self / n., adj. & verb (pl. selves) 1 a person's or thing's own individuality or essence (showed his true self). 2 a person or thing as the object of introspection or reflexive action (the consciousness of self). 3 a one's own interests and pleasures (cares of nothing but self) b concentration on these (self is a bad guide to happiness). . . .The Twelve Steps are a process designed to bring about "ego deflation at depth." It is critical, therefore, to understand from the start just what "ego" is. Popularly, "ego" is seen as "pride" or "a sense of self esteem," but in recovery and recovery literature "ego" is used (as above) to denote the individual as "a conscious thinking subject" and/or "that part of the mind that reacts to reality and has a sense of individuality." As such, the term "ego" is used interchangeably with the term "self" (including its derivatives, "yourself," "themselves," "ourselves," etc.) to denote a person's sense of "individuality."
[Source: Concise Oxford English Dictionary.]
"Ego" as a person's "sense of self-esteem," on the other hand, is not used in recovery literature. Rather, "ego" as a sense of "pride" or "self esteem" is seen as one of the individual's defects of character and is discussed in depth as such in the Step Seven essay in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where it is examined as the first of "the Seven Deadly Sins" - pride, greed, anger, lust, gluttony, envy and sloth.
Unfortunately for the individual who is new in recovery, "ego" and "pride" are often confused and discussed as one and the same concept, while "ego" as a person's "conscious thinking subject" or his or her sense of "self" is overlooked. This, despite "selfishness" and "self-centeredness" (rather than "pride" or "self-esteem") being clearly identified as the primary problem of the alcoholic addict (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 62).
"The main problem of the alcoholic," we read at page 22 of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "centers in his mind, rather than his body." Thereafter, we are shown that we need to establish (and resolutely improve) a conscious contact with "a Power greater than ourselves" - i.e., greater than our egos - that will relieve our alcoholic addiction and restore us to sanity. We are shown, therefore, that we need to tap into a deeper consciousness than that of our ordinary ego consciousness if we are to recover. Fortunately, that is precisely what the Twelve Steps are designed to achieve.
In describing the purpose of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, the author (at page 45) writes:
"Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a Power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?""(T)hat's exactly what this book is about," we read. "It's main object is to enable you to find a Power that is greater than yourself which will solve your problem."
The 'how' of finding a Power greater than one's self or ego is straightforward: it is the surrender, self-survey and house-cleaning set out in the Twelve Steps. The 'where' of finding a Higher Power is similarly straightforward, although it may run counter to many of the beliefs we have been raised with. Rather than looking 'out there' or 'up there' for a God of our own understanding, we are directed to look 'within.' Thus, at page 55 of the 'Big Book,' we read:
"(D)eep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that Power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself.""With few exceptions," we read in the Spiritual Experience appendix to the 'Big Book', "our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves. Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it God-consciousness." (Emphasis added.)
"We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found." (Emphasis added.)
God-consciousness, rather than self-consciousness (or ego-consciousness) is thus the solution to our dilemma. A "new state of consciousness and being" (as described at page 107 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) as distinct from the "calamity, pomp and worship of other things" central to the ego, allows us to think, say and do what we were incapable of doing before. It relieves the irritability, restlessness and discontent that characterizes the ordinary, self-consciousness of the alcoholic addict when not drinking or using.
Through working the Twelve Steps, and by practicing meditation, prayer and contemplation, we are thus relieved of "the bondage of self" from which we sought escape with alcohol and/or drugs, and we emerge (however briefly and sporadically at first) into a new consciousness of being devoid of ego, seeking daily to improve our conscious contact with God.