If there’s one thing I learned from years of drug and alcohol addiction, it’s that I don’t always make the best decisions for myself. I’m not trying to say addiction is a choice—I firmly believe it’s a disease that takes away our choice. But there’s no doubt I made a lot of bad choices as I travelled down the road of addiction, propelled by self-will. It wasn’t just the drugs and alcohol that made me do this, either (though they certainly played a role). I was making bad decisions before I ever even picked up the first drink or drug, and I continued to mess up even after I put them down.
I’m happy to say that while I still make stupid decisions on a daily basis, none of them have been fatal, or have led me to a relapse (at least, not since my series of relapses in early sobriety, but that’s a story for another time). In fact, most of the time I’m able to correct them right away. Why? Because a long time ago, I made a rare intelligent decision and decided to listen what my counselors and fellows in recovery were telling me. They said that my own instincts and decision-making were what got me into this mess. I couldn’t just will myself back out of it. As hard as it seemed at the time, I needed to let go of control. Instead of trying to face recovery alone, I needed to join a community and accept the suggestions and accountability offered by the people around me (along with getting a little help from a higher power). It certainly seemed like a tall order at the time, but it’s what I did, and it’s what got me where I am today.
One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s always easier to pass judgment on other people than it is to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Normally, this is a bad thing. No one likes the guy who goes around pointing out the flaws in others. But in recovery, it can be an asset. As addicts and alcoholics, we have demonstrated over and over that we aren’t always aware of just what we are doing wrong. But most of the time, it’s a lot easier for your sponsor or your friend to see just where you’re making a mistake. So they hold you accountable. It isn’t always easy to hear, especially at first. We’ve spent years with nothing but our own, often over-inflated opinions of ourselves. So when you hear someone tell you how to live your life, it’s easy to get upset.
I’ve found the easiest way to accept accountability from others, no matter how hard it is to hear, is to stay humble. It’s hard to describe just how much the experience of hitting rock bottom broke me down. Even though I had no self-esteem, I was stubbornly holding onto pride. Looking back, maybe it’s because it was one of the only things I had left. But the good news was, that meant I was already halfway there. Part of me was as humble as it needed to be already—and the other part just needed to loosen its grip on pride a little. You only need to take one look at my life today to see what letting go and listening did for me.