The Blame Game


PAUSE …

Sometimes just for a minute …

Sometimes for an hour …

Sometimes for days … weeks … months even, depending on the severity of the problem, the depth of the issue.

But by all means and at all costs …

… PAUSE.

At some point during our active “using” careers, many of us found it necessary to become expert at the blame game. For me to successfully camouflage the severity of my drinking problem, I had to sabotage the lives of others. That way, I could point the finger somewhere other than my own face when my drinking caused problems in the world around me.

But those of us who’ve genuinely worked the 12 steps, and especially steps 9 and 10, know that camouflaging the truth is as detrimental to maintaining our sobriety as failing to camouflage it was to hiding our addictions. The old blame game becomes an exercise in self-sabotage.

But how do we break such a deeply ingrained habit? Just because I don’t drink doesn’t necessarily mean I no longer lie, cheat, steal, con, or, at the very least, color the truth so it matches the world I see through my rose-colored glasses. How, once we’ve stopped using, do we suddenly become willing to search–as a reflex rather than as an afterthought or a sponsor direction–for the truth in all matters? And how do we learn to refuse, at all costs, to blame others automatically for all the problems, large and small, we endure in life?

As with most things in sobriety, when it comes to halting the blame game, I’ve found simple answers that aren’t always easy to apply. To this day, however, before I allow myself to assign blame (and I am still as prone and egomaniacally inspired to assign blame as the day I began this journey), at all costs, I …

… PAUSE.

And if I can, I change my location. I do whatever I can to take my head somewhere other than where it is the moment I sense that I’m somehow disturbed. If I’m inside, I go out. If I’m outside, I go in. I go wherever I can to ensure my senses experience something entirely different. I’m not running, I’m not hiding, I’m just shifting my surroundings enough to shift my thinking. I do this to physically remind myself that everything—absolutely everything in this life—will change; that this, too (whatever disturbance “this” is), shall pass. If, as I’m so often told, I suffer a disease of perception, then a change in perspective should act as a figurative sedative.

After I pause and relocate, I try to remember two things our literature has taught me:

  • After all, our problems were of our own making (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 103)
  • It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 90)

My divorce from the mother of my children is now four years old—plenty ripe to have taught me a few things. The monologue—sans obscenities—that charged through my head the day she announced she didn’t want to be married anymore began something like this: “After all I have done for that woman … .”

Luckily, before my thinking went too far and became too self-serving, I managed to PAUSE.

And luckily, before I acted in a manner unbecoming someone with 11 years of sobriety (at the time), I managed to change my surroundings and my perspective almost immediately by calling my sponsor.

At that moment, I didn’t want to consider that I might have done something to her that inspired the divorce … but I was reminded that someday I would have to face that fact.

At that moment, deep in the emotional turmoil prompted by the idea of not waking up in the same house as my children everyday, I didn’t want to accept that there might be something wrong with me that was causing their mother to take flight … but I was reminded that someday I would have to face that fact, too.

And at that moment, I certainly wasn’t ready to give her one iota of credit for what she might have done for me over the years—conveniently ignoring the fact that she was, after all, the mother of my children.

Luckily—no matter how deep the quagmire—the challenges I face in recovery are never as solitary as they were during my life as a practicing alcoholic. I have a sponsor, I have friends, I have the fellowship that grew up around me to help me seek the truth at all times. I have the ability to PAUSE … look around … and ask for help.

When I took a long, hard look at my behavior during the final years of my marriage, I realized pretty quickly I wouldn’t have always been thrilled to be married to me either. My wife was younger than I was and the mother of two small and wonderful children. It should have been a time to marvel and experience joy for both of us. And for a time it was, until I allowed fear of financial insecurity (something I thought I had conquered long ago) to consume me. And once it did, I quickly became the Ogre who’s return home at night went from being an event to anticipate … to an event to endure … to an event to avoid whenever possible, and eventually permanently. When I took a long hard look at my behavior during the final years of my marriage, from 2007- 2010, I couldn’t help but accept the fact that my problems were of my own making.

And there’s a strange thing that happens once I accept the spiritual axiom that if I am disturbed, there is something wrong with me … there’s a strange thing that happens when I point the finger first and foremost at myself rather than at someone else: I discover that my first instinct is not to find blame but rather to forgive. When I instantly acknowledge my part in any disturbance (and we know we always have “a” part), I’m much more likely to accept the other person’s imperfection and humanity and look to amend the relationship, and much less inclined to deepen the wounds with rationalizations and accusations.

