I asked how he was doing – though it was pretty obvious – and he told me that he'd relapsed five years earlier. He said that eventually he turned to crime to support his habit and finally ended up in prison for a few years. It was a long story and I didn't have time to listen to all of it. But I did offer to help him get into recovery and when he declined my help I gave him $20 and moved on.
But one consistent theme that ran through his story is that everything that happened to him was someone else's fault. He started using because the doctor gave him opiates for a back injury. His wife kicked him out because he was using drugs. He went to prison because he had to steal to support his habit. Nowhere in his story did he accept responsibility for his behavior. Nothing was his fault.
And his story reminded me that the big divide between those of us in recovery and those who are not is that one word: responsibility. A responsible person would have told the doctor that he was an addict and couldn't use opiates. A responsible person, once he became addicted, would have gone to a detox. Then he wouldn't have had to steal to support a habit and he wouldn't have gone to prison.
This story reminded me that until I accepted responsibility for my behavior I always had a problem with drugs and alcohol. Only when I surrendered to the idea that I was an alcoholic and addict was I able to change. That's when I went into a detoxification unit.
Today I work in the field of recovery, something I've done for more than 26 years. And because of this long experience, I find it easy to recognize those who are going to make it.
As soon as an addict crosses into the land of responsibility and quits lying to themselves about how they got into trouble I know they have a chance of making it. And they use every resource at their disposal to become responsible. They get a sponsor. They go to meetings. They quit blaming their bad behavior on their parents or family members. They accept that their situation in life - whatever it is - is nobody's fault but their own.
For an addict to become responsible for their life right now, they must be willing to forget whatever terrible things happened to them in the past. Only then can they enjoy the freedom and beauty of recovery.