In early recovery, it can be somewhat challenging to grasp, let alone “get on board” with, the importance of “having the willingness,” a phrase often repeated or emphasized in alcohol and drug treatment centers and 12 Step programs.
So, what does “having the willingness” mean in the context of addiction treatment?
It would probably be good to start by taking a quick look at its opposite—which can be summed up in words like: denial, refusal, aversion and reluctance—and notice how each of these is a commonly seen characteristic in people entering rehab and recovery programs. That is, we often hear or see people in their early phases of treatment or recovery denying the severity of their symptoms or the consequences they’ve experienced, refusing to go along with the guidelines of the program, averting the support or suggestions being offered by treatment staff or fellow recovering addicts, or displaying reluctance to be part of the group/fellowship they find themselves in.
So what is “willingness”? The Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions of willingness include: “to be inclined or favorably disposed in mind;” “prompt to act or respond;” and “done or accepted by choice or without reluctance.”
The fact is, I and the vast majority of those seeking recovery from addiction had little clue as to what’s required to get clean & sober and stay clean & sober, when we first arrived at the doorstep of a treatment center or 12 Step meeting. (If we knew, we wouldn’t need outside help, right?) Nonetheless, I was/we were notoriously hell-bent on doing things our own way, generally unwilling to take suggestions from others, and recklessly uninterested in “following rules.”
Fortunately, professionals in the field of addictions (i.e., treatment staff), as well as those who’ve successfully recovered and maintained their sobriety over time, have found that the solution to many of the problems encountered by those seeking recovery from addiction are almost always well-addressed by starting with a healthy application of “willingness.” This is partly because adopting such an attitude helps establish a new, healthier, less self-centered and “controlling” way of being, wherein we’re open to what others have to say or offer, and sufficiently humble to learn new approaches to living life and relating with others.
And so, in both addiction treatment centers and at 12 Step meetings, willingness is emphasized from the get-go.
Carrying this a step further, when a treatment center guideline is stated in group or a “suggestion” is offered by your 12 Step sponsor, adopting an attitude of willingness can also go a long way toward helping you “get” the intended result of it.
For example, the guideline of showing up on time for each group meeting is established so that everyone can get the maximum benefit from what goes on during the meeting, the meeting is not interrupted by stragglers, and you’re simultaneously developing integrity, responsibility and commitment by “doing what you say you’re going to do” (i.e., be part of the group’s meeting). By “just saying yes” to such a policy, by demonstrating a willingness to consistently go along with it, you’re also accepting and agreeing you don’t know how to get and stay clean & sober, but are trusting the treatment staff members do, and acknowledging the policy of showing up on time for meetings plays an integral part of the treatment program, as a whole.
In relinquishing our self-centeredness and attempts to control everything, by instead having an attitude of willingness, we come to experience new ways to approach life and the freedom from addiction we’ve longed for.
“Willingness to learn is important, but willingness to act on what you learn is critical.”
– Kevin Kelly, founding Executive Editor of Wired magazine, and the Whole Earth Catalog