In the example that is my divorce, we quickly discovered that the simple solution to our discomfort was right under our noses: We made amends before the decree was signed and agreed to keenly focus all of our future interactions on the welfare of our children. It’s the only right thing to do. No one says you have to like each other to do the next right thing. My ex-wife and I have had the good fortune of burying the hatchet and remaining friends. The relief that has brought to my children during the past four years is tangible. But I’ve worked with other men whose divorces were far more contentious, and they, too, agree that keeping the focus on caring for their kids softens their resentment and makes interacting with their former spouses far more tolerable—and directed.

As I have found in so many situations in sobriety, once I acknowledge that I have a part in the problem—once I acknowledge that if I’m ill at ease with a person, place, or institution, something is wrong with me—I have very little desire to “figure things out.” I’m much less likely to care about who was right and who was wrong. I’m much less likely to worry about assigning blame. Once I’ve recognized that I had a part to play in the drama that ultimately led to my own discomfort (whether it is because I or someone else initially chose to act badly), the only thing I’m truly curious about is how to end the discomfort and move on.

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13 responses to “The Blame Game

  1. “All” is a big word. Just because it’s written in the Big Book does not mean its correct or truth. Alcoholics tend to be very all or nothing lacking logical balance. Therefore…..really? “All of our problems are of our own making.” I challenge you to reconsider that statement with a grown-up mind.

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    • The Big Book does not state that, “all our problems were of our own making.”

      It reads, “”After all, our problems were of our own making.” (103:3)

      You’ve misquoted and therefore presented a seriously flawed judgment and characterization of meaning in apparent attempt to discredit or diminish the “Alcoholism Anonymous,” presentation. You’ll need to be a bit more thorough —– and accurate.

      djs

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  2. I think its only fair that I provide you with my website so you can contradict a few of my own opinions….I probably need some constructive feedback as well. https://www.recoveryfarmhouse.com

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  3. Thanks for the input swipey8. Your quite right, All is a big word–one I generally avoid, except when it accurately describes my experience.

    I notice your blog wisely posts three key words: Experience, Strength, and Hope. All we have to share, for better or worse, is our “own” experience, strength, and hope. And it’s my experience that the problems I’ve had with other human beings have all been of my own making–in part because I choose to define them as “problems” rather than as simple experiences to be dealt with as someone living life on life’s terms.

    Case in point: I could “choose” to perceive your use of the phrase “grown-up mind” as an insult, one consciously designed to prompt a resentment-laden response. But I don’t. For one, I’ve chosen to put my opinion (based in my experience) out there on an open platform and invite comments like the one you’ve chosen to deliver as a response. Your comment and your choice of words (whether I choose to perceive those words as a problem, an insult, or simply as another human being’s way of expressing their opinion) come in response to an action I’ve taken. When I pause before responding and consider that simple fact (my action prompted yours), it’s much easier for me to accept your challenge: “… to reconsider that statement with a grown-up mind.”

    So, let me go grown-up on you for a minute. I agree with everything you’ve said: All is a big word. The Big Book is not always true and not always correct. Some–but certainly not ALL–alcoholics, and especially those who are untreated, can be very “all or nothing” and “lacking” in “logical balance.” Your comments are similar to those made to me by my atheist and agnostic friends when they comment on and challenge my references to reliance on a power greater than myself. Their arguments are so often air-tight, brilliantly reasoned, and powered by a deft reliance on empiricism. I so often agree with most everything they say, and they know and appreciate that I do. But, as fate would have it, and much to their frustration, their arguments simply don’t match “my experience.” I never debate their positions, because within the iron bars of rationality, I agree with them wholeheartedly. But after 54 years on this journey, my experience has shown me that the only way to make discoveries is to transcend the iron bars of rationality and intuit the truth of my experience, and my experience includes reliance on a power greater than myself.

    As it relates to our discussion, my experience has shown me that ALL of “my problems” with other human beings are of my own making. As I said earlier, they are because I choose to define them as “problems” rather than as experiences to be dealt with. Too often, I fail to consider that bad actions are taken by spiritually ill people who warrant not my anger and resentment but rather my compassion as still suffering and unawakened human beings like myself.

    In essence whether you insult me, steal from me, or shoot me, my failure to forgive you as just another human being taking bad actions, is just another problem of my own making.

    And, swipey8, I have no need or desire to “contradict” any of your opinions, nor do I wish to challenge your experience, but I’d be happy to provide constructive feedback. It looks like a very cool blog. Look forward to checking it out soon. All the Best, Kayko

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  4. Thanks,frunoblax57. You’re quite right. Correction made. Careless error on my part in quoting Alcoholics Anonymous. Doesn’t change the genuine intent (or meaning) of the post, so I will leave it up for those who will find a better use for it than debate. Luckily its the commentary, and not the blog post, that is misdirected and puts the focus on the word All. If the post were a misrepresentation of Alcoholics Anonymous in any way, shape or form, I’d certainly take it down. Possibly including the entire final paragraph of the chapter “Working with Others” will help everyone: After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol. Besides, we have stopped fighting anybody or anything. We have to!

