A judge explained the following to a drug court participant who was about to get kicked out.  The addict was telling her why everything he had failed to do was someone else’s fault.  They gave bad directions.  They told him the wrong thing.  They didn’t call him back.  His sponsor isn’t helping.  The housing is not quiet.  The other guys in group are stupid. His family isn’t supportive enough.  His girlfriend is using again.  He could have gone on all day with his list of grievances.

This addict, like most, had a long list of what was wrong with everything and everyone – except himself.  He was so angry at all these people who had let him down!  Typical for the addict who wants to keep using.  I could see on the judges’ face her mixed feelings about whether to take the time to advise him once more, or just give up on him.  She decided to advise.

“Here’s the problem I hear with what you are saying.  If nothing is your fault, then nothing is your responsibility.  If nothing is your responsibility, then you can’t do anything about it.  If you can’t do anything about it, then you are helpless.  You’ve got no power.  And you can’t change anything.  Right?  But here’s the problem.  This is about YOUR LIFE!

“The guy you don’t like in group therapy isn’t going to prison for you.  The lab tech isn’t having consequences for your positive UA.  Your housemates aren’t going to get kicked out for things you do.  Your lawyer’s not going to lose her license because you get kicked out of drug court.  Sure, the crap you pull will affect your mom, your family, your friends, and yes, it might even dishearten some of us who are here to help you.  But it’s your life.  And you can’t change it if you don’t have any  control.  And you can’t have any control without responsibility.  And if you are responsible, then yes, some of this is your fault.

“A big part of addiction is learning to accept criticism without just turning it back and pointing the finger and telling someone else what they did wrong.  This show isn’t about what anybody else did wrong.  It’s about you avoiding prison by shouldering some responsibility, and getting clean and sober.  And to do that you have to get humble enough to learn.  You are not there yet.  I honestly don’t know if you will get there.

If and when you get real good at accepting other people’s criticism, and really hearing how what you did affected them, and really taking that in, something will change inside of you.  You’ll be able to drop your defenses.  And you can say, yeah, you’re right, I did that, and I’m gonna own it.  I did that, and I can see it.  And I am sorry.  And I want to change.  And I want to make amends.  And I want to get better.

And once you get there, you are going to start hearing a quiet inner voice that also criticizes you and calls you out when you are lying to yourself and pulls you out of denial and addiction and further pain to yourself and others.  And that is the voice of your conscience.  As you take your steps toward sobriety and mental health, you are going to hear that inner voice, watching you, guiding you, and yes, when you start taking positive steps, even encouraging you.

But it starts right now, if it starts at all.  It starts with you learning to accept criticism.  Learning to be humble.  Having acceptance, patience, and over time, feeling the peace that comes with it.  But as I sit up here watching all this, I can tell you from the heart:  None of this will happen on its own.  No matter how many chances you get.  None of this will happen, unless you are teachable and willing to change.  And that starts with accepting criticism, right here, and right now.  Can you do that?

And just to warn you, if you start your next sentence with ‘Yeah, but…’ this conversation is over.  Because this is a yes or no question.  Can you own it?  Yes or no.  No more excuses.  Yes or no.”