Becoming Willing

I entered rehab about as loath to admit I was an alcoholic as anyone could be. But that was to change.

My doctor wrote in my chart: “Something happened to him between day 7 and 10 of his treatment. He came in very angry and very defiant and then became a little compliant and then he actually started to take to the program like a duck to water.”

I couldn’t pinpoint any better than my doctor when it happened, though I would have put it later, maybe 12-14 days. And I didn’t understand it except with hindsight, but the “something that happened” was that I became willing.

Willing to entrust myself to my doctor’s care and that of the rest of the staff. Willing to identify with my fellow patients rather than insist I was different. Willing to consider, then admit, alcohol had taken over my life. Willing to acknowledge my inability to control it. Willing to look past my long list of objections to AA and model the behavior of sobriety veterans.

How does someone as resistant as I was become willing? By being shown in a hundred ways that what I knew in my innermost self to be true, was, in fact, dead wrong.

No one wants to be proved wrong, especially 180-degrees wrong, and I was no exception. How much worse is it when this happens nonstop, day after day like it did in rehab? It throws you for an endless series of loops, like a roller coaster in the dark during a hurricane, never having time to catch your breath from one 90-mile-an-hour swirling tumble before you’re plunging into a death roll, unprepared. At any moment, it’s impossible to make out whether you’re going forward or back, up or down. Rehab was a roller-coaster ride with a reality I didn’t recognize. It was like stumbling from one blinding flashbulb in the face to another. There were so many examples of this, large and small, I couldn’t catalogue them.

But they all had one thing in common: the humbling realization that I was wrong. When it seemed like everything I knew had been proven completely wrong, I became willing.

This is a common theme in AA meetings. I’ve often heard members refer to AA as the “last house on the block,” the place they turned to when everything else they’d tried to control their drinking and salvage their lives had failed and there were no other options. Another way I’ve heard this put is that they were beaten and battered into submission by their addictions and AA was all that was left except for suicide. “No one comes in to Alcoholics Anonymous a winner,” they said, “everyone comes in demoralized, dejected and defeated.”

Fortunately, the feeling that everything you know is wrong can open your mind to ideas you’ve previously rejected. Defeat opens the door to surrender and realizing you need help. The unwilling can become willing. And willingness, AA and other 12-Step programs say, is essential to sobriety.

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