What Is An Open Mind? – Grapevine Article July 1959

The seventh of a series of “Beginners’ Meetings”–to run from time to time–for newcomers to AA sobriety.

At our next beginners’ meeting a few members who have been sober in AA for awhile are going to tell us which suggestions in the AA program have helped them maintain sobriety. It should make an interesting meeting and could be very helpful.

Whether or not you and I are going to get any real help from it depends a great deal on what attitude we are willing to take. It does not matter so much what is going to be said by others; of more importance is: how we are going to receive it? Are we prepared to accept a suggestion that also fits our need or will we reject it? Will we use the help that is available or will we discard it?

In other words, will we have an open mind as recommended by AA? I’d like to believe I have an open mind but I am quick to admit that I haven’t rid myself entirely of my old habit of mentally saying “NO” when the other fellow voices an idea contradicting something I’ve always fondly believed.

Having an open mind is not the easiest thing for many of us. Surely we don’t adopt one just because it sounds like a good idea or because we realize that it would be futile to argue against such an elegant proposal. We do it eventually, I believe, because somewhere along the line our mind was opened a little, we realized the benefit received, and then we made a real effort to keep it open to search for other helpful aids to enable us to stay sober.

For a long period of years we somehow protected our suffering guilt-laden mind by shutting out all the obvious facts of life that could have proved us wrong. One of these facts was that our continued drinking was hurting us–and that it could eventually destroy us.

We closed our mind to the suggestion that we stop drinking–reaction undoubtedly caused in part by that element of our disease which was our mental obsession. The obsession which impelled us to believe that a drink “did something for us.” We continued to drink because our mind was closed to all else, until it was forcefully opened by some power outside ourselves. Some of us believe that this outside power was the combined attitude of other people which finally made us want to change. Others feel that it was a catastrophe or a number of catastrophes that brought us to our senses. There are others who believe that it was the grace of God that enabled us to open our minds to realize the truth about alcohol and us.

For most of us here tonight our mind was opened to the realization that for us alcohol is a poison and that we cannot safely drink again. Our obsession has been arrested, and our present sane mind tells us that the only thing alcohol can do for us is to accelerate the disastrous progression of our disease. So, we avoid the first drink. So far, so good.

Now it would seem wise for us to arrange ourselves and our methods of thinking and living so that we will not drink again. To achieve this, we urge that you keep an open mind to the suggestions that will be made to you.

It is simple, but it is not easy. The Twelve Steps and the AA program contain all the suggestions that could lead you to live well without drinking again. However, that protection we built over the years to shut out unpleasant realities is oftimes made of substances less penetrable than concrete and it has not been eliminated just because we stop drinking for awhile.

Doctors tell us that we have been victims of a thing they call Denial. I suggest that it would be this denial that keeps our mind closed and to the unfamiliar and oftimes ego-destroying recommendations which are made to us. Doctors define this denial as “the mechanism whereby unpleasant realities are not unconsciously perceived.” To me, this means that within me, below my consciousness, there is something that automatically, without my thinking, shuts off all acceptance and even perception of many things that could help me.

Why this should be I do not understand, but I can understand how my behavior for many years encouraged the development of this facility. While drinking I took advice from no one, I followed only my own self-satisfying inclinations. Not only did I ignore the help available from my own common sense and from a countless number of real friends, but I did not even understand that it was for my own good and welfare. For many years, I know that this behavior was mine.

So now I admit that this denial has been and is a part of my nature and my overall character. For me this admission and knowledge is the first step toward an open mind. The second step is to listen. You will hear people say that the practice of the Twelve Steps and of individual Steps has been helpful to them. Others will add that the use of the Serenity Prayer and slogans also is beneficial to them. Some more will tell you that many meetings and conversations with their sponsor and other members have helped a lot. There will be some, too, who will assure you that they have found a Higher Power who has been a source of tremendous help to them. These and a myriad of other comments from the experience of AA will be the suggestions made to you.

It may not be true that you must adopt every suggestion just because it was helpful to another. It may mean however that if you deny and reject all or any part of these suggestions you are passing up something that could be of aid to you. I rather believe that if you are at all troubled in your sobriety, this might mean that you have passed up something that could relieve your trouble and could smooth your path and ease your mind.

The next step toward acquiring an open and receptive mind may be to give the AA program a real sporting chance. Try it out! It may work for you.

Those who acknowledge helpful aid from the suggestions made in AA found this help not because someone told them to do something, or because a superior intellect convinced them it would work, but because they tried it out. They tried it–it–worked and then they saw the good sense in it.

Do you remember when you took your first aspirin tablet for an ache or a pain? Probably someone suggested it would help. You tried it. It worked and you probably have been taking them ever since.

So, too, it goes in AA. Even today there is not a doctor on earth who can tell you how aspirin tablets relieve pain in the human system, yet millions of us use them and are greatly benefited. Also you know that no one can tell exactly what electricity is, yet we all use it, benefit by its use and now feel that we couldn’t possibly get along without it.

Therefore I urge you, please do not wait until you understand why or how these suggestions will work for you. Don’t wait until you approve of them or until you see the sense in them or see the need for them. Try them–and then later will come your understanding. It might he dangerous to wait. Something could happen.

Personal honesty is recommended in AA not because someone wants you to be a good boy or a good girl or because we are striving for a halo or angelic wings. Rather it is because the experience of those successful in AA sobriety has demonstrated that it is psychologically healthy to be honest with ourselves. So you try it out because it is suggested, you find it comfortable and beneficial. Then you find it desirable and that is why you continue it in your program of life.

There are some fortunate ones who, when they have stopped drinking, are able to accept on faith and humility alone all that AA has to offer. Their faith is supported by the success they see in AA. They listen avidly, put into practice, as best they can, all that is recommended–and they are successful.

But for those of us who lack this faith and need to be convinced, there is only one convincing answer–Try it!

First we admit that our long-time experience has been for our mind to snap closed whenever unpleasant truths or ego-deflating suggestions are made. Then we listen with our eyes, our ears and our hearts to those who offer the AA program to us. We read literature and we attend meetings. Finally, and most important, we try the things that are suggested. We try the Third Step, the Fourth Step and Fifth Step–the Eleventh Step. Then we try again the same Steps and the ones in between and all else that is a part of the program. Later comes understanding and then conviction.

An open mind comes to many of us this way. We have been open-minded enough to give AA a fair trial. As our English cousins would say. “Let’s have a go at it.” One day at a time: Easy does it–but do it!

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