For those of us who got sober in AA, not only are we familiar with the above acronym, but we did, and continue, to ascribe to the tenets of its wisdom. It became a prerequisite for our recovery journey and remains the iron-clad handrail that keeps us from falling back into the abyss of our disease.
When I first heard that referenced in relation to getting sober, I thought, no problem. I’m honest. Never stole anything, except maybe time. Time from my family, my job, and my friends. And, occasionally, I guess I robbed them of their trust and peace of mind. But is that what they meant?
And I have always been open-minded. I didn’t care what other people did, or didn’t do if they gave me the same consideration and kept their nose out of my business. Isn’t that being open-minded? I won’t judge you, so you damn well better not judge me. I figured that gave me a free pass to do whatever I wanted without attracting your attention or condemnation.
Willingness. Well, that was a given. After all, I walked through those doors of AA on my own, didn’t I? “But don’t tell me what to do or try to make me a part of your group think tank. Just let me sit back in the corner and I will decide what I need and what I don’t. I’ll figure it all out, thank you.”
After a few months of stagnating in my own stubbornness, the earplugs fell out and I began to observe the program through a sharper, unobstructed lens. I decided I needed to redefine my first impression of H.O.W with just a tiny tweak. Because I had marginal signs of dyslexia, I decided to approach it backward. That turned out to be the first good decision I had made in a long time.
Once I fine-tuned my version of H.O.W, I began to see with greater clarity.
Willingness required more than simply walking through the door, lugging around that know it all attitude that had become my logo. It meant participating: taking suggestions, sharing, getting a sponsor, and parking that attitude outside the rooms of AA.
Open-Mindedness: Being open meant I would have to let go of preconceived ideas about the disease of alcoholism, embrace new ideas from strangers who didn’t necessarily think like me, be willing to adjust my own opinions, allowing for the fact that new information often changes the circumstances and another adjustment in my thinking may be required. And most important, though it would take a lot of practice; I had to learn to place principals before personalities if I was to benefit from the hard-learned lessons of others.
Honesty: I soon found that the cash register honesty that I so readily ascribed to was just the tip of the iceberg. No one ever told me that people-pleasing rated right up there, at the top of the list, under the headline dishonesty. Or, that telling everyone what they wanted to hear, often just to keep out of trouble, was another offender. And how about laughing at inappropriate jokes, when deep down, I felt that I was somehow compromising myself, but was too afraid of offending someone to speak out?
Sponsorship was the vehicle that maneuvered me through this web of confusion. Once I learned that I was in a safe environment, where I could let down my guard and dispense with the old defense mechanisms, I discovered a brand-new template that I soon learned to navigate. Now, when I feel a pang of jealousy, I can admit it without thinking it makes me a bad person. Or, when I am feeling low, I no longer must camouflage it behind a phony smile.
Self -honesty is a far cry from cash register honesty. It attacks self -delusion and rips the cover from denial. It requires self-monitoring and is a lifetime pursuit.
H.O.W., whether worked backward or forward, is the acronym that will always set me straight.