In his book, House, the sociologist/author, Tracy Kidder follows a team of carpenters as they build and create a new house from scratch. An anecdote in the book describes what the carpenters do when they make a mistake, specifically, they sign their name on the wood or structure that shows the mistake, they correct it, and then move forward with building the house. This anecdote is noteworthy because it runs counter to the general tendency that people have to cover up and deny their mistakes. It also reflects an easy mechanism that individuals and groups can use to address and remedy mistakes without excessive recriminations. Yet most people will default to their natural instinct and attempt to deny the mistakes they have made. In addiction recovery and in all aspects of life, owning up to the mistakes that you have made is a critical step in moving forward and in achieving a healthy lifestyle.
Owning up to Your Mistakes
In addiction recovery, owning up to and admitting your mistakes is important enough to have its own step in traditional 12-step programs. Step 5 of the 12-step system counsels recovering alcoholics and addicts to admit their mistakes in a group setting that provides support and encouragement for the recovery process. Denial of a problem is one of the most destructive symptoms of the diseases of alcoholism and addiction. If a recovering alcoholic is encouraged to get past that denial symptom and to admit the mistakes that he has made which fostered the addiction, he will have taken a significant step in his recovery.
This step necessarily requires an alcoholic to overcome not just any denial of his symptoms, but also his sense of self-preservation. All men are hard-wired to protect their own egos and their sense of themselves. Owning up to mistakes threatens that sense and creates a disconnect between an individual’s concept of himself and the reality that the individual is imperfect and is capable of making mistakes. When self-protection takes precedence, men will justify their actions and adjust their memories of how events transpired in order to shift the blame for the mistake away from themselves. In the context of alcoholism and drug addiction, this self-preservation takes the form of blaming external influences that the addict or alcoholic cannot control. He tells himself that because those influences are beyond his control, he has no chance of overcoming his problems. If, instead, that person could accept his own responsibility for his addiction, he has a greater chance of a successful recovery. Admitting mistakes in this context is tantamount to his taking full charge of that recovery.
Honesty in Recovery
Recovering addicts and alcoholics can feel uncomfortable with the concept of owning up to mistakes in a group setting. Recovery groups are not set up to judge a person, but are instead important for supporting that person’s efforts. Individuals who were raised in environments that adhered to traditions of confession are particularly reluctant to admitting their mistakes in group settings. Their memories of the condemnation they may have heard from priests or religious leaders in response to their confessions will carry over into their adult lives. Counselors and therapists can help these people to overcome their fears and to open up about their mistakes within the group. Much like the carpenters who sign and admit their mistakes, these people will find that their support group will accept them regardless of the type or magnitude of their mistakes.
If you are confused or reluctant about owning up to your mistakes that might have led you down a path of alcohol or drug abuse, understand that you are not alone. The Last Resort Recovery Center (near Austin, Texas) can help you to accept and get past your mistakes in order to help you recover from your afflictions. Please call us at 512-360-3600 for more information about how owning up to your mistakes can help you, and about how our recovery programs can give you the ideal forum to take that ownership.