H.O.W Communication: Open-Mindedness


This is the second of a three-part article on honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. The content is intended to help you learn about effective ways to communicate with your support system, including peers in recovery, supportive family members, 12-step sponsor, life mentors, spiritual leader, or recovery coach.

What is H.O.W. Communication?

When someone is in active addiction, there is very little healthy communication. There is, however, a lot of unhealthy communication—which includes lying, manipulating, refusing to listen—basically doing the same destructive things over and over again.

Healthy communication means being honest, being open to hearing someone else’s point of view, and being willing to change bad habits in order to improve your relationships. H.O.W. communication skills strengthen your recovery.

Open-Mindedness in Addiction Recovery

Our old ways of thinking and acting where we were closed-minded, living selfishly, and focused on our own immediate desires, only hurt us in the long run. We became convinced that we had to have our way—MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY!—because we didn’t dare look at our lives with an open mind.

The Skill of Listening

But in recovery, keeping an open mind becomes essential to fix our screwed-up way of looking at things and letting in vital, new information about ourselves. In the Honesty article, we talked about opening our eyes. Think of open mindedness in addiction recovery as opening your ears! Try these steps to becoming more open-minded.

  1. Ask for other’s feedback. This means listening to other people’s viewpoint about your actions, even if it hurts or makes you feel defensive. A really courageous thing to do is to ask someone to tell you what they think about your behavior—especially the things you don’t want to hear about. Don’t argue; just listen and really think about it. If you’re really feeling brave, reflect back on what you heard and ask that person if you understood them correctly, but again—don’t get defensive. Just take it in and thank them for their honesty.
  2. Be open to doing things in a new way, even if it feels uncomfortable. Since your old behavior got you in trouble, try doing things in a new way—even if it feels strange, scary or confusing. Find out what others in recovery did that was new for them, and try those new things on for size. Give the new ways some time and then see how things get better.
  3. Connect with your intuition and spiritual inspiration. Addiction shuts out our inner voices of wisdom and spirituality. Recovery means being open to spiritual insight or that inner voice of wisdom. It may not come from an expected place, but if you open your mind to listening to a Higher Power or inner wisdom, you’ll be surprised at how much better you get at turning to that inner voice.
  4. Let go of outcomes. It’s human nature to want to control what happens, and being open and trying new things is scary. But the old way of doing things by conning, controlling, and manipulating usually ended up in disaster, right? Take a big step, and trust that by letting go of control that things will come out right. One slogan that might help you is one from the 12 Step programs: “Let go and let God.”
It Takes Courage

By finding the courage to have an open mind, you are opening yourself up to all of the richness that a sober life has to offer. With an open mind, you will find the way through the wreckage of the past and a path toward an empowered future. Consider accepting this to-do list to work on your open-mindedness in addiction recovery:

  • In one week, ask three people who know you for honest feedback. Don’t argue. Just thank them, then discuss with your sponsor.
  • During the next week, do at least one thing in a new way, even if it’s hard. Ask your sponsor or mentor for ideas. Journal about it.
  • For the next month through prayer or meditation, listen for the voice of inner wisdom. Reflect on what you hear in your journal.

“When I was drinking, I spent all my time arguing and being defensive when people tried to tell me things. I put a lot of energy into my defenses—to the point where people just gave up talking to me at all. Then in recovery, I found out I actually had to listen without throwing up walls. How ironic it was. The one thing I’d spent years avoiding—listening to the hard truth—turned out to be one of the most important things for my sobriety. So, every day I do this crazy thing: I try to ask at least one person to tell me something I don’t want to hear. I listen, keep my mouth shut, and say thanks.”
-Richard M. (20 years of sobriety)

The other articles in this series are H.O.W Communication – Honesty and H.O.W Communication: Willingness.

Read more CeDAR Education Articles about Peer Support