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    • Kayko, the comment I made was to Swipey8. If you made an error I wasn’t aware of it. I thought it was her misquote.

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      • Danny, hilarious, I did, in fact, misquote the Big Book, but I don’t think any of this disrupts the core message of the post. This post has become the comedy of errors and misquotes. Hopefully it will ultimately serve to bring a couple of bloggers together.
        PS–I’m a Berlin, CT native (outside Hartford). Spent a lot of time partying in the Bronx, Queens, Brookly
        nn, Midtown, the Cape, and the Vineyard in the late 70’s and 80’s. Your stomping grounds, I believe. Still make several trips to Manhattan each year, for work, and CT, to visit my 88 -year-old, “I went to al-anon once” mother. Cheers./

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      • No. I enjoyed your post very much.

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      • I also partied hardy in the Hartford area in the late 70s. Hung out with crews from Central Conn. and became a regular at establishments in the New Brittan and surrounding, even down to Waterbury and Naugatuck! Rosie’s, Hard Rock in East Hartford (my fave) and a bunch o others I can’t even recall the names. I staggered through these places and probably could never remember where the exact names or locations. I don’t know how old you are and or in what ‘era’ your substance liberties took place, but perhaps we ran into each other. Haha.

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      • 54, born in December 59. I used to hang out at a place called Angelo’s in New Britain in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Lots of Kaykos in New Britain. My parents hometown. Hartford and New Haven were big for live music but no way I can remember the names of most of those places. Funny, your picture looked very familiar, then I realized you look a lot like a guy I know here in Des Moines, Iowa who is from Jersey. Small, small world, this world of recovery. Take care.

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  5. Kayko thanks for the response! Let me apologize for the “grown up mind” part of my comment. My little voice inside was screaming at me when I posted that but I didn’t have a replacement word for it handy in my psyche sorry. I guess what I should have said is and open-mind or something like that. Anyway “empiricism” -(knowledge only comes by or primarily comes by sensory experience.) seems you have your own deft reliance on empiricism by stating all you have is your own experience (there’s that all word again usually a recipe for error). There are mountains of truth at our fingertips about an array of topics, knowledge, studies, research etc. that we have not experienced personally yet are proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be truth. Now the fact that problems, and grave problems occur/happen to people due to outside sources is absolutely un-disputable. That would make these grave problems not of my hypothetical persons “own making”.

    It’s ok to be wrong, lord knows I am at times as are ALL humans. Kayko you are an awesome writer. You have inspired me! I agree with most everything I have read by you. We as writers fearlessly and sometimes courageously offering our truths, our minds, our personalities, beliefs etc to the public to be scrutinized, loved, and corrected. I find that making mistakes aids me in returning to a humble platform of consciousness. So keep up the good work! Thank you for your giving attitude. Swipey8

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  6. PS Is it OK if I put a link up to your website on my website for my readers to click on?

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  7. Of course it is. And for the record, my apologies if I sounded “preachy” or “pedantic” in my response. My partner and best friend in sobriety read your comment this morning and said, “Maybe she just thinks you sound ‘preachy.’ I did.” So, there you have it; we are all quickly humbled by the ones we love, right? And, of course, I’m sure you’ve seen that I was humbled this morning not only by my partner, but also by frunoblax57 who (Thank GOD!) caught my misquote of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Not an easy thing for a managing editor to swallow.

    And thanks for coming back. AS writers we all have to work on our second skin, I suppose. And as alcoholics, we really have to work on open-mindedness. I know I’m more open-minded than I was 15 years ago, but I’m still a grumpy, stubborn SOB at heart.

    I still feel the post holds up from my perspective in sobriety. Possibly the “our problems were of our own making” citation could be omitted, but the spiritual axiom “that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us” is one I have to live by. I can categorically say that my sobriety, and my life, depends on it. To cut my self slack on that axiom, to indulge in any kind of righteous indignation that might prompt a resentment and awaken my alcoholic rage–hopefully in remission–can only disturb me and result in bad actions. And, I have to admit, it has, more often than i like to admit. Again, thankfully, I have ways to PAUSE, talk to a sponsor, work the the 10th step, and as quickly as possible, remedy any ill will. Maybe that’s food for another post. Thanks again, Kayko

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