Friday, January 15, 2010

“HOW It Works”

At every meeting I’ve ever been to, the opening readings included some form of ‘How It Works’, either directly from or adapted from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the first suggestions I received from my first sponsor was to volunteer to read this at the meetings. He talked about it as ‘the contract’. I disagree with that way of thinking about it, but I do agree that ‘How It Works’ is one of the most important readings in any meeting. It lays out very clearly what the twelve-step program is and what a newcomer can do to jump in and begin changing their life.

‘HOW’ is also something of a saying in twelve-step circles as an acronym of Honesty, Openness, and Willingness—the three spiritual principles necessary to embark on and maintain a sober way of living. The very first paragraph of the How It Works reading mentions Honesty a number of times. It also talks about the program as being simple. I’ve heard some say that the program isn’t simple, and I’ve heard many others say that if you find it difficult, it’s because you are making it so. All of us with this disease come into the rooms having difficulty with honesty; sometimes the most difficult thing is to be honest with ourselves. Until we are, we can’t truly be honest with anyone else.

The second paragraph of the reading talks about the stories we tell at meetings, our sharing. This is the Openness aspect of it. By opening ourselves up and sharing our experiences with others, we let them know how we have handled life while sober. Knowledge is passed on. The sharing part of meetings has always struck me as the most important part, and there is something ancient about it. No books, no media, just human beings talking with each other, telling what they have learned. Probably in the same way that humans have done so for thousands of years. In our modern age, this has become increasingly rare.

The principle of Willingness is addressed very directly: ‘At some of these, we balked’. It is both an encouragement and a warning. Others have said before me that, as addicts and/or alcoholics, our lives were the result of self-will run riot. The third paragraph states very clearly that self-will does not mix so well with the program. It is not until we stop trying to follow our ideas and become willing to follow the program instead that we begin to make any meaningful progress. Sometimes this is the hardest thing to do, and it takes a great deal of courage—especially for people like ourselves who have lived with so much fear. The reading is clear, though, there are no results until we completely let go.

I’ve been very fortunate in my Recovery. I had a lot of willingness when I first came in and it helped me greatly in my early days. I found a sponsor almost right away and started working the steps. I got a service position. I’ve watched newcomers come into the program and balk every step of the way. Sometimes I’m sympathetic, sometimes not. It is very difficult to listen to the complaints of someone who has made and continues to make their own problems.

It took time to learn how to be honest with myself and others. It took a lot of time and courage to begin to open myself up and talk from my heart as I am, not who I thought I was supposed to pretend to be. Willingness is something I still struggle with; I still find myself trying to run my own life according to my own will. Whenever I do, it doesn’t work. Sometimes the results are mostly harmless. Sometimes, they are disastrous and other people are hurt and caught in the resulting chaos. When I first started attending meetings, I had reached my bottom. I knew without a doubt that my life was not working, and that no matter what or how hard I tried over the years to make it be what I thought it should, my way of running my life didn’t work. The program gave me a different way, and for that I am truly grateful.

Honesty, Openness, and Willingness: it works.

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