Personal Responsibility and the Recovering Alcoholic – Part 1

Personal Responsibility and the Recovering Alcoholic - Part 1“We had to take personal responsibility for our sorry state and quit blaming others for it.” (A.A. Comes of Age, 287)

You grew up in a broken home. Your father was an alcoholic. No one ever loved you. You were never good at anything. You have an “addictive personality.” You are socially awkward. You’ve experienced trauma. Nothing in your life has ever gone your way. You became an addict. It wasn’t your fault.

“Some strongly object to the A.A. position that alcoholism is an illness. This concept, they feel, removes moral responsibility from alcoholics. As any A.A. knows, this is far from true. We do not use the concept of sickness to absolve our members from responsibility. On the contrary, we use the fact of fatal illness to clamp the heaviest kind of moral obligation onto the sufferer, the obligation to use A.A.’s Twelve Steps to get well.” (Bill W., Talk, 1960)

Your addiction is not your fault, but you are personally responsible. How are these two statements not a contradiction? Due to factors largely beyond your control—some unquantifiable combination of upbringing, environment, and genetics—you have become an addict. It is not because you were a moral reprobate or because God had it in for you or because you were never cut out to be anything more than a drunk. For reasons no one can explain, your life has taken this course and that is not entirely your fault. But at the same time, you are not absolved of responsibility or blame. When there were choices to be made, you often choose poorly, when there were opportunities to get well, you rejected them.

Your compulsive drinking wasn’t a decision—you were fighting a compulsion of the body and an obsession of the mind. You had lost the power of choice in regard to drinking. But while you could not choose if you drank, you now can choose whether you will recover. While your alcoholism wasn’t a question of morality, your choice to get sober is. You know the nature of your disease, you know you were not at fault, but you also know you are being shown the opportunity to be free of the bondage of addiction. You now have a responsibility, a moral obligation, to pick up the tools provided to you and recover.

The addict’s responsibility goes beyond sobriety. This is the initial step in recovery, but it is certainly not the last. Your responsibility to yourself and to those around you is to get well, to grow, and to become a functioning, useful member of society. Sobriety alone will not ensure this and if it is viewed as the highest and only aim, relapse may not be far off. Sobriety is the jumping off place—the starting point from which you will grow and recover. Once you have stabilized in sobriety, the real work begins.

We start to take responsibility for our relationships with others. After beginning to work the steps and finding some sober equilibrium, we must undergo a further test of humility and a leveling of our pride. Assessing every interaction with the humans and entities in our lives, we must look at how we have been wronged and we must forgive. Then we must admit, in detail, the ways in which we have wronged others, and we must make amends. Initially, many bristle against the suggestion that we are to blame for our broken relationships. How were we at fault in our alcoholic, abuse-laden homes? Why should we accept responsibility in relationships when we were truly the injured party?

Fear, grief, and regret are natural byproducts of this personal assessment. We look back at the wasteland we have created. We think of the cheap comfort we found in believing our troubles weren’t our fault and our failure was our destiny. Things had gone wrong and we always had an excuse. But for the first time we are urged to look at our lives and realize that our actions, and no one else’s have brought us to the point at which we now find ourselves. It is a staggering realization, but a hopeful one. It is empowering to realize that we can make the choice to change. We can make the decision to do something hard. We see that failure doesn’t come from missing the mark, but from refusing to take responsibility—cease shifting blame, and just try.

“The essence of all growth is a willingness to change for the better and then an unremitting willingness to shoulder whatever responsibility this entails.” (Bill W., Grapevine, 1965)