Humility is the First Principle of Recovery
As a health care provider who has been in his own recovery for close to 45 years and professionally focused on Substance Use Disorders and trauma for the past 40 years, I’ve been privileged to have seen a lot of recovery as well as tragedy. What my experience has shown me through the people who consulted me was there were many paths to a common destination. The common goal has always been a contented, functional life supported by authentic relationships and a commitment to living with integrity, respect, dignity and honour.
What Is the Principle of Humility?
It has been my observation that regardless of the different approaches, four basic principles were the essentials to long term success. These principles are: 1) HUMILITY; 2) RESPONSIBILITY; 3) ACCOUNTABILITY; and 4) PURPOSE. These four have been the four pillars on which to build the platform for a contented life of sobriety. And within each recovery modality, different portions have been more nurturing to some, and not so much for others. For some, meetings are the most significant, for others the introspection of the steps and still others the guidance of a sponsor or spiritual director. Many have detoxed (quit) on their own but none have had the transformational experience of recovery without the connection to human beings who understood the underlying emotional and spiritual condition we know as alcoholism or addiction. It’s in the song “Amazing Grace”! “Once I was lost and now I’m found”. We all have to be “found” by some other human being(s) so we can find ourselves.
Installing Humility Into Your Life
As each of you read this, you must adapt your own understanding of humility and install it into every aspect of your life. It’s not just a word, a definition that we put on like a uniform of some sort and then we’ve “got it”. It’s a way of thinking, behaving and believing that we have to experiment with, learn how to use it properly. It’s different in different environments and with different people.
Humility and Vulnerability
Humility requires vulnerability, honesty and truth-telling. The conditions we are recovering from introduce us to the reality of our vulnerability. However, vulnerability opens us to being hurt, shamed, rejected or abandoned. Therefore, learning to accept our vulnerability requires a safe, protected environment where we will be accepted without judgement. It’s not surprising that humility is, therefore, a life-long acquired characteristic that is rarely found permanently. It evolves depending on where we wish to take our lives and who we choose to travel with.
Humility involves accepting a certain degree of pain, discomfort or at least awkwardness, for the sake of experiencing the priceless benefits. Authenticity, acceptance, genuine compassion and ultimately a sense of truly belonging. We temporarily feel safe. Safe in our own skin, safe in our environment and above all safe in the company of other human beings who’ve also learned to embrace vulnerability.
Humility is a Constant Awareness of the ‘We’ and Not the ‘I’
Humility is not cancelled when we find ourselves in situations that aren’t that safe. Each of us has a responsibility to protect ourselves with boundaries and intolerance of disrespectful behaviours. Humility includes asserting our rights and letting others know that we prefer they not try to shame us if they want to be in our company. Humility is not telling our stories of recovery and shaming ourselves in an attempt to somehow dismantle or smash our ego. In public settings where others may not be understanding or compassionate, managing our humility with the healthy “protection” of our social ego is imperative if others have half a chance of hearing the reality of living in the grip of denial and addiction. Humility is learning to disclose our vulnerability with respect, dignity and honour for ourselves and the people who supported us. Our stories are as much a tribute to the spirit-filled people who saved us, who challenged us, who intervened on us, who supported us and who may have even covered us when they saw our nakedness. Humility is a constant awareness of the We and not the I.
Written by Bill Jacyk MD, FRCPC, MDPAC
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