The Blame Game
On the Q & A website Quora, there appears a post by someone who intentionally destroyed the exhaust hood above her kitchen stove. Over a period of years, she lost too many “bits of scalp” to it and finally had enough. Her resentments against this inanimate object became so great that she sincerely wanted to harm it. So, with a 16-pound sledge hammer, she beat it to a pulp. A picture of the crumpled gadget is proudly included with her post. According to her, it got what it deserved. The thought that it might simply have been adjusted, moved, or avoided, apparently never occurred to her.
There’s something in human nature that makes us want to cast blame. Other examples might be someone who lashes out at a cell phone, computer, or car. More often than not, one finds reason to blame another person or group of people. These days the air seems filled with blame. Modern culture has taught us well how to hold others morally responsible for our own difficulties. While this may provide a cathartic release, the so-called “blame game” simply diverts our attention from personally making positive changes and improvements.
While we won’t definitively say that addicts are more quick to blame others than “normal” people, the before-and-after differences in us who have recovered seem striking. In our addictions, we were like:
the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine . . . complaining about the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the [twenty-first] century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave . . .
Big Book, at 61-62. We blamed the people and things around us, too. We saw our personal circumstances as reasons for using drugs and alcohol in the first place. Once we became hooked, they became easy scapegoats to blame for our continued poor behavior.
So long as we made excuses for our addictions, we freely ignored matters affecting our careers, home lives, and personal relationships – to say nothing about our substance abuse itself. When everybody and everything good in our lives was finally gone, and blame was about all that we had left, we used it to justify our continuing addictions. In short, the blame game forms a significant part of every alcoholic and addict’s thinking.
Now, through the lense of recovery, we easily see that substance abuse is always a maladaptive behavior. There’s never a good reason for it. Moreover, if we are to live well-adjusted, purposeful lives, our internal focus has to shift away from playing the blame game to taking personal responsibility. It’s no accident that the following prayer is recited in thousands of 12 Step meetings, every day, throughout the world:
God, grant me the serenity –
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
So, how do the 12 Steps help us accomplish this? Initially, every one of the Steps variously charges us with taking personal responsibility. There are two steps, moreover, that directly confront the tendency to play the blame game.
First, there is Step 4, which involves taking a “fearless and moral inventory.” This step actually contains several inventories that require an honest, open look at oneself. One is the Resentment Inventory, in which we must identify all of the persons against whom we hold grudges, i.e., we blame them for something.
This step isn’t a pity party or opportunity to air grievances. As it happens, our resentments are prime opportunities to discover our own character defects, which is what this step is all about. In this inventory, we go beyond our grievances and consider how our own conduct either caused or contributed to them. We identify where we are at fault, and we flatly take responsibility for it.
The Resentment Inventory, along with the Step’s other inventories, must be performed fearlessly, because of the depth of self-examination and vulnerability they entail. But, it’s really with resentments that we see how we’ve made selfish demands of others, or otherwise placed unrealistic expectations on them. The exercise leads us into an understanding of how healthy relationships with others work. It’s the antithesis of blame. Indeed, as the Big Book instructs:
We tried to disregard the other person entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.
Second, Step 9 gives us actual opportunity “to set these matters straight.” It involves making direct amends to people we have harmed, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. This step is huge because the blame game is expressly excluded:
It may be he has done us more harm than we have done him and, though we may have acquired a better attitude toward him, we are still not too keen about admitting our faults. Nevertheless, with a person we dislike, we take the bit in our teeth. . . .Under no condition do we criticize such a person or argue.
Big Book, at 77.
Amends are made in person or, where circumstances require, through some other form of communication. In all cases, they include admitting what we have done, an express acknowledgment that such conduct was wrongful, and a sincere apology – all without making excuses or blaming the other person. It can be a formidable step, depending on the amends we make, but its benefits far exceed any imagined risks. We can take this step because we’re developing a healthy sense of self and possess true compassion for our fellows. In short, we’re no longer immersed in the blame game.
Every effective recovery program will speak to the person’s relationships with others, and to their reactions to life’s circumstances. Effectively addressing the blame game is simply one of the places where the 12 Steps so obviously excel. Unlike so many sobriety programs today, that swap one drug for another, and whose steps immerse the client in checklists and accounting ledgers for alcohol and drug use, the 12 Step program is the gold standard for recovery for good reason. It’s the real-deal for those of us who want lasting change, where the obsession is gone, and we enjoy true freedom and live with serenity, hope and purpose.