Finding Freedom in Taking Responsibility

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Baggage is hard, but taking responsibility can help you bear it.

This week I’ve struggled for something to write about. I’ve had so many doubts it’s been hard to pin a good topic down.

Last week I spoke about my reasons for striving to stay well, and in my post, I touched on the notion that responsibility has a large part to play in my recovery.

This week I want to expand on the idea of responsibility. I want to talk about:

• why it is such a big part in my recovery;
• why it’s not the same as taking the blame for the things that have happened to you;
• and why each person taking responsibility for their growth and betterment helps, ultimately, to break traumatic cycles.

Responsibility Is a Buzz-Word for Me

Responsibility is a big, scary word to many people. For them, it sounds like blame, or commitment, or fault.

That’s not what responsibility is to me. To me, it sounds like freedom.

I have no control over the past, and little over the future, but I can take control over the present. I can do that by taking responsibility.

I’m a massive believer in personal growth. Everyone can take steps to become a better person. Being “better” is subjective, and it’s up to you to decide what that “better” looks like to you.

I want to be remembered by my loved ones for being caring, wise and assertive. I want to be the person they think of when they need counsel or an ear to bend. I want to be a person they can rely on. I want to be their Gandalf, I suppose.

That is my core. That is my “better”.

How Responsibility Helps

I know, though, that the ugly side of my brain can derail that. People can’t rely on me in the present if I’m carrying all the baggage of my past.

That is where responsibility comes in. Being responsible for myself – and feeling it – allows me to make healthy choices to guard against the ugly side.

Self-love is hard to come by for me. I struggle daily with my faults, finding it hard to like myself, let alone look into a mirror and say “I love you,” or “you deserve better”. I can’t manage that… But I can manage “you are responsible for yourself”.

Why Responsibility Works

Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist who has given many lectures over the years (on this and other subjects), says it best. In his book “Twelve Rules for Life”, his 2nd rule is “Treat yourself as if you were someone you’re responsible for helping”. It’s a bit of a tongue twister, I’ll admit, but that rule spoke to me as no other did.

His basic argument is that self-love is hard, and self-loathing easy because we know our faults better than others do. We know each time we have a nasty thought, each time we could have done more but chose not to. So what’s the alternative when you find that you cannot love yourself?

Be responsible for yourself instead. It’s a subtle shift, but one that has worked wonders for me. My brain has decided I’m not allowed to love myself, but being responsible permits me to take care of myself anyway.

Even if I feel like I don’t deserve it, taking care of myself allows me to take care of others. It means I can carry my share of their burdens and get one step closer to being my “better” self.

Responsibility is not a chain; it is freedom.

Responsibility Is Not Blame

Too many people, myself included, take too much blame when they shouldn’t and too little responsibility when they should.

Measuring things in terms of blame will only ever lead to unhappiness.

Firstly, it can make you feel guilty for things that have happened to you but weren’t your fault, like abuse, or discrimination, or bullying.

You’ll take on those loathsome voices and internalise them. They will beat you for every mistake, no matter how small and you’ll become crushed by the weight of them.

Secondly, it can cause the opposite reaction – everything that befalls you is the fault of someone else, even when you know in your core that isn’t true. You’d have more money if only John hadn’t cheated you out of it… You’d be happier if only Sally hadn’t convinced you to take a job you now hate… Get the picture?

By blaming everyone else, you’ll escape any blame in your mind (at least for a while), but instead, you’ll become a victim to the whims of others, and you will never take the steps you could to be closer to your “better” self.

The truth that responsibility brings lies in between these two extremes in the blame-game.

You are not to blame for the things that have been done to you, but you have to take responsibility in how you move forward.

The Choice

I believe that recovery or at least the path to it can be a conscious choice. It’s not always clear-cut or simple, but you eventually have to choose whether or not to walk along the path to getting better.

My behaviour, when unwell, even though it came from my suffering, deeply hurt those I love. I wasn’t to blame for that, but I did have to take responsibility and choose to try and get well again.

