After we leave detox, and during and after drug and alcohol treatment, we often start hanging around recovery clubs and other meeting rooms. There we see and hear a lot of slogans, aphorisms and so forth. Some seem pretty inane. Others seem too simple to be of much use. But one thing they are is ubiquitous — they seem to be everywhere that recovering people are likely to gather, other than coffee shops. Inane and simple or not, all of those sayings have one thing in common: they have been found useful to people in recovery. Like so many common sayings in general, they are repeated because they carry truths. “Live And Let Live” is no less important to a recovering person than the famous “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning” was to the captain of a sailing ship.
H.O.W. (Honesty, Openness, Willingness) is one slogan that we’re likely to run across in any 12-step room. Let’s take a look at that one.
Every addict I’ve met (and I include myself) had in common three traits: secrets relating to their addiction, unwillingness to let others know any more than the addict thinks is necessary, and stubbornness. These things are all understandable, viewed from an addict’s perspective, because in one way or another they help to protect the addiction.
One of the first indications of a developing addiction is secrets. We keep secrets about where we were, what we were doing, how much of it we did, with whom, and how much it cost. We weave these webs of deception until they become so complex that often we can’t keep them straight ourselves. In fact most addicts come to believe at least some of their own lies.
The same is true about openness — we treat it like poison. We don’t want people to know who we really are because, deep down inside, we’re afraid that if they really knew us they would disapprove — that they wouldn’t like us, would find us unacceptable. Sometimes we’ve done things that we truly believe no one in their right mind would want anyone else to know about, perhaps even committed serious crimes. Keeping these secrets makes it really hard to be open, because one thing leads to another, and we may reveal more than we intended. So we answer questions about our lives with vague generalities, or spin fanciful tales that we believe will enhance our image. Sometimes we end up believing that we really are the person we’ve made up.
And, of course, we’re stubborn. In many things, it’s our way or the highway — another way that we protect our addictions. We don’t like that well-regarded restaurant (because they don’t serve booze); we don’t want to associate with those people, we just don’t feel comfortable around them (we can’t drink at their house, and they get upset when they find people doing lines in the bathroom). Naturally “no one can tell me how to live my life,” either. I’d never be able to keep all the balls in the air if I had to worry about someone else’s opinions and advice. (Besides, they might be right.)
Generally speaking, recovery is about reversing the effects of addiction and correcting the personality problems that supported it. Is it any wonder that H.O.W. is so common? It addresses three of the core problems that we must overcome if we are to make progress towards a life that is free of alcohol, other drugs, or addictive behaviors. If we can’t be honest and open with others, how can we learn to be honest with ourselves? And if we aren’t willing to learn, we might just as well go out, use, and make our relapse official.
Honesty. Openness. Willingness. Master those, and we’re well on the way to a sober life. Continue to ignore them, and…well…you know….