By: Marilyn L. Davis
“An important decision I made was to resist playing the Blame Game. The day I realized that I am in charge of how I will approach problems in my life, that things will turn out better or worse because of me and nobody else, that was the day I knew I would be a happier and healthier person. And that was the day I knew I could truly build a life that matters.”― Steve Goodier
Are You Trapped in the Cycle of Blame?
Most of us want to take credit for the accomplishments in our lives. We swell with pride and feel positive about ourselves.
Hearing compliments about ourselves boosts our self-confidence, so we naturally like to receive praise for how well we’re doing in our life, job, relationships, and recovery.
Unfortunately, we often don’t react the same way when we aren’t successful, or get criticized for our actions. Sometimes, we’re looking around for someone or something to blame, and not taking responsibility for our choices or actions.
I know it’s hard to accept responsibility for our life choices. I spent years blaming my parents, bosses, husbands, lovers, and even my children for whatever was wrong. And when we’re not blaming, we’re trying to get everyone to focus only on our positive aspects.
Just See How Important I Am?
In 1988, the small college where I was a House Director and student staged an intervention on me.
I had deflected concerns and criticism about my drinking and medication use for months. I’d reference all my accomplishments:
- Dean’s List student
- Managed three dorms
- Supervised 8 Resident Assistants
- Well-liked by students
- Co-developer of the Resident Life program
I also brought them letters from five doctors stating that I needed the prescribed medications. I know some of you are wondering how anyone could miss the fact that I was “doctor-shopping”. The reality is that in 1988, no one was familiar with that term, nor the implications of going to five doctors for anxiety and pain.
In that rarefied, academic environment, grades and the doctor’s credentials protected me for a few months. The college focused on my accomplishments and the doctor’s reputation in the community. When they voted on whether to sanction me or not, only one person had concerns, so I escaped my natural consequences for a while.
Reality Check on my Importance
But when you looked beneath my accomplishments, I was in active addiction and this meant that I was putting students in jeopardy when I was too drunk to secure their building, too hung over or impaired to make staff meetings, committing crimes that today could be punished by law-enforcement, and fooling no one when I put Bailey’s Irish Crème in my coffee cup for classes and work because I was too shaky without alcohol.
Blaming others for my continued use was how I deflected criticism. Justifying my responsibilities, class load, and pressures were easy excuses for my use. People just quit confronting me, because it was easier to give in to me than argue with me.
Nowhere to Hide and No One to Blame
My appointment in the president’s office was for 2 PM. Meeting him wasn’t unusual and I didn’t think anything of it. I’d been in his office for other appointments, but walking in and finding five other Deans, all with three by five cards in their hands wasn’t the norm. The president started by telling me that they were all concerned. As a psychology major, I’d participated in mock interventions in class, so I knew what they were going to do. I have to confess that I wouldn’t make a good candidate for any TV shows on interventions. I caved and started crying before he could finish; interrupted him, and asked, “What do you need me to do?”
This was the first time I didn’t try to blame others, or shift focus to my better qualities.
In that moment, I knew I had to choose whether to view this intervention as getting caught, trapped, and cornered, or view this as the opportunity for me to take charge of my life and make changes.
Who’s In Charge? Who’s Responsible?
When we finally acknowledge that the problems are of our making, it gives us control over how to make changes and lead a different life. Most of the addicts and alcoholics I’ve met liked control, although I’ve met and been one who didn’t want to do the work required to make things better, again, because it was easier to blame others for poor outcomes.
That day, feeling more vulnerable and exposed than ever before, I realized that all of those people who I’d blamed for my life’s problems, weren’t even in my life anymore, including my children, as I’d given them back to their father two years earlier. Standing there alone and without my usual self-preserving excuses, it was a rude awakening.
With no one to blame, it meant that I was responsible for this situation, no one else.
However, the upside was that I could take advantage of the choices given to me and start making changes. My options were, go into treatment or lose my job. I chose treatment. I would like to tell you that recovery is easy; I can’t.
What I can guarantee is that recovery is hard work; changing all of our self-destructive patterns of use and behaviors takes effort, and yet, when we are the ones making positive changes in our lives, we are in charge, in control and the ones who can take credit for something positive for a change.
But, there’s not one single approach or secret plan that will guarantee your success in recovery.
The reality is that how I’ve stayed in recovery for 28 years might not work for you.
However, that doesn’t make my meetings, support network, or methods wrong, either; it simply means that today there are multiple choices, whether it’s 12-Step, Secular, or Faith-based.
We Work for Our Recovery
Yet, all starts with the simple premise of “if you don’t use drugs and alcohol, and make changes, your life can improve.” After that, it’s as simple and hard as:
- Assuming responsibility for life choices
- Changing negative aspects into admirable qualities
- Discontinuing the blame
- Finding a group of people who share common beliefs and support recovery
- Asking questions for guidance
When we no longer make others responsible for our life choices, we might feel vulnerable. However, if we’ve found others who have made the same decisions to quit their use, and are leading a healthy and productive life, we ask them how they changed, and follow the directions.
If we truly want to recover, we can. We just listen to those who have stopped their use, made changes in their lives, and are willing to help us, we’ll learn how to take responsibility and will no longer need to blame others.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart