Excuse I Can't Do Anything About
"We're alcoholics, that's what we do."
I hear this statement, in a variety of ways and for all kinds of reasons, as an excuse to okay what was or wasn't done or said. It's a scapegoat.
I was talking on the phone the other day to my close friend, HW, and we began discussing reliability and keeping our word. I was frustrated because I had made arrangements with several people in recovery, on several occasions, and they all failed to show -- every time.
"We're alcoholics, that's what we do," I acknowledged as the words dryly wisped from my mouth.
... but then ...
In an instant, I turned on my own statement in frustration. "I am so sick and tired of hearing people in recovery use that as an excuse," whether for themselves or for someone else; to somehow make it seem okay that they didn't do what they agreed on or follow through!
I get that we've all got lives. I get that things happen, altering our intentions. I get that we're busy, and that we forget -- hell, everyone does that, alcoholic or not. And I understand that newcomers aren't always sure how to say "no," so they will agree to almost anything, and then simply not show. That makes complete sense; they're possibly afraid or unsure of being around people; they've said "yes" to so many offers that they simply can't fulfill all of them; or they get burned out but don't want to "look bad," so they hide away instead, hoping it will pass. I understand that, truly I do. For newcomers.
But at what point does this excuse become inexcusable? When does a "newcomer" stop being a newcomer and void the common excuse? At what point do we accept responsibility for our words and actions, and own up to our commitments? When does my "yes" actually mean yes?
I've been in recovery for just over two years and seven months. I haven't used this excuse for myself or others for well over two years, because I can't; it will rot at me and make me crumble. When I tell someone I will do something, I have two options nowadays: 1) do it, or 2) tell them I can't/won't. Not showing up is not an option -- it can't be -- not if I'm to be of service to my fellows (meaning anyone, not just alcoholics/addicts).
While I can't say exactly when or where this acceptable/unacceptable boundary lies for each individual situation or person, what I can assure is that it is okay to back out of a prior commitment when necessary. It is okay to realize there's too much to handle. It is okay to say "no," but for crying out loud -- SAY IT.
If something comes up and I can't make it, I let them know, "I've had a death in the family" or "I'm out of gas" or simply, "I just can't get to it." If I've committed to too much, I have to tell them with ample time, "Hey, I can't do this. I've taken on too much this time, and I'm going to have to back out, I'm sorry." If I simply don't want to do it (who cares why), then I simply say, "No, I can't (or I don't want to). But thank you for asking me!" On the occasion that there is no possible way to actually communicate before the commitment is to take place, I tell them as soon as I can afterwards, and then try next time to plan accordingly (where it is possible) and not make a habit of it. But I have to let them know, otherwise I've only proven I'm unreliable; and I've quite possibly left them in a lurch. It's not all about me, after all.
I've said it before, 12-step programs are what teach me to live LIFE -- currently more so AA than the others, but they've all had their part. It's through these programs and counseling that I've learned to balance and understand how I'm supposed to live, how to keep my word, and how to find pride in my "yes meaning yes," and my "no meaning no." It's taught me to be where I say I will be when I say I will be there, or to say "no" when I cannot (or do not want to) do it. It has taught me, in a simple way, another form of self-care.
Shortly after my rant to HW (who, by the way, quietly listened to me with understanding and patience), I took a deep breath. I suddenly came to a new conclusion: It's entirely out of my control. I have no power over making people keep their commitments, excuse or no excuse. I cannot do anything to make them show up where we'd previously agreed, no matter how inconvenient it may be for myself. All I can do is clean up my side of the street and do what I believe to be right. What will happen will happen; the job at hand will tend to itself when the time is right. Meanwhile, I'll make the best decisions I can regarding it, and move forward from there.
So be it. I will hold those accountable where it is appropriate, and do it with patience, kindness, compassion, love -- and no excuses of my own.
When I finally simmered down, I could practically feel the grin on HW's face grow. I felt bad knowing she'd just listened to me fly off the handle, so I apologized to her, but she knew what was rattling in my head, and in her smiling-silence, she echoed a loud truth:
"We're alcoholics, that's what we do."