photo by redjar
Anyone who is involved in getting sober in AA, and by getting sober I mean is working the steps with a sponsor and is involved in service, is familiar with our Responsibility Declaration. “I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.” This was first introduced at the 1965 International Convention. Bill W. did not write this but he did discuss it in an Grapevine article written at about the same time. The responsibility statement now shows up in every issue of the Grapevine. My purpose here today is not to get into what this concise and elegant statement means for the sober drunk. Its clear call to action, and its ability to bring together a good bit of stuff involving how we should be taking care of our business of staying sober. Instead I want to point out some things I should not worry about. Because they are none of my business and out of my control. To turn the aforementioned phrase on its head “I am Not responsible” for these things.
The ultimate outcome of any attempt I make to help someone.
I strongly believe it is important for me to try and help others. This means, for and to me, that I take actions and have a mindset geared towards getting out of myself. There are a lot of ways I can do this but I must say I was confused for a long time about one important aspect of trying to help others. I have no say over the outcome of my actions. I really need to understand that statement.
I can have some form of what you might call expectations, provided these are useful and fit with wanting to help. For example:
- I want to be loving because I think love has the power to change people and situations in positive ways. I can act like love has the power to create change, kind of in the same way I have faith in a higher power. This to me is a form of an expectation but it is a generalization, not a fixed thing that works when and how I want.
- Prayers can include hopeful “wishes” for how I want things to turn out. I can pray that someone feels safe, experiences joy, is prosperous, etc.
- I can take actions that I want to have a positive outcome. If I spend time with a person and try and help them, it may make a difference and help them to not drink. Then again it may not.
The distinction about my responsibility is that while I can work for what I think are good things, their coming to pass are simply out of my control. Love can change things but it may not, my prayers are good but I can only put them out there and making a difference in someone’s life includes their being receptive to change. And I am not responsible for seeing that my “will” in these matters comes to pass. I can only dance my dance and whatever arises from this is largely out of my grasp.
I just heard this put in another way today.
We can’t count on happy endings.
Anyone’s Actions but My Own
This is a tough one for many people. It is especially problematic in the realm of our personal relationships, particularly with non AA folks. My non alcoholic wife, a child of ours, our parents, a boss or coworker, etc. A lot of my daily problems arise from me being judgemental about how other people act. How they treat me, how they treat others, what they say or don’t say and more such things along those lines. One of my character defects is my judgement of others. My internal dialogue includes a lot of attention to this:
- Why don’t they stop doing that to so and so
- If they weren’t such a jerk they would not do that
- How can he treat her so badly
- She just doesn’t understand how much that hurts me
All of this is just self centered ego getting the best of me. And who am I to walk in my shoes and project my perspective on life onto another person? Why not instead see someone else as a person and realize they are perhaps fearful when they are not at their best. Or maybe they are struggling with themselves and others as badly as I am with myself.
In some ways the best attitude I can adopt is one of not caring, to a large degree, what others are doing (this is not always appropriate or useful). I am not responsible for them, their current situation or their actions. Again, I need to try to maintain putting my best foot forward to try to help but a lot of my mental energy in regard to others is largely wasteful and selfish.
Interestingly enough, the better I treat other people the better I get treated. The Prayer of Saint Francis, when put into action, has great potential for a lot of positive change. Acting the way the prayer directs is not a promise for improving any particular situation though. It helps but the outcomes and changes it produces, well, “I am not responsible” for what it gets to improve. If my mindset were less on judgment and more on Saint Francis’ prayer things would be better. I’m just not able to decide how they will be better when it comes to others.
Most Things That Happen in My Life
My wife cut her finger yesterday and she needed some stitches. It took over five hours to deal with this accident. I had a bunch of plans for my day and for the most part that was not what I spent my day doing. I was not responsible for her accident but I did have a choice as to what I could do. I choose to support and take care of my wife. I was not resentful, or put off, by this turn of events. My responsibility, as I saw it, was to help take care of her and I did that.
My character defects, had they reared up, would have been to act a little pissy about the time it took to deal with what came up. What an ego I have. My pride, part of the whole ego trip, even hates to admit that I could be this petty and self centered. Yet I was able to keep away from those feeling yesterday.
It was not my fault that I was not able to carry out my precious plans yesterday. The part I could control (take care of my wife) I did and the part I could not control (I am not responsible for deciding what I will or will not be presented with in any given moment) I had to accept and just deal with.
Clarity is the Key
Humility. Gaining some perspective as to my power, influence and place in the world is tough for this alcoholic. On my own I don’t have a chance to do well in this area. The steps have helped me to learn that I can gain in my understanding through enlarging my spiritual life, helping others and by being honest with other people. It is especially important that I talk with people I trust concerning my ideas, reactions and emotions to those around me. Through this I have learned to waste less energy on things that are none of my business. How I tried to help others twenty years ago is different than was ten years ago, which in turn is different than how I do things today.
I have seen some amazingly positive changes materialize for myself and people around me. In some cases, I have even played a role in bringing this about. I have also seen a lot of less than great results, or at least that was my reaction to what I saw, heard or experienced.
I have no idea about how I have played a part in other situations that are removed from my previous involvement. Maybe I should tell the story sometime about the man under the bed. It explains how I need to try to help others and that you largely never know what you might do to help someone else.
I can try to help others, I can try to improve my own conditions and actions, I can work to enlarge my own spiritual life – those are the kinds of things I am responsible for. All the rest is not up to me and is largely none of my business.
Wishing you all the best in sobriety,