Taking Responsibility for Your Life
Someone once said, “When the pain of your pain is greater than the pain of actually changing, then you change.” The same might be said about taking responsibility for your life, which is another sure sign you’re overcoming an addiction.
Getting to this place, of owning the ways in which your addictive behavior has hurt both others and yourself, and choosing to own your life moving forward, can take a lot of time, even more courage, and may not follow a linear progression. Usually this step cannot happen in a vacuum or on its own; something (possibly something very painful) often precipitates it.
But regardless of where you are in your recovery and on this continuum of taking responsibility, the following insights can be a source of reassurance, inspiration, and advice:
- The pain you have experienced as the result of others’ hurtful actions is valid. Rest assured that taking responsibility for your life doesn’t condone or justify the hurts others have caused you, but it can free you from them. Most people with an addiction are running from pain, whether it’s self-inflicted or caused by others. In cases where others are responsible for the hurt or trauma you have experienced, it can be difficult to take responsibility for your life when you’re blaming someone else for tearing it apart. This can be especially true in situations of sexual trauma. Victims of childhood abuse, for example, often understandably don’t feel supported, because they have been victimized. Taking responsibility can seem counter-intuitive and unfair — as if you’re being asked to let the perpetrator off the hook. It’s tempting to want to hold on to the bitterness and pain of that grudge, but that can end up perpetuating the perpetrator’s stranglehold of power over you, keeping you trapped in an unhealthy cycle of victimization. The reality is that taking responsibility is about taking back your own life for your own sake. That’s the very essence of freedom.
- Be willing to ask for help from your sponsor or therapist, and then be willing to notice discrepancies in your thinking that may be holding you back from taking responsibility for your life. I mentioned earlier that taking responsibility doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Here I can’t over-emphasize how helpful it can be to open up regularly to someone you trust and respect and who can help you, like a sponsor or therapist.
I think of a client who came to me only a few days into inpatient treatment, saying they wanted to leave because of a health problem they were feeling some urgency about. The client said they wanted to see a doctor back home as soon as possible to get the issue checked out, and on that basis was preparing to book a flight home and discontinue treatment. I listened and reflected back to the client what I was hearing, validating their concerns. “From what I am hearing you say, your first priority is getting this problem checked out as soon as possible,” I said. “Is that right?,” The client agreed. I then shared that we had set up an appointment with a doctor for the next day, so that the client could get faster medical answers by staying put in treatment; and I voiced confusion about why, if their first priority was to get immediate medical help, they would delay seeing a doctor by choosing to leave treatment, fly home and wait longer to get into a doctor. On the receiving end of this loving, supportive and non-confrontational approach, the client was able to see the discrepancy in their own thought process without any pushing on my part. That in turn helped them make the more responsible choice (to stay in treatment).
- Take a “searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.” Here I’m quoting Step 4 of the 12-step spiritual program for core change that members of Alcoholics Anonymous are encouraged to apply daily to their lives. This step can be a powerful way to unearth unhealthy patterns of thought and behaviors that have fed an addiction and kept you in its clutches. Becoming more aware of these often unconscious ways of relating to yourself and those around you can be a critical first step to acknowledging your own responsibility in the healing process.