How is personal responsibility relevant to recovery from addiction?
Obviously, your level of personal responsibility is critical for recovery, because at any moment a recovering alcoholic or addict could just throw their responsibilities aside and go drink or get high. But the idea goes deeper than that, and has greater implications than simply keeping someone sober.
Personal responsibility is one key to getting clean and sober
Addicts and alcoholics who are still drinking and using drugs have to somehow rationalize their use. In effect, they have to give themselves permission to get drunk and high every day so that they can continue to self medicate. The mechanism by which they do this is denial, but what are the thought processes like? How do we justify our outrageous behavior in active addiction?
The answer to this might vary a bit from person to person, but it all boils down to the same thing: we rationalize and justify our use. Some will say, “if you had my life, you’d use drugs too.” Others might argue that they have been the victim of all sorts of things, and this gives them permission to get wasted every day. In order to change this thinking, we need to become responsible–for ourselves, in every way.
So where does personal responsibility come in? For me, it came when I took an honest look at my life during my first few days of sobriety and said “This is my life, and it has become this way because of me. The situation I’m in is all of my own making. I am responsible for all of it.” Truly.
You see, I had this mental loophole in my mind that said that if someone hurt me in my life, that this somehow gave me permission to drink and use drugs. I can look back and see how immature this response was, but at the time I was completely trapped in that mode of thinking, and it made sense to continue to self-medicate. In effect, I was attempting to shed personal responsibility, and I looked for situations where others had “done me wrong” so that I could feel like I was off the hook and could get wasted without feeling bad about it. “If you had my problems, you’d drink too” was the idea. That’s why I refer to it as being an immature response–because I was looking for ways to shed personal responsibility.
Of course the creative life in recovery is about empowering yourself, not trying to weasel out of being personally responsible for what happens in your life. It all starts with the decision to surrender to your disease of addiction. From there you can ask for help and learn how to live a new life without drugs and alcohol. That’s why the first few years in recovery really felt like “growing up” to me….because I was finally ready to be accountable for everything in my life. No more whining about my situation and making excuses for my bad behavior.
Personal responsibility is also a key to continued growth
Of course, even after you’ve been clean and sober for a few years, personal responsibility still plays a big part in your recovery. Even though we might stay clean and sober, some of us might fall into bad habits or be otherwise lazy and unambitious. How does this serve to make our life any better or help out our fellow human beings? It doesn’t.
The creative life in recovery demands action and enthusiasm. Those who are living the creative life will continuously build momentum through their sobriety and use their energy to reach out and help people in different ways. This motivation and drive comes from a sense of personal responsibility, and the need to give back.
Recovering addicts also know that complacency can sneak into our recovery and eventually cause a relapse. If we build a solid foundation for our recovery, our work doesn’t end there. It becomes our responsibility to keep growing and changing and pushing ourselves to improve, on a number of different levels. A holistic approach that addresses all areas of our lives is ideal (and is also the most responsible approach!). For example, we don’t just try to grow spiritually…instead we branch out and consider ways to improve our physical health, as well as our emotional balance in our life and also possibly sharpen our mental skills (in addition to spiritual growth).
We are responsible for our recovery. Even when we have been true victims in life, our only choice is to find that inner drive and motivation to succeed. Anything less, and we are just rationalizing and making excuses for why we don’t want to grow and get better.