Rehab 101: Recovery Helps Us Go from ‘Know-it-All’ to Teachable
“Happiness is always on the other side of being teachable.” – Shannon Alder
Contrary to what may be a stereotype, many people who come into treatment seeking recovery from a substance use disorder are highly intelligent, sometimes professionals with multiple college degrees and years of top-level experience in a field. However, the fact is, these background characteristics aren’t necessarily an advantage when one is striving to find freedom from active addiction.
Indeed, there’s a rather blunt recovery riddle that goes, “What are the two favorite words of most addicts? ‘I know!’”
It just seems to come as part of the self-centered aspect of the disease of addiction: the tendency to believe we have all the answers. And sure, many of us who’re living new lives in recovery have lots of knowledge about life, and even about ourselves. But from my own direct experience and the experience of countless others in recovery, both past and present, another saying inevitably holds much truth: “Knowledge never helped us stay clean for any length of time.”
If that’s so, then—one may rightfully ask—what’s the solution?
Plain and simple? Each day, strive to remain teachable.
Those among us who have achieved long-term recovery will be the first to admit the longer they’re engaged in recovery, the more they have to learn. They’ve stayed humble, avoiding “know-it-all-ism” like it’s the plague. Open-mindedness has replaced the arrogance of thinking, “I know all I need to know about (fill in the blank).” And they’ve found great value (and so naturally have made it a habit) in turning to others they respect in recovery, treatment staff, their counselor or therapist, or their 12 Steps sponsor for guidance, input or another point of view whenever facing important decisions.
Most importantly, by adopting this attitude of “being teachable” 24/7, these people continue to walk the path of freedom from the obsession and compulsion to drink or use drugs, one day at a time. And that is a priceless result to be derived from such a simple (yet not necessarily easy) “attitude adjustment”!
I recall hearing an old-timer in recovery (someone I have deep respect for to this day) share a helpful “trick” to establishing this new habit of remaining teachable in one’s life. He said, “I learned to knock off my constantly asking ‘Why?’ and instead begin to regularly ask ‘How?’ regarding the principles and action steps that are suggested in treatment programs or in recovery circles.
When I reflect back on how valuable that fellow’s insight has been to me in my life since getting into recovery, I can only say it’s helped foster in me that “teachable” quality from which I’ve gathered so much and helped deepen my sense of sanity and serenity, as the days, weeks and months have turned into many years living “clean.”
Certainly, striving to remain teachable each day doesn’t mean we don’t question things or ask “Why?” when it’s appropriate. Our ability to discern what’s true and what’s not is a vital component of our finding a new way to liv e in recovery.
But for those of us who came into recovery with a head full of “know-it-all-isms,” it may be one of the best suggestions we can take—and begin practicing immediately—to start adopting a new response when we encounter all that’s new to us in early recovery. When facing new language and terminology, processes and suggestions, or concepts we find go against our “first instinct” or past beliefs, it may very often prove valuable to reword our questions. Instead of asking “Why?” about this “new” aspect of recovery, we learn to ask “How?” — How can I get this (principle, suggested action, etc.) to work in my life? How often should I be attending recovery meetings? How do I “stay stopped,” one day at a time?
We don’t need to have all the answers to develop strong foundations in recovery – we just need to remain teachable in our learning the ones that matter.