Before I got sober, prior to my glory days with drugs and alcohol, and even earlier than my rebellious teen years- I was an escapist. A sugar fix, a good book, or the innocent obsession with a boy in the fourth grade set in motion an unnatural pattern of seeking altered states of living and feeling. From my first memories of chocolate chip cookies to signing my name with borrowed last names, I enjoyed existing in a fantasy world where I gorged on sweet nothings and borrowed elation. As my tolerance for things both sweet and rented grew, I found new ways to achieve intoxication. It’s no wonder that when I found myself in my adult years, I discovered I was incapable of living life on life’s terms. Experienced only in the art of avoiding reality, I didn’t know the first thing about showing up.
In recovery, we learn the importance of being present for the good and the bad. As we learn to stay still long enough to deal with our responsibilities, our messes, the uncomfortable moments, and the inherent boredom and pangs of maturity, we finally experience the payoffs of genuine, earned, un-borrowed, un-manipulated happiness. We find that we actually are capable and even good at doing this life thing… so good perhaps, that we may struggle to let go of our sense of obligation.
When I could finally trust myself to consistently show up to work, answer the phone, be there for a friend, or pay my rent on time, I began to sense that I was ready to take responsibility for other things like who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do with my time, and how I wanted to make a difference in this world. In order to have authority over these life questions, I had to let go of some other commitments. This is the tricky nature of responsibility as I’ve discovered it: it’s not just about doing what’s expected of us, but also discerning and managing how those things fit in our own lives. It’s not about doing the dishes, but about how one can best contribute. It could mean that you clean the house, or lend an ear, or work overtime, or quit your job. Responsibility is not always about clocking in, but also about clocking out.
Some of the most responsible decisions I’ve made have seemed careless or reckless to outsiders, the least of which was moving abroad. There is more to maturity than paying bills or getting the tires on your car rotated. Taking responsibility for self and one’s own needs and desires first, places one in a position to be of better service to everyone- perhaps not at first, but in the long run. If I make all of my decisions based on what I believe I’m supposed to do, I may never be happy. On the contrary however, sometimes the difficult decisions- the goodbyes, the terminations, the changing of directions- can be the most conscionable choices I make. Sometimes a door doesn’t always close on its own; sometimes you have to be the arbiter of change. Where my idea of responsibility used to be limited to walking through that door, today it is about choosing what door to open or close.