Principles of Recovery – Responsibility

Responsibility is the Second Principle of Recovery

Once again, I have the privilege of sharing my experience and hope through your newsletter.  As a legitimate elder (78, father and grandfather), if nothing else, I’ve survived a long time. Truth be told, much of my experience has been ‘the grace of God’, but I am proud to say that I have been willingly cooperating.  My willingness, of course, was motivated, to a large extent, by my pain and despair.  Now looking back over the past 4+decades, it feels like my Creator and I co-created a life that’s described in the promises.  In the first newsletter, I wrote about four basic principles of recovery: 1) HUMILITY; 2)RESPONSIBILITY; 3)ACCOUNTABILITY; and 4)PURPOSE:  the four pillars on which one can build a foundation of contented sobriety.  So obviously, the second principle is responsibility.

What Exactly Does Responsibility Mean?

Does that mean that people who develop a substance use disorder are ‘irresponsible’?  Well, yes and no!  In some ways I was over-responsible; in other ways, I was quite negligent. Growing up, I assumed responsibility for making mom and dad happy, and if they weren’t, I hadn’t done my job.  Nobody taught me that, but it is something you just learn in an alcoholic, depressing home. There’s no surprise that I would choose a career as a caregiver, a physician. Becoming a physician, a specialist, takes a lot of discipline, and I was motivated to have a better life. To be a compassionate health care provider, you’re taught to have compassion: the patient either gets better, feels better, or you have failed.  It was the same story as my early life. The belief many of us “responsible” caregivers have is, we just keep looking after people and we will be mystically repaid for our dedication.  The reality is we feel good about ourselves in our role, but as human beings, not so much! Either we use up our responsibility for the benefit of others or we focus all our energy on ourselves; there is no balance.

Recovery and Responsibility

Recovery means finding the balance between care for self and others.  Some of us come into recovery needing to be more responsible for caring for our own well-being.  Some have to come into recovery needing to learn to be less self-centred and think about the needs of others.  Each of us has to walk our way back to a healthy lifestyle from wherever we got lost- in the lives of others or lost in ourselves.  Much of my practice has been working with the “responsible” types, people who had a hard time believing they could be powerless over alcohol or anything else because much of their lives were lived dedicated to the care of others. Denial is very difficult to overcome if you’ve been successful as a caregiver, compared to living in circumstances where using repeatedly gets you into some kind of trouble.  Probably the group of human beings who have the biggest struggle with accepting the need to consider abstinence and recovery are Moms. They have sacrificed much to successfully raise their children. For them and others with the same dedication, self-care is selfish.

To get to the point, responsibility is one of the pillars of recovery whether you lived life as a responsible human being or an irresponsible human being.  If you’ve suffered from this disorder, one of the main reasons is the lack of balance in where you focus your caring energy, inside or out.

Responsibility means the following:

  • Maintain your health and safety
  • Be responsible for your own emotion, thoughts, words and behaviours
  • Let go of blaming others for your struggles
  • Get appropriate help or treatment for problems you can’t overcome on your own
  • Accept your emotions as something to manage and express rather than avoid (stuff)
  • Learn to console (soothe) yourself or seek consolation in a positive way
  • Give yourself credit for taking the proper action

I believe one of the things that challenge us the most is expressed in one word that most human beings hate:  discipline!  Most of us had discipline imposed on us when we were growing up.  And like all human beings, at some stage in our lives, we pushed back.  If we pushed back when we were young, our discipline could have been severe and we got a reputation.  If we pushed back as adolescents, we were going ‘all to hell’. And then some of us delayed our push back until we were adults and we became ‘entitled’ because we’d been good all our lives.  Emotionally, we all carry some of our past experiences in us, and as we become less balanced in our responsibility, we lose our discipline. Surrender to, and acceptance of that distasteful word- discipline becomes one of the keys to a contented sober life.  When folks in Twelve-step clubrooms say God can be God or g.o.d. can be good orderly direction, that’s what they’re talking about. Selfcare, asking for help, going to meetings, doing the steps, recognizing our needs and giving them priority, and recognizing when to be selfless and when to be selfish are disciplined choices. And, doing the right thing when you don’t feel like it is often a turning point.  Try it, you’ll see!

“My father taught me that only through self-discipline can you achieve freedom.  Pour water into a cup and you can drink. Without the cup, the water splashes all over.  The cup is discipline.”
 ~ Ricardo Montalban

Discipline liberates rather than confines you. Discipline allows you to function with ease and grace. After years of practicing his strokes, a tennis player can hit the ball without having to think about it. What once took conscious effort is now second nature. Sobriety and living life on life’s terms is the same.

Written By: Bill Jacyk MD, FRCPC, MDPAC