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Having an Open Mind in Recovery

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.

Herbert Spencer

If you’ve ever flipped to the appendix in the book Alcoholics Anonymous then you may have come across this quote before. It is in Appendix II, which is about the nature of spiritual experiences and seeks to clear up any confusion that the beginnings of the book may have brought in regards to how a spiritual experience comes about.

Bill W., one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, was afraid that his description of what happened in his own life would make it seem as if a person had to have a burning bush experience in order to get sober, and he wanted to set the record straight and inform potential new members that this was not the case. He wanted to let them know that they could have the educational variety of spiritual experience, one that came with time and an increasing understanding, and that in order for them to achieve this, all they had to do was have an open mind.

Not having contempt prior to investigation is not a particularly strong suit of many alcoholics and often times, they will come into recovery believing they already know what AA is about and they are staunch atheists. Now, while it is fine to come into Alcoholics Anonymous with this mindset, in order for recovery to truly take hold, that way of thinking must be put aside and a measure of willingness and open-mindedness must replace it.

There are really only two things necessary for a person to overcome their alcoholism and that is an understanding that they are powerless over substances of any kind and that they may not have all of the answers in life. When a person arrives at a place where these two qualifications are met, they are more easily able to attain what the 12 Steps are offering and they are less likely to fall into the trap of contempt prior to investigation.

Basically, contempt prior to investigation just means having a conclusion before you have all of the facts. To use an example outside of recovery, it would look like this. You have no desire to go to Los Angeles because you believe that everyone there is superficial and that there is no way that you could have fun there. You have never been to Los Angeles before and you also have never really read up on what it is like there, but yet you have come to a conclusion based on half-information and your own mind. One day, you wind up in the city and find out that it is nothing like you imaged and you can’t believe that you almost never visited it.

This is the epitome of what we are talking about here and many people who come into recovery do this very thing and so they find understanding the precepts of the program difficult. They are unable to shake old outdated modes of thinking and they cannot overcome their own prejudices towards spiritual things and so they walk away from the 12 Steps, without ever having done them, thinking that they don’t work or they aren’t for them.

Open Your Mind

While it is important to admit that the 12 Steps are not the only way that a person can get sober, they have worked for millions of people since 1935 and so there must be some validity to them.

A basic understanding that recovery is possible, however it is to come about, is an important part of the recovery process. Many people who enter into AA believe that it won’t work for them because they can’t or won’t believe in God, or they are just too far-gone, but none of this is true. A person does not need to come to a belief in anything in the beginning of their recovery; all they have to do is be open to the possibility that they can change if they do what is suggested to them.

Let’s say that a person comes in completely unwilling to pray in any capacity and they then get to the Third Step which asks them to give their will over to something they don’t believe in. As long as they are open enough to actually do the prayer with their sponsor, even if they don’t really believe it, they will many times find that sometime down the road they begin to experience a shift in thinking.

Why this is, I can’t really say, but having an open mind to change can result in all sorts of amazing things in a person’s life. People who couldn’t stop abusing alcohol and drugs for years are able to finally overcome their affliction and lead happy and healthy lives. People who were estranged from their loved ones become reunited and people who felt hopeless find hope.

Having just a little bit of willingness and a half-open mind can make a world of difference in a person’s life and for those who are just making an approach at recovery, it can spell the difference between success and failure.

So if you are in treatment or just making your rounds into the rooms of the fellowship, remember to keep an open mind, because even though some of the things you may hear sound insane, they may help to save your life at some point down the road.

By Dream Center for Recovery

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the AA Cleveland District Office.