“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination.”–Rev. William H. Poole
What does the concept of openness mean to me as a person in recovery? I can boil it down to the following equations:
I was an arrogant alcoholic who thought I had all of the answers. But I didn’t start out that way.
The ability to engage in discourse was a skill that was highly valued in my family. My father, who built a career on critically studying the ails of public education and developing solutions, was considered an intellectual among his peers. Highly intelligent, he sought to enlighten policy makers about the inequities plaguing those he considered the most vulnerable in society: children from poor homes whose first language was something other than English. He was a thinker, and he encouraged each of his five children to value critical thinking and analysis.
The result of my upbringing: my opinions and beliefs were iron-clad. I could filibuster and preach until you ran out of patience and interest, making sure to cover and back up each point as I destroyed your arguments one by one. I believed that I knew better than you, you poor, ill-informed thing, and I made sure you understood just how smart I was and you were not.
How did this pernicious attitude contribute to my addiction? It kept me in isolation from any attitude, belief, or philosophy that conflicted with my own. It caused me to distrust others, to rely on my own knowledge and self for all answers, and to keep me apart from you. Truth was black or white, your side/my side, rightness or wrongness, Which side were you going to pick? It had better be mine, or I had no use or tolerance for you.
Case in point: I believed that alcoholics lived under bridges, racked up numerous DWIs, hung out in bars, drank during the day, or exclusively drank liquor (not wine). I did not do any of those things, therefore I could not be an alcoholic. See, black and white, this or that. I wasn’t THAT.
Hitting my bottom and suffering painful humiliation caused me to consider first, then realize that a gray, nebulous area existed, and I lived right in the middle of it. Kind of like an alcoholic purgatory: I was neither completely lost (I was still alive) nor completely free from my addiction. I had to consider the fact that I could not think myself out of the grips of alcohol; that my best thinking had put me in a place where my bridges burned and my lifelines hung by threads.
Intolerance and denial can be deadly for addicts. I had to open myself to the possibility that maybe another person just might have some insight into my suffering that I had never before considered. The people sitting in my first 12-Step meeting opened my eyes:
the sweet, grandmotherly woman who assured me I was at the right place
the ex-con who spoke of incarceration and a life lived on the fringes
the curious man wearing a captain’s hat who told me to come back tomorrow
the party girl holding a Louis Vuitton in her perfectly-manicured, shaky hands
the gentleman who had just been released from prison after serving a sentence for intoxication manslaughter
–their words penetrated my heart and helped me understand that I didn’t possess all of the answers, and I had so much to learn about a disease that had ravaged my mind, body, and spirit. A new way of thinking would be essential to my sobriety.
In each story I heard and continue to hear, I listen for the similarities, not the differences. What is it about your experience that I can relate to?
I began to practice open-mindedness. These are some behaviors I work diligently at embracing:
- I get out of the habit of mentally shutting people down when I sniff any opposition to my beliefs or opinions
- I question said beliefs and opinions which I have might have formed without proper knowledge or consideration for others
- I identify my own faulty thinking and begin to correct it
- I seek first to understand, then to be understood
- I take myself out of my comfort zone to consider opposing views
- I evaluate what behaviors and choices in my life are working and which are not
- I accept that I don’t possess all of the answers and there is so much I have yet to learn
- I participate in active listening
- I strive to find a connection with others
- I ask for God’s will to be done, not mine
Underlying my efforts is one mantra I repeat numerous times a day:
Seek progress, not perfection.
My journey in sobriety is one of action. It requires daily work from me and faith that God has a plan greater than I can ever imagine. I keep an open mind and an open heart.
I think it’s working.