We see the acronym “H.O.W.” on the wall of just about every 12-step club we enter, and often in church basements, treatment centers and other places where meetings are held. Honest, Open and Willing are the cornerstones of recovery. Without them, there’s little to no chance of our getting and staying sober.
An Honest Challenge
We need to be honest with ourselves and others. To begin with, this is hard. The farther we get from our drinking and drugging the easier it gets, but honesty doesn’t come naturally to alcoholics and other addicts. We've become accustomed to protecting our drugs and justifying our behavior by half-truths, downright lies and omissions that dishonesty is our default mode, at least in some things. The old AA saying, “I used to lie when it would have been easier to tell the truth”, is dead on for most of us.
To start with, honesty is easiest with folks who don’t threaten us much. That’s why it’s important to open up in meetings and begin to practice telling the truth. No matter how unpleasant it may seem to us, there will be people in the room who've been there, done that, and will be unsurprised and non-judgmental. Once we’ve become accustomed to the idea that the sky isn’t going to fall on us, we can consider expanding our truth-telling to others in our lives. We can learn to become more open with whomever we’re with.
Learning to Tell the Truth
That doesn’t mean that we spill the beans to everyone and his brother. Although the relief we feel in early recovery may cause us to lean in the direction of over-disclosure, it’s probably not a good idea to shock the civilians—certainly with no forewarning. What is important, though, is that we begin to incorporate honesty into our dealings with everyone. Just as lying is learned behavior, so must we learn to tell the truth automatically (as scary as that may be to begin with).
We have to be willing to make the changes necessary in allowing us to be honest and open with others. This requires a firm understanding of the damage our opposite behavior has had in the past, and the potential for further harm. Part of this will come more or less automatically as part of our 4th and 5th Step work, but it is never too soon to consider the value of honesty in our program. If I lie about selected things, then I have to lie to cover up the lies, and sooner—rather than later—I’m so wound up in my stories that the whole thing falls apart. Where do I have to go from there? All too often, it’s back to the old ways of coping with a life gone out of control.
We need also to be willing to allow others to be open and honest with us. Addicts are experts at getting folks to leave us alone. We withdraw, change the subject, lash out, become amorous, walk away and use a variety of other tricks to make confrontation difficult for others. But if we expect to become clean and sober, to take our place in the real world we must become willing to learn from others and accept their feedback. We've been living in our own heads for far too long. Now it’s time to find the real us and live that story, instead of some drugged-out fairy tale.