can also be extended to others so that they too can avoid the ends of addiction-jail, institutions, death and dereliction, dereliction, dereliction, etc. If you have some romance in your life this month or not it will pass. Love endures forever and begins with reaching out and to others.

Prayer of Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy; O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

R Dole, LCSW Pasadena BES Group and Associates.

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