The path to a healthy, happy recovery from addiction

Humility is a frequently talked about topic in Twelve Step meetings. Through understanding humility, recovering persons learn to live and cope with abstinence and recovery.

Low Self-worth and Ego

Harry Tiebout, American psychiatrist and a close friend of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, characterised the alcoholic as “king baby.” By this, he meant that practising addicts demand what they want when they want it and believe the universe revolves around them and their needs.

Therefore, he concluded that continuing recovery depends upon maintaining awareness about their powerlessness over an addictive substance or behaviour and the unmanageable quality of their lives.

The king baby quality of addicts is apparent in grandiose behaviour. Addicts or codependents spend money they do not have on people they hardly know or on things they do not need. Fantasising future greatness or giving a gift instead of love are characteristics of grandiosity.

What may not be so apparent is that extreme low self-esteem is also a manifestation of the king baby quality. In a grandiose phase, a person considers him- or herself to be above others.

However, extreme low self-worth places one below others. In both instances, the person’s attitude is “but I am different.” Low self-esteem can also be a means of justifying self-centeredness, manipulating others through one’s self-hatred, and constantly putting down oneself.

There is the attitude of “I can do everything,” or “I can’t do anything.” Humility cuts through these two extremes with the perspective that “I can do something” with the help of others, such as a therapist, sponsor or a Higher Power.

A Willingness to Learn

The ego state manifested in big ego, or low self-worth, is in some ways a refusal on the alcoholic’s part to admit they need help or that they can learn from others. No matter how long they have been abstinent, they can continue to learn more about themselves and others.

In recovery, willingness to learn can go beyond learning how to stay sober or live with an addict. Willingness to learn can become an ongoing acceptance of their limitations.

If they let go of their prejudices, they can discover that learning how to live is not limited to their therapist or people of their own race, gender or socioeconomic class. Anyone they meet can facilitate their ability to learn in life and to grow in recovery.  

The sadness that results from making mistakes is that often they fail to learn from them. As they grow in recovery, they learn more and more to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Willing to learn from mistakes can turn catastrophes into opportunities.

Humility and Humour

Humility and a sense of humour are closely related, but not in the sense that one can laugh at a cartoon or joke. It is an ability to laugh at oneself and not take oneself too seriously.

Before recovery began, most alcoholics and addicts had suffered humiliations and saw nothing funny about them. But in the process of healing, they began to laugh with others at some of their weaknesses and foibles.

It is always easy to take ourselves too seriously, no matter how long we have been sober. Twelve Step friends who continue to puncture each other’s balloons of grandiosity or lift them out of the depths of self-pity with their humour are a vital part of humility.

Patience and Self-Acceptance

Humility looks different to different people., and often, they have a false picture of what it is. Some think of humble people walking with downcast eyes, never having anything good to say about themselves, and never acknowledging they are capable of anything.

This is an erroneous picture of humility. Humility will differ for each of us, and we will become humbler as we become more of who we are.

Becoming who we truly are is not the same as asking ourselves the question: who am I? We frequently think “identity crisis” means a close examination of our past in a very analytical way. The tendency to search for our uniqueness results from a mistaken idea of identity and humility.

It is not though it were some reality we could find through continued self-searching. 

Humility helps the addict recognise that they are both unique and ordinary, sharing all things important with the rest of humanity. For the recovering addict, humility is not a continual dredging up of past behaviour, but rather a simple acceptance of their past and realising they do not have to behave as they did before.

Achieving Humility

Achieving humility is a process that is a part of the recovery journey. A kind act done for someone nobody finds about, not even the person for whom it was done, can be a good way of checking our humility. If the addict finds they are resisting doing those things for which there is little or no credit or expression of gratitude, they can begin to do them and help themselves in the recovery process.

Developing gratitude as a way of help helps the alcoholic grow in humility because they see life from a different perspective. They begin to notice in their lives all of the things they have to be grateful for.

Also, by learning to be continually thankful and seeing not only recovery but other things as gifts, they begin to recognise more fully what has been given rather than what has been achieved.

Another avenue to humility is the development of a sense of awe. Some of us may live in awe-inspiring places, and yet we have taken them for granted.

The sunset, a night sky in the winter, really looking at our children, perhaps simply taking time to appreciate a friend’s face, can help us develop a sense of awe. Awe takes the addict out of their selves in a healthy way.

These simple practices of gratitude and awe, listening and sharing, all help the addict toward a healthy and happy recovery.

If you, or someone you care for, has a problem with addiction, call Freephone 0800 140 4044

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