“For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.” – Bill Wilson, 12 Steps & 12 Traditions
Last night, I participated in a Zoom “remote” 12 Steps meeting of people in recovery and the discussion topic was ‘humility.’ Toward the end, a fellow with over 30 years of sobriety—a doctor on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic—told everyone he had never been under so much stress in his career, a patient had died of the coronavirus that morning right before his eyes, and he felt like drinking. For the next few moments, there was only silence on the line, and I could see he’d begun weeping.
When he spoke up again, he said, “Throughout the day, I kept recalling the phrase often used to describe the disease of addiction: ‘cunning, baffling and powerful.’ And I found a new sense of humility in recognizing I needed to reach out to my fellow alcoholics without delaying. I needed to let someone who understands know, I need help.”
I, too, have learned from experience, I can’t stay sober (or “clean”) alone. I, too, have discovered—over and over throughout my years of recovery—I need the support, care, guidance and encouragement from those who understand the nature of addiction, be it another recovering alcoholic (or addict) or an addiction professional. And this, I believe, is a crucial aspect of what humility really means.
Yes, the word ‘humility’ has a variety of definitions and interpretations. But in the case of someone dealing with the unique challenges of alcoholism or addiction, I’ve found it has a great deal to do with accepting one’s limitations.
And though it may appear counterintuitive to say so, there is something vital, freeing and deeply rewarding to wholeheartedly acknowledge with humility I can’t “do recovery” on my own or my way.
Instead, it is only when I surrendered and got humble could I open myself up to receive the help being offered — by addiction professionals at an addiction treatment center, by recovering alcoholics or addicts at a 12 Steps meeting, by a “Higher Power” of my understanding, or all of the above!
The point is, in recovery we learn the voice of addiction tells us, “You can handle it; you just haven’t tried hard enough to quit,” “Just one more, because it’ll help you feel better,” and other similar defenses, justifications and rationalizations.
But when we get a clearer perspective on ourselves and the nature of the disease of addiction, we grow in humility. We see more and more how we truly can’t overcome our urge to drink or use on our own. To get free of the obsession and compulsion, we need help, and we need a sufficient level of humility to ask for and receive that help.
While I’ve found it to be true that a “power greater than ourselves” can restore us to sanity, we must humbly discard our old self-centeredness and any past attitudes we’ve held of defiance, self-reliance or self-sufficiency. Only then can we receive the many forms of help available to us as we step forward on our journey of recovery.
Sometimes, our humility grows by way of a close brush with our own limitations; other times, it may be through an insightful observation about us offered up by a treatment counselor or our sponsor; or it may deepen—as it did with me in the experience I mentioned above—by witnessing the miracle of someone who’s struggling choosing to stay sober one more day, hour or minute, regardless of the grief or challenge he or she is facing.
As we develop a more realistic view of ourselves, our limitations and where we fit in the world, we find a deeper understanding of humility. At its essence, humility is accepting we cannot recover on our own. We need each other and a “Higher Power” of our own understanding. Just for today, I’ll allow myself to feel both humility and gratitude for the recovery I have.