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Making Excuses.

16 June 2017

Being an alcoholic means being a practiced hand at making excuses. Both for myself, and to myself. There are all kinds of reasons I can’t do this, or didn’t do that. Why I failed or haven’t finished. I can come up with millions of them in an instant. And I used to believe them. Feeling stymied by life is a pretty universal condition, alcoholics have no exclusive claim to it. But we are usually really good at it; at declaring that we are unable to succeed because of forces allayed against us we cannot compete with.

There’s only one problem. It’s mostly bullshit.

In order to recover, we have to quit seeing these supposed nefarious forces – usually family, legal, cultural, educational, or bureaucratic – as impossible obstacles and start seeing them as the general condition of life that everyone has to deal with. When we drink, people stop helping us. People stop trusting us. We drop out of school. We don’t pay our bills. We get in trouble with the law.

Recovery means stopping fighting those systems and starting to engage with them. Clear our names. Regain our trustworthiness. Recover our credit. Pay what we owe. And stopping the excuses. We need to own what we did wrong. We need to own what we do going forward. We own our mistakes and our deficiencies and we need to correct them ourselves.

I wonder how useful this advice is outside the program. I see so many people who look at the world and say, “See, all the forces aligned against me, no wonder I can’t succeed.” And then they don’t even try. So much self-defeatism prior to even really engaging with an attempt. Or abandoning efforts after early setbacks.

But it’s also true that different people face different challenges and there really are forces aligned against some people more than others. Privilege is real. But it is not at all insurmountable. A glance at the rooms of AA will prove that. Healthy, happy, sober people from all walks of life who’ve achieved personal contentment and professional stability. People with far less privilege than I have.

In AA, we achieve that by taking on the responsibility for ourselves, and looking at those cultural forces which may thwart us as things we cannot change, but things we can confront. Personally, of course, I have little in the way of privilege deficits. But I am co-traveler of the road of recovery with many who do, and who succeed despite them.

Much too is about how we define “success”. Is that achieving a high-status job in an important field at a fine institution? Is that becoming a wealthy entrepreneur with our own business? Is that being out of debt and having a roof and three daily meals? Is that having children with college funds? Is that finishing a degree? There are many ways, and how we define it will influence how we pursue it.

But we have to pursue it. Step by step by step. Recovery – and this is among its greatest gifts – teaches us to be relentless.

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