H. O. W.

ChangeAfter 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….

What We Would Not Do For Ourselves

There's a quote from the AA Big Book about God “doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”  Now before you get all excited, this is not a religious screed, and I don't talk religion here — although I may mention spirituality from time to time, which is not the same thing.

But there is something about the 12-Step programs that makes the whole bigger than the sum of the parts.  Regardless of how we attribute the changes that can occur to those who “completely give themselves to this simple program,” it can, indeed, do for us things that we could not do for ourselves.

I'd like to point out, however, that we are talking about things that we could not do for ourselves, not about things that we would not do for ourselves.

I am in touch with a lot of folks, through the Sunrise blog and several other venues both on- and offline, with regard to alcohol and other addiction issues.  Many of them are in recovery, and some are assuredly not.  Amongst the last group, there are always a few who are beating the old drum: AA is a Cult; NA doesn't work, it's all a scam; There's too much God stuff.  (We could increase the list ad infinitum.) After some gentle digging, however, it always comes out that the steps didn't work for them because they didn't work for the steps. The program was not able to do for them what they would not do for themselves.

Although I believe in the 12-Step approach to recovery, you will never hear me say, or write, that it is the only one that works.  I will say this, however: unless we hang around for the long haul, unless we go to lots of meetings, get a sponsor, actually complete the steps to the best of our ability, hang out with recovering people, and do our best to avoid the old people, places and things, then we have no right to go around saying that Al-Anon, or CA, or OA didn't work for us.  What happened was, WE didn't work for us.

We can clean up.  We can detox, go to the best treatment centers in the world, and wear a pair of ruby slippers to speed us on our way, but if we do not spend as much time and effort on our recovery as we did on our addiction, we are almost certain to fail.

Our addictions changed our brains, then they changed our way of life, the way we thought, our ethics and morals, and the people we associated with.  If we can say, “I didn't do those things,” we need to add one word to the statement: “yet”. Addictions changed our lives completely.  What makes us think we'll get over them, just…like…that?  We have to do the work to change back.  It's that simple.  Recovery programs show us the path, but we are the ones who have to walk it.