“Humility is the proper estimate of oneself.”
– Charles Spurgeon, 19th c. English pastor and author
I recall when I first got into recovery, I was introduced to how people in 12 Step programs and many addiction treatment programs view ‘humility’/‘being humble’—a trait I believed at the time was a sign of weakness, being lower in stature than others, associated with feeling “less than”—and why it’s actually an important value or principle for those seeking freedom from active addiction.
In time, I learned some lessons (“the hard way”), about there being other, highly valuable points of view about humility. In rehab, treatment and recovery circles, it has been described as follows:
“…a clear recognition of who we are followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be. That is, humility is seeing ourselves as we actually are, good and bad, strong and weak, and acting authentically on those truths.” – A Hunger for Healing (Keith Miller)
“Humility, seen as self-acceptance, recognition of one’s limitations, one’s sense of connectedness and interdependence with others, is a positive attribute, not a defect. Humility is an attitude of acceptance of one’s humanity.” – A Clinician’s Guide to 12 Step Recovery (Dr. Mark Schenker)
The fact is, like many, I entered recovery with a great deal of insecurity and low self-esteem, and had been using arrogance—the opposite of the humility referenced above—as a defense mechanism to hide my inner fears and self-loathing. Clearly, I had no clear understanding of alcoholism or drug addiction, nor did I have a clue about how to get help for my problems with alcohol and drugs. But the arrogance I came into recovery with quickly showed itself to be a profound impediment to my learning anything new.
At recovery meetings, I remember acting like I knew all the answers—down deep fearing I’d look bad if I admitted I didn’t know a single thing about ‘how to recover’—including spouting off about this and that Eastern philosophy or spiritual practice I’d learned. Soon, though, my 12 Steps sponsor said, “You haven’t been able to stay clean and sober, but these people have. So I’d suggest you try adopting an attitude of humility and open-mindedness, so you can benefit from others’ experience and success in recovery.”
At first, I was sorely embarrassed by his comment, but in time I recognized he was sharing with me honestly, because he saw I was only headed for more struggle if I held onto my self-important, egocentric attitude… and he cared enough about me to “tell it to me straight.”
I say this because, ultimately, when I made that shift in attitude he suggested—i.e., dropped my defenses and began practicing being humble and open-minded—the concepts, language, principles and practice of recovery became so much easier to learn, understand and adopt in my thinking and behavior. In other wods, once I became humble—accepting my limited knowledge of recovery—I was ready and willing to take in the insights, encouragement and inspiration of others. No longer bound to my sustaining or defending my ego and image, my inner and outer worlds literally began transforming!
Buoyed by my newly embraced sense of humility, I stepped past my former walls of resistance and arrogance, and immediately began finding recovery was producing beneficial results in my life.
An added note: Having been a college professor struggling with addiction, it has been quite a rewarding eye-opener over the years of my being in recovery to see many professionals like myself—including doctors, lawyers and nurses seeking help with alcohol or drug problems—who initially have struggles with the “arrogance vs. humility” issue, eventually come to their own understanding of how important it is to have a humble attitude in recovery.
I’m so grateful to all those who came before me for sharing their experience, strength and hope about the power and value of maintaining humility in recovery.