During my 3rd major episode, I attempted suicide. I could see no way out, and I couldn’t bear to live with the voices and thoughts and pain and confusion. They were all-encompassing and constant.

I won’t go into the details, for obvious reasons, but I took an overdose and what happened next was one of the most painful and profound experiences I’ve ever had.

My husband found me (as he had twice before) laid in bed, out of it, slowly slipping away. I told him it was for the best; he’d be okay; it was better this way. He cried and said only five words.

“How could you do this?”

That sentence burned into my head, with all his confusion, fear, and pain wrapped up in those words. For the first time, he was truly angry. But more than that, he was deeply, utterly broken by what I’d done.

How Can Responsibility Fix It?

The guilt I feel about that won’t ever leave me. While I still struggle to feel like I deserve him, I know now that it wouldn’t have been better for my husband if I had died that day. He would always have felt that he’d failed.

As I lay in the hospital the next day, his words kept floating back to me. It hurt so much knowing that my suffering had seeped into his soul too. I began to see that if I couldn’t recover – if I didn’t do anything to get better – I’d lose him. Or break him. I didn’t want either.

When he suggested therapy to me – as loathe as I was to try again in baring my soul to a stranger – I agreed. I finally took responsibility for myself.

It gave me back my life.

Taking Responsibility Helps Us Break the Cycle

Taking the responsibility to move forward in my recovery reduces the harm my suffering can cause other people.

Instead of just reacting to every voice, mood, or thought, I can choose to work through them instead and try to understand the processes in my head, which undermine me.

It allows me to thrive instead of just surviving.

It was once said that insanity is doing the same thing time and again, whilst expecting different results. Being responsible for how I take care of myself has allowed me to break this cycle.

What would have happened if I hadn’t taken responsibility for my recovery?

Road to Ruin

As a cautionary tale, let me introduce my mother.

She was a fantastic singer, artist, actress, dressmaker, DIYer… you name it, she could do it…

She is also a recovering alcoholic who has many inner demons and has struggled throughout her life with her mental health.

Her alcoholism terrorised us growing up. There was always pain, confusion, and the fear of violence. Her bouts of depression made her a stranger to us kids.

It wasn’t until she stopped drinking that I realised the drink wasn’t the cause of her problems at all – it was instead a symptom of her self-loathing and inner turmoil.

Thirteen years later, she is still sober, but poor, unhappy, and lonely. And she still has not taken any responsibility for getting herself better.

Why Running From Responsibility Doesn’t Help

For my mum, it’s her against the world. She feels wronged by everyone she’s ever had contact with. She’s envious of those who have done well for themselves and refuses to work on herself and try to be a better person.

I don’t doubt she’s suffered terribly, but she has made others suffer too with her words and actions. The fact that she continues to do so angers me, but more than this it hurts me to my core. It is the principal reason we no longer speak.

Rather than trying to help herself, she has always chosen to take the path of least resistance and continue the cycle of pain and trauma. She will never be responsible for her demons, and so I have accepted she will never master them.

It’s hard not to sound bitter when writing these words, but I don’t mean to be. I love my mum still, and I wish she could have put her talents to better use. She could have been anything she wanted.

When the Going Gets Tough

Responsibility is not easy. It sometimes means doing things you don’t want to do or digging up pain you’d rather stayed buried.

But it is necessary to recovery. It allows you to find meaning, take the steps towards getting better, and break the cycle of trauma.

At 25 years old, I’m finally learning to bear my responsibilities. This morning I couldn’t think of what to write, then I didn’t want to write anything, then I struggled through writing this piece, then I felt crappy and wondered whether the blog was worth doing at all. I very nearly didn’t post today.

But this blog is my responsibility, so I pulled my finger out and finished it. I don’t feel elated, but I feel a damn sight better than I would have if I had posted nothing today.

All because I took some responsibility.

Thanks for reading.

Until the next post!

Bronwyn @ LBT x

Do you have any tips for maintaining recovery? How have you taken responsibility for your recovery and how did it help you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or contact us!