If there’s one thing that many addicts and alcoholics have in common, it’s that we like to be lazy from time to time. Sure, you may get the occasional functioning addict who has the strange sensation to get loaded and get some work done. But for many of us, that first drink or first dose of the day means that we won’t be leaving the couch unless there’s an emergency. And even then, it’s questionable—we once knew a man who had slept through a house fire. People largely associate sloth with cannabis addiction, but the truth is that there just isn’t room in most people’s lives for both addiction and responsibility.
But if we’ve learned one thing in our many combined years of sobriety, it’s that responsibility helps people stay sober. More than that, it helps them to develop a sense of purpose that they may have been lacking before they became addicted in the first place. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol because they don’t know who they are, or who they can be. We are deathly afraid of failure, and we convince ourselves that it would be better to fail by our own volition by simply refusing to try.
This outlook on life never fails to leave us disappointed with ourselves, and often our solution is simply to increase our substance abuse. If we wish to enter (and stay) in recovery, we must challenge this way of thinking. We must embrace the concept of responsibility, no matter how much it scares or simply annoys us. Because in the end, our increased sense of responsibility just may be what helps keep us sober.
The Benefits of Responsibility
Responsibility goes hand-in-hand with humility, another key ingredient of recovery. This is evident from the notion of admitting culpability for one’s mistakes. When we are willing to step up and admit that we were wrong, we are given a little more credibility when we do something right. We will not sound prideful when we claim credit for our successes, because people know that we will still hold ourselves responsible for our failures. You really cannot have one without the other. Those who shirk responsibility for their setbacks will look incredibly petty if they have a reputation for boasting about their achievements.
More importantly, there is an issue of trust involved. If you can admit to your mistakes and show that you are willing to overcome them, people will believe that you are attempting to live a more honest lifestyle. You show that you can be malleable when your plans do not go as expected, and this will inspire faith. Not just in you, but in the notion that things truly can go better for us when we are able to adapt. Rebuilding trust in recovery can take a lot of time, but it will not take nearly as long if people see you as someone who is willing to be responsible for yourself and your actions.
But responsibility isn’t just about mistakes and successes. It is also about obligation. We must learn to take on new responsibilities in order to grow as people. Whether these be responsibilities to work, family or friends is irrelevant, although we should try to show a bit more commitment to all of these things than we did while we were in active addiction. This will be what helps to increase our sense of purpose and self-worth, as we will find ourselves to be much more useful and functional people. Anyone can say that they want to be a better person, but actions speak significantly louder than words.
Once we have begun to take responsibility in the aforementioned areas, it should do quite a bit to strengthen our sobriety. We will take relapse prevention much more seriously, because we have things in our life that drive us to stay sober. We will not be able to fathom losing everything which we have gained. And because of this, we will work harder than ever to keep it.
How to Be More Responsible
There are numerous ways to become more responsible, but some are much stronger than others. As noted above, we must learn to take responsibility for our own actions. At some point, we will have to take a long, hard look at our character defects and decide that we truly wish to change them. If laziness and procrastination are among them—which they almost certainly are—then this should drive us to work much harder to fight against these instincts and put ourselves to use. And if dishonesty and cowardice are among them, we cannot shy away from taking responsibility when we find ourselves in the wrong.
Those who have been in recovery for some time will find that this is actually written directly into Step Ten—when we are wrong, we must promptly admit it. But responsibility is technically written into many of the Twelve Steps. In Step One, we must admit that we have made our lives unmanageable. In Step Four and Step Five, we must admit the resentments we have harbored and the harm we have done to others. In Step Six, as mentioned above, we must look at our character defects. And in Step Eight and Step Nine, we must begin making amends. All of these things require us to become more responsible than we may have been in the past.
As far as obligations are concerned, we may look toward Step Twelve. As we embrace the performance of service work, we will often find ourselves working with other addicts and alcoholics. We will spread the message that has helped us so dearly. But for one thing we cannot take responsibility, and that is the failure of others to stay sober. If we reached out to help someone and they did not accept it, we cannot blame ourselves for this. We must accept the losses in our life, be they of loved ones or of fellow sufferers, but we must not blame ourselves for these losses when we are truly not at fault.
At the end of the day, responsibility is all about recognizing what we can and cannot do to make life a little better for ourselves and those we love, all while hopefully helping a few other addicts and alcoholics along the way. It helps to establish a more responsible routine, but we must also simply try to remember that we already have it within ourselves to be more dependable. Remember what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: “With great power comes great responsibility.” We should never credit ourselves with more power than we have, but we should always try to do the best with what power we do possess. Otherwise, our sense of purpose may never be fulfilled.
AA’s Responsibility Statement
Those who join groups such as AA and NA are already aware of the need to be responsible in their recovery. AA’s Responsibility Statement reads as follows:
I am responsible…
When anyone, anywhere,
reaches out for help, I want
the hand of A.A. always to be there.
And for that: I am responsible
Bill W., AA’s co-founder, believed that responsibility was of utmost importance if the program was to help others. Furthermore, he believed that responsibility involved cooperation. While there was still much research being done on addiction and alcoholism at the time AA was formed, Bill believed that those who truly wished to help others needed to do their best to support and understand this research. At the 1965 AA International Convention in Toronto (for which the Responsibility Statement was written), Bill stated:
“Too often, we have deprecated and even derided these projects of our friends just because we do not always see eye to eye with them. We should very seriously ask ourselves how many alcoholics have gone on drinking simply because we have failed to cooperate in good spirit with these many agencies. No alcoholic should go mad or die merely because he did not come straight to AA in the beginning.”
You can find more information on AA’s website, which also contains information about AA’s Declaration of Unity. As illustrated by Concept I and the rest of the Twelve Concepts, Bill had great faith that the men and women of AA could do much to help others. Not only is this often seen as the core of Step Twelve, but it is literally the heart of Tradition One. In this way, the notions of unity and responsibility are forever linked in the eyes of Alcoholics Anonymous, as well they should be.
By embracing the Responsibility Statement, as well as by seeking more responsibilities and accepting culpability when we are wrong, we can grow to be much more functional and mature individuals in our recovery than we had ever been in addiction. But at some point, nobody can tell you how to be more responsible. It requires a deep internal change. You must be in tune with your own morals, values and ethics. If you lose sight of these things, there is no telling how soon it may be before you suffer a relapse. Through responsibility, you will not only help to stave this off, but you may save somebody else from suffering their own.