Addiction Recovery: Blame Is Not Healthy But Accepting Responsibility Is
Among the many things newcomers to recovery need to consider is how to best manage their sobriety. A lot of this has to do with attitude. You can have the right intention – to stay clean and sober – and still be defeated by outdated and misinformed ideas about addiction. One of the earliest to occur and biggest of these barriers to overcome is blame. The truth about effective addiction recovery is that blame is not healthy – but accepting responsibility is.
Blame is Counter-Productive
Think about all the statements you’ve ever heard people make where they assign blame to someone else for whatever the topic is at hand. They blame the policymakers in Congress and the President for the state of the economy, rising taxes, joblessness, national security, immigration policy, healthcare, Social Security, Medicare, and a host of other things. We blame our neighbors for their barking dogs, their ill-mannered kids, and their shoddy home maintenance that drives down the value of our homes. We blame our conniving co-workers for grabbing the plum assignments, our thieving company for not sharing profits or jacking up our healthcare premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. We blame and we blame and we blame. But blame doesn’t get us anywhere. Blame is just an exercise in futility, a way to vent that, in essence, is totally counter-productive.
The same holds true for addiction recovery. We can blame our parents for passing on the gene that makes us vulnerable to addiction to alcohol or certain drugs. We can blame our friends for leading us down the path to ruin by introducing us to cocaine or crystal meth or black tar heroin or prescription drugs to ease our various aches and pains or allow us to escape. We can blame ourselves for our cowardliness, our selfishness, our total lack of regard for the welfare of our loved ones. We can, and we often do.
But blame isn’t the answer. It never has been and it never will be. Instead of blame, what’s really more appropriate is a sense of personal responsibility. There’ll be more about that in a minute. First, let’s look more at where blame originates.
Blame is All in the Mind
People voice blame in their comments. But blame starts elsewhere. It begins in the mind. Blame is a clever way for people to divert their attention from what is real and needs attention. It allows them an escape route, a justifiable (in their minds) means of avoiding the truth. And the truth is always something too painful for them to readily accept, or something that they feel is out of their hands, or that they have no hope of resolving.
From this, it’s easy to see how blame gets in the way of effective recovery. When you allow blame to color your view of what’s possible, what, in the end, is ever possible? If you blame yourself for your failure to stay sober, your inability to stick to your word, your weak nature that propels you back into using – not only are you dead wrong, but you’re sabotaging your hopes of any lasting sobriety.
The mind is a very powerful tool. You can use your mind to aid in your recovery, or you can allow it to help you self-destruct in the quickest manner possible.
Blame is a Dead-End Street
Another point about blame is that it goes nowhere. Blame is a dead-end street. Once you or others start blaming for every thought, action, or result of inaction, there’s nothing that points to a need to do anything. You’re off the hook, neither being held accountable by yourself or others, nor required to do anything. How convenient, and how obviously germane to the subject of addiction recovery.
If you blame your parents for your alcoholism, it’s as if you’re giving yourself tacit permission to go on drinking. You’re saying, in essence, that it’s out of your hands entirely. You couldn’t stop biology, and this is the genetic hand you’ve been dealt. This gives you the excuse that you can keep on drinking, since nothing you do will change your heredity or your predisposition to addiction.
Guess what? You can do something about your addiction, whether you have a genetic component that makes you vulnerable or not. It does, however, require action on your part – and a lot of hard work. Part of the reason why people use blame is that they don’t want to face an uphill battle, especially if it involves overcoming addiction. Even if they do go through treatment, any little setback is conveniently excused by assigning blame.
The only way you’ll ever be successful in recovery is to do away with the blame game. It’s just not conducive to long-term sobriety.
How to Overcome the Tendency to Assign Blame
How you overcome the tendency to assign blame requires conscious effort and practice. Here are some tips:
Learn how to identify blame statements. Listen to the words that come out of your mouth. You’ll soon learn to identify those which are blame statements. They’ll be the ones that include phrases such as: “It’s all his/her/their fault,” or “She/he/they got us into this mess,” or “They’re the ones that drove down the economy,” and so on.
For a week, write down every statement you make – about anything – that is a blame complaint. Do this whenever you find yourself making the statement or at the end of the day, whichever is easier. Next to the blame statement, write down how you could have stated your concerns or made your case without assigning blame. To do this, you’ll have to think of viable alternatives. It could be anything from the point that consumers need to solidify in their efforts to oppose government intervention into areas that should be left to individuals or states, to the observation that no single person accounts for all the country’s ills.
You can see where this is going. Instead of blame, the statements are veering more toward responsibility. Responsibility implies action, and action allows for growth and change.
Apply the same technique to your self-blame statements. Now, catch yourself when you start thinking about your own situation and how you ascribe blame to yourself. Again, write down everything you remember thinking or saying where you’ve blamed others or yourself for your addiction.
These are your excuses that you’ve allowed yourself to perpetuate for perhaps many months and years. They’re also wrong and self-defeating. You may write, for example: “I’m a drunk because my parents were drunks.” While there is a strong genetic component in some family history that means some offspring have vulnerability toward alcoholism, it’s only one potential factor. It’s not a given. Not every child of alcoholic parents will become an alcoholic – although many may, given other factors, including environmental and peer influence. Here, you’re blaming your parents for the fact that you are an addict. Where is your personal responsibility?
Don’t worry, for now, about how to translate the self-blame statements into something more appropriate. It’s enough to become aware of them. If you do think of a better way to talk about your addiction, write these new thoughts down. You may, for example, come up with some good ideas that you hear from others in your 12-step group meetings or from discussions you have with your 12-step sponsor or your therapist. As you’ve undoubtedly learned during treatment, being aware of something is the prerequisite to making the conscious decision to change such thoughts and the resulting behaviors.
