There is no better indication of strength, integrity and intelligence than a person who owns his mistakes and takes responsibility for corrective action. It’s why I prefer stand-up comedians to politicians. I’d take Stephen Colbert or Dennis Miller for president over any denying or deflecting boob who actually squirms his way into the job.
Honesty, humility and vulnerability are admirable traits. They are the reason we have thousands of listeners and readers (although this particular sentence isn’t very humble). Taking ownership is a sign of confidence. A mistake can’t take me down! We admit, we fix, we learn and we do better the next time. It’s a sign of maturity.
All of these lofty philosophical ramblings about ownership make my position regarding the culprit responsible for my alcoholism kind of surprising.
What causes alcoholism? I blame the alcohol!
Last week, Annie Grace, best selling author of This Naked Mind, released her interview of me on her This Naked Mind Podcast. It was a huge honor to be in a recorded conversation with a true titan in the recovery community, and I really hope you listen to our episode.
Annie asked me about my ownership of the label, Alcoholic. We discussed how stigmatized and repulsive the words alcoholic and alcoholism are in our society. Annie made the point that often people refuse to seek help for their problems with alcohol because they refuse to be associated with such despicable words. While I agree completely, I made the counterpoint that when we own the label, we take away it’s power over us and (hopefully) others. The only way to crush the stigma is to face it head on.
When I call myself an alcoholic, how are you going to hurt me? What, are you going to call me an alcoholic? Too late, I already owned that label.
Ownership. Owning the label. It’s something about which I have a lot of passion. So why do I blame alcoholism on the alcohol? Why don’t I own the blame for my disease of addiction? Am I preparing for a career in politics?
Here are two undisputable facts:
- Alcohol is one of the world’s most addictive substances with currently over 15 million American victims and with responsibility for over three million annual deaths worldwide.
- Alcohol is glorified and revered for celebration, mourning, stress relief, socializing, lubricating, dating, partying, anesthetizing, relaxing and coping. Alcohol is omnipresent in our society.
If I take the blame for falling victim to alcoholism, I’d have to blame myself for the obesity rates that resulted from the low-fat (and thus, high-sugar and chemical) diets of the 80s and 90s, and the spike in lung cancer rates that resulted from the popularity of smoking in the 60s. I wasn’t alive in the 60s, and I wasn’t a food scientist in the 80s.
And I didn’t make alcohol so wildly popular that 70% of American adults consume it regularly…and ignore the potential consequences.
Alcoholism is the most deadly preventable epidemic of our own human invention and proliferation of all time. It is far deadlier that COVID. It is far more pervasive and long-lasting than cigarette smoking.
Yeah, that’s not on me.
What about personal choice, you might ask? Good question. I grew up in a family and a neighborhood where all of the adult males (and most of the females) drank alcohol. In order to fit in when I was in high school, even on the periphery of the cool group where I occupied space, I had to drink alcohol. In college, I literally was not aware of a single human with whom I interacted who didn’t drink alcohol. When I got my first job after graduation, work happy hours and nightly cocktails were a rite-of-passage as expected as wearing a tie and learning to operate the copying machine. If there was a choice, I was unaware. And I wasn’t alone.
I own the consequences of my alcoholism. I own the recovery and repair of the relationship with my wife who was equally victimized by my addiction. I own the responsibility to break the cycle and teach my kids of the dangers of alcohol. I own that brief stint when I smoked cigarettes even though the cancer evidence was clear long before I took my first drag. I even own the fact that I’m wearing the same shirt in both the pictures of Annie and me associated with this post, even though the pictures were taken eight months apart. I also own the fact that I’m vain enough to notice and self-deprecating enough to point it out.
But I’ll never take ownership for the pervasiveness of alcoholism. And neither should you. Unless you’re sitting in a Big Beverage boardroom trying to figure out how to market bubblegum-flavored hard seltzer to teens. If you are, you might want to rethink some of your life choices if you believe in an afterlife (it sure takes extra words to tell someone to burn in hell so nicely).
Here’s the point: It takes tremendous effort and support to recover from the physical and psychological addiction to alcohol once it is ingrained into our routines and patterns, and has become as natural a part of our existence as breathing. The last thing we need is guilt and shame for contracting this societally induced disease – a guilt and shame that makes recovery that much harder.
Recovery warrior Laura McKowen says, “It’s not your fault. It is your responsibility.” She’s right. Unless you also think you caused the sinking of the Titanic, you probably aren’t to blame for consuming the addictive substance that’s been shoved in your face since before Spuds MacKenzie was in his first Bud Light commercial. Shed that blame. Reject that shame. Crush that stigma.
But the broken pieces aren’t going to pick themselves up. Blaming alcohol doesn’t erase the aftermath.
The question is not about who is to blame. The real question is, what are you going to do about it?
We can help you figure it out. If you are an alcoholic considering sobriety, check out our SHOUT Sobriety program.
And if you are the loved one of an alcoholic, who needs to heal and recover from the destruction of alcoholism in your life, join us in Echoes of Recovery.