Very rarely do we see people come into recovery from addiction brimming with positivity, honesty and a caring attitude toward others. Instead, it’s much more typical to find “newcomers” feeling weighted down by distrust and defensiveness, callousness and alienation (if not resentment and malevolence), and a substantial amount of self-centeredness.
However, as the saying goes, “How’s that working out for ya’?”
Those of us who’ve been around recovery a long time—whether from our association with addiction treatment centers or 12 Steps programs or both—oftentimes find ourselves being inspired or asked directly to help those just coming in (or returning from a relapse) with this simple, yet essential component of a solid recovery program.
That is, we’re called to share how the “formula” for successful recovery works. Starting off—and then carrying through into one’s daily journey of life in recovery, going forward—it’s of vital importance to strive to maintain an open mind to changing the way we think.
You may be wondering, “Why is that?”
It’s because our attitudes, beliefs and thought patterns that have become ingrained after years, if not decades, of substance abuse are more often than not actually keeping us “down”… imprisoned in self-sabotage mode, self-destructive cycles that lead only back to relapse, more drinking and/or drug abuse, and further harm to ourselves and, quite frequently, our loved ones and close associates.
“Well,” you may be asking, “what can be done about it? My thinking, that is?”
It turns out it was Albert Einstein, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, who said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”
So when those of us who have a substance use disorder first step into recovery (or make it back from a relapse), it should be clear to us—due to the apparent need for something to change—that since our present thinking “got us here,” our present thinking isn’t going to solve the problems we have, i.e., our problems associated with substance abuse/addiction.
Indeed, one of the standards in recovery literature cites the importance of asking, as often as necessary, that our thinking be “divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives.”
Fortunately, the people who staff treatment centers—therapists, counselors, clinical workers, medical doctors, etc.—and those who are well-established, active members of 12 Steps programs throughout the country (and around the world) know that for recovery to work, a new way of life can only come about through having an open mind to changing one’s way of thinking and behaving. And that is why “suggestions” are offered on a regular basis both in treatment and in 12 Steps fellowships.
Whether a suggestion comes from treatment center staff, 12 Steps sponsors or those who’re in our recovery network, we’re regularly provided with “alternatives” that can help us to begin adopting new patterns of thought and action, new beliefs and attitudes about ourselves and others, and new ways to respond to and behave around our families, friends, co-workers and the community.
In fact, we quickly learn that maintaining an attitude of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to reach out to others for help with our thinking can actually prop us up to see how to best navigate our way forward in challenging times. It can give us insight into optional approaches to the way we address a situation, in contrast to how we formerly “strategized” our way through life when we were drinking or drugging (and ended up with chaotic, if not deplorable results). And, perhaps most importantly, keeping open to suggestions can ultimately illumine the way forward for us to find we can make progress in our recovery from the ravages and imprisonment of our past, in spite of all our fears and self-doubts.
A new way of life, free from active addiction, is possible for all of us. But we’ll be “starting off on a good foot” along the road to recovery if we acknowledge the importance of being open to getting guidance for our thinking, one day at a time.
 “The Real Problem is in the Hearts of Man” by Michael Amrine, New York Times Magazine (23 June 1946).
 Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. Fourth Edition, 2002.