Don’t allow others to blame, either. As you become more aware of your and others’ tendency to assign blame, make it a practice to not allow blame statements to go unchallenged in conversations. This is not meant to suggest that you become argumentative, only that you learn how to veer conversations into a more productive vein.
How to Begin Accepting Responsibility
It’s one thing to say that you should stop using blame as an excuse and start being responsible for your own actions. Easier said than done, many would say – and they’d be right. You need to do more than tell yourself that you’re going to begin accepting responsibility – but it’s at least a start in the right direction. Acknowledge to yourself that, beginning now, you will make it a point to become responsible for what you say and do, and how you think about your role in your own recovery.
Perhaps it’s best to initiate this practice by starting small. In this regard, look at the big picture, but don’t try to carve off too much in the way of responsibility. If you take too much on your plate – whether it’s promising to do too much at work or home or school or for your own recovery goals – you’re setting yourself up for failure or disappointment and, you guessed it, another round of self-blame.
Addiction recovery experts often say that newcomers to recovery take bite-sized steps. Don’t make any major life changes during the first year. Tend to your recovery needs first and foremost. Allow yourself time to acclimate your daily routine to include your 12-step meeting attendance, doctor and therapist visits, and other critical appointments and recovery needs.
Although returning home after treatment is a very big deal, it’s best if you ease into it. Just because you’re back home doesn’t mean that you can or should expect yourself to figure out everything at once, to solve all the household or family problems, to be all things to all people. Again, this is setting you up for failure. You’re too raw, too new to recovery to be able to handle all that stress – without burying it under a mantle of blame.
Talk with your spouse or partner, your children, and any other adults living with you. Let them know that you have learned a lot about your addiction and will be putting into practice what you learned. Ask for their understanding, encouragement, and support as you begin this all-important early phase of recovery. Acknowledge that things will be a little different, as you attend to your recovery needs, but this does not in any way lessen your love for them – or your intention to be there for them now and in the future. By having this conversation, as many times as you need to, you’re setting the stage for expectations. You’re neither promising too much nor too little. In fact, you’re stating what is true and appropriate, given your situation.
In line with your personal responsibilities at home, beside those pertaining to your recovery – which has to be primary for you for now – you also have responsibilities to your spouse or partner, and your children. There are also your financial responsibilities, especially if you are the breadwinner. Take care that you don’t overwhelm yourself with assuming too much too soon.
How about at work or at school, as appropriate? You certainly have responsibilities there as well. After being in treatment for some period of time, you’d be understandably anxious about being gone for such an extended period. What have you missed in your absence? Have you lost your standing in school, jeopardized a scholarship, or failed a term? Have you suffered a demotion at work, missed key project deadlines, been assigned to lesser-important teams or have you lost your job? Take it easy. Don’t allow these consequences of your addiction to sideline your recovery. You need to take the long view. Accept that these things happened as a result of your addiction. You really need to take personal responsibility for your actions that resulted in these consequences. Don’t blame your addiction. Your addiction is a fact that you can’t change. But what you do about your addiction can and should change. You are not defined by your addiction. Your future is what you want to make it.
But a lot depends on you being able to squarely face your responsibilities and to create and adhere to your plan to do what you need to.
Many newcomers to recovery fear that returning to work will be a disaster. They feel ashamed, full of guilt and self-blame, awkward, inept, a failure, unable to fulfill commitments. One suggestion is to arrange a time to talk with your boss or immediate supervisor. He or she already knows that you were in treatment for addiction and is probably eager to see that you are well on the road to recovery. After all, you as an employee are important to the company’s success. Your boss wants you to succeed so the company will as well. Acknowledge his or her support of your recovery efforts. Commit to doing what it takes to continue your sobriety, including the fact that you will be regularly attending your 12-step meetings. Ask for patience and understanding as you gradually ramp up to speed in your projects. Any reasonable supervisor or boss will be receptive to this approach. Again, your contribution is valuable – and you need to be fully present in order to make a contribution.
It’s also a good idea to talk privately with your team or co-workers, particularly those that are important to your work responsibilities. You don’t need to go into detail about what happened during treatment. It’s sufficient to tell them that you’re better now and glad to be back. You could say that you welcome their ideas and appreciate their help as you get back up to speed on current and future tasks and projects. The specific words you use aren’t as important as the manner in which you deliver them. Portray a confident, self-assured attitude, but not one that’s cocky, or defiant, or groveling. Recognize that there may be some lingering feelings of resentment over having to pick up the slack caused by you not being there, but this should quickly pass as they see that you are, indeed, back on the team. Just take it slow. Don’t overpromise and under deliver. By promising too much too soon, you’ll become exhausted, out of sorts, agitated, nervous, depressed, anxious and – once again, prone to self-blame.
Take the Long View of Recovery
When you accept responsibility, it’s a healthy and productive sign that you are fully cognizant that recovery is very much what you make it. Keep in mind that recovery is a lifelong process from here on. You will always be in recovery, just as you will, as long as you continue breathing, be alive. Make your life the most productive, happy, and fulfilling as you can. Take the long view – and then challenges that surface today and tomorrow will be easier to overcome.
Most of all look at recovery as an opportunity to experience all the joy and riches life has to offer. These are likely things that you thought you didn’t deserve, or that you lost forever. But you not only deserve them, they are right here waiting for you. All you need to do is take it one step at a time. Be responsible. Be you. Be free to live your life in sobriety. Start today.