Self Will Run Riot

When I first stepped through the doors of AA, I had heard this term used quite often. I never knew what it had really meant. All I could think of was the word “riot”. What did this mean? Surely, I had everything under control. Throughout my 30 plus years drinking and drugging I had my life together. Or so I thought.

“If the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?
Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.
So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.

This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.”

The truth is, I wasn’t giving anything up to God (or Higher Power). I was playing the director in life that told people how, what, when and where. And yet, here I was drinking to the extent that I was locked up six times, sexually abused, beaten and then ending up homeless. And I still longed for control. Not realizing I had lost all control over my life even then. In reality, I had nothing left.
When I first came into AA, I still thought I could find an easier softer way to handle this program. I made it six months in and then I relapsed. I had not surrendered my control. In fact, the thought was so foreign to me that I just couldn’t fathom how I could possibly quit playing God. I was going through the motions of the steps. I was telling my sponsor what I thought she wanted to hear. I was self will run riot.

When I think of that term “self will run riot”, I see a wild, reckless person who is trying to control everything around them and it not working in the least. This was me. I was playing God, I was trying to control the show, the actors, the beginnings and the endings. It never went my way. And as a result, I never truly got sober. I never experienced a spiritual awakening. I just existed. This was an awful feeling.
In my despair, I reached out to my sponsor finally, who had me repeatedly read page 62 of the Big Book repeatedly until it finally clicked. This all brought me back to step 2 – came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. After messing around with the steps to suit me, it was time to try the AA way of things. It was time for me to listen to this God stuff or Higher Power stuff. For me it was God. I worked on step 2 for quite some while until I learned to trust God. I don’t know how it happened to be honest, but it did happen. I prayed a lot. I prayed that I would see God in all my affairs. I prayed that he would take away all my doubts and all my control. I was ready to hand it over. I could not have done this without praying. I could not have done this without despair. God did take it all away from me.

So, I quit playing God, I quit trying to control the show. I gave up my self-will that was running riot. Understood him now as the director of my life. I understood my role in life was to be his child. There are times, I still do catch myself trying to take the reins, but I quickly give it up to God. Self will run riot no longer worked for me. I knew I could no longer do it alone. Nor did I want to anymore.
When I got past this selfishness and self-centeredness I was able to see things clearly in my life. The steps moving forward became easier and I knew I could always go back to page 62 of the Big Book to remind me of someone who I shouldn’t be. I no longer wanted to be in control of anything or anyone. This gave me a brand-new freedom in life. The world opened to me. The program of AA opened to me with open arms. Life became easier. The understanding of things opened. I became content finally in my life. For this is an important step in recovery. I will always revisit this when I see that I am growing towards self-will. But right now, I am grateful that I have quieted the “self will run riot” inside of me.


  1. Cheryl ⏰??

    You have a gift with words. An artist. I enjoyed reading this Gina. Lots to ponder…

    1. ✝️ Keith F

      I love this. Yes. The first step is the foundation. The second step is the cornerstone. And the third step the keystone. All three steps are necessary in erecting the structure (arch) through which we can walk into a new freedom. I found it interesting when studying this that the keystone is also know as the capstone in an arch. The whole structure will fall down without this key piece in place. So it is, I believe, in our fear (respect) and love of God. We made a decision to surrender all to Him and found out that His yoke was easy and His burden light in recovery. No more self-will run riot. This truly is the road of happy destiny. Thanks Gina for this reminder importance of recognizing it His kingdom and not mine. Love it.

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