By: Marilyn L. Davis
Is Your Mind Opened or Closed?
Minds are like parachutes—-they won’t work unless they’re open was a saying I heard in treatment 33 years ago. I thought it was catchy and didn’t fully understand its significance until I ended up in a group and mentally shut out the facilitator.
I decided that he was arrogant, full of himself, and rude because he challenged a young participant who questioned him about something. He said, “Don’t you know how much time I have and that makes me an expert.”
Open-Minded People Learn
It was easy to shut him out and judge him. I didn’t hear his follow-up because of my negative assessments of him. Later that day, I asked the young man if he was okay after that rude guy put him in his place. He laughed and said, “Yeah, with what he said afterward.”
I had to admit I tuned him out, so I asked the young man what he said. It was something like, “I’m an expert at not listening and being closed-minded just like you, and that prevented me from learning.”
I decided that day to try and pay more attention to people and become more open-minded.
An Open Mind Sees Different Perspectives
I was closed-minded to several participants in my groups. They viewed addiction and recovery differently than I did. I’d come to believe that it was a disease, but there was recovery from it. These individuals thought it was a choice. I thought these were mutually exclusive opinions from my limited perspective in treatment.
Since I’d decided to be more open-minded, I asked one of the choice proponents to have lunch with me. After asking them to explain their position on choice, I found out that they had been in treatment several times, and underneath the choice position, they knew they had a disease. They also knew that relapsing back into their disease was a choice.
The Aha Moments of an Open Mind
Now I understood. We weren’t disagreeing; I’d just tuned them out before stating everything they knew about recovery and relapse. At that moment, I also understood that we never know when inspiration will happen.
One of the counselors talked about being curious one day. She said that being curious helps us learn and that building on our knowledge of addiction and recovery can help us not relapse and grow in our recovery.
Both of those topics interested me. I genuinely didn’t want to relapse, and I also wanted to grow in my recovery. I just wasn’t sure how.
Being Open-minded at Meetings
I wasn’t allowed off the unit to go to outside meetings. My Xanax use and alcohol intake meant that I had trouble focusing, my short-term memory was shot, and they were still monitoring me for heart issues.
Rather than feed on these issues and get into poor pitiful me, I decided to go to any 12 Step meetings that the treatment facility offered. The first Friday night was a CA meeting. I’d quit using cocaine when I ran to Georgia, falsely believing it was the problem. And there was a lot of evidence to support that belief – a foreclosed house, giving my children back to their dad, going through thousands of dollars on getting high, and destroying my marriage.
I knew the dangers of that drug quite well and didn’t think I’d hear much of value, but again, I resolved to listen with an open mind.
The speaker talked about when a person tries to control their addiction; they have already lost control. What I heard in that was that I tried to control my addiction by substituting one drug for another, and it didn’t work. So, one more time, being open-minded, I learned.
Open-Minded to Answers
Answers, solutions, and guidance seemed to be everywhere when I got more open-minded. These were also more clearly apparent when I chose to give up all my preconceived notions of who was an authority on the subject of addiction and recovery.
I started hanging out with the people who had multiple relapses and asked them what preceded their choice to use again. Many were candid and said, “I quit working a program.”
Sure, I’d heard “the program” in most of my groups, but I wanted their opinions of what a program was. Most of them said:
- Get a sponsor that you’ll listen to and not argue about solutions.
- Find a Higher Power and pray to them, listen for their guidance, and trust them.
- Go to meetings when you want to and when you don’t.
- Take all of the Steps and don’t judge any of them.
I knew I didn’t have much figured out, but I considered them experts on why someone relapsed and that their advice could help me avoid one.
Some Winners are Closed-Minded
After having lunch with those people for several days, another participant approached me and said, “You seem serious about getting better, so why are you hanging out with the losers?” I remember being shocked that she would call them that.
When I asked her why, she said, “They say you have to hang with the winners to be one.” Of course, she couldn’t name “them” but said she knew it was true.
Then I thought maybe I was being harsh in judging her negatively, so I ate lunch with the winners that day. All of them were making commitments never to use again, and I wondered how they would accomplish this. When I asked them, I got, “I’ll work a program.” But not one of them could tell me what that “program” was.
Leaving Treatment, I Left My Open Mind, Too
Those six weeks of treatment in 1988 opened my mind to the possibility of long-term recovery. I felt ready to embrace both losers and winners and be open-minded to what all of them had to say.
I’d signed a contract with the college to attend two meetings per day, drug screen, and follow other guidelines to keep my job. It seemed reasonable and supportive.
At my first meeting, a woman greeted me at the door and took me to sit with about six other women. I didn’t have the nerve to tell her that I didn’t like women. Then it dawned on me that I was being closed-minded again. Maybe these women in recovery were different – not catty, two-faced, or back-stabbing like most women in my addiction.
With an Open Mind, I Can Hear
We don’t just listen with our ears; we listen with our brains and hearts. Whatever we hear is processed by our attitudes and how it makes us feel. That first meeting, I listened as a man with over 30 years butchered the English language, had no teeth, and made more sense than several counselors in treatment.
His words of advice, “Keep your mind and ears open, and your mouth closed for a week and see what you learn.”
A Week of Open-Mindedness
I knew he wasn’t really issuing a challenge, but I made it one. Could I be open-minded for an entire week at meetings, work, and home?
Meetings were the easiest. I listened to suggestions and tried to get as close to the intent as possible – yep, open-minded.
Work also didn’t require much stress. I’d work in whatever department the college wanted me to and was grateful for the job – yep-open-minded.
Home was more difficult. I’d moved back in with my parents, giving up my apartment on the college campus. That reads like my decision when the college did not want me anywhere near students as I was now a bad influence, so they moved me out of my housing.
Living under the new rules was challenging. I was forty years old with a curfew where I had to be home by 9:30 PM every night, and it was hard to accept this restriction. I tried convincing my parents that there was a meeting after the meeting when everyone went for coffee. That didn’t work. Then I tried, “I need to make new friends in recovery.” My mother said, “Go early, come home on time.”
I knew I wasn’t either accepting or open-minded to much my mother had to say. To say I was closed-minded to my parent’s routine and how disruptive I was to it is putting it mildly. But my sponsor helped me understand that they had a routine, and they didn’t have to take me in. Well, that said it all.
I realized that they were supporting me, and with that realization, I became more open-minded to their other suggestions on how to improve my life. I considered their perspectives and didn’t discard their advice because I knew that they loved me and wanted me to succeed.
Challenge for You
Can you be open-minded for a week? It’s not easy; trust me. You can be open-minded by trying new things or stay closed-minded and be stuck with what you know. It’s a choice – listen and grow or remain the same. Whether it’s in your addiction or your recovery, being open to new alternatives is paramount for growth.
Bio: Marilyn L. Davis
Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Indie Books, and Books A Million.
For editing services, contact her at email@example.com.
How we say something is just as important as what we say. How you write about addiction and recovery will differ from mine. That’s okay because the more voices say, “Recovery works,” the more people we reach.
“Always be open to inspiration. You never know where it may come from. Begin with an open mind, end with an inspired heart.”― Sheri Fink
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