One of the most common and most tragic features of addiction is self-deception. It is the opposite of self-awareness.
Paul writes in Romans 2 about the way the consciences of the Gentiles both “accuse” and “excuse” themselves. This is what we all do. Addicts, however, notoriously distort both the accusation or excusing of self. When we accuse ourselves, we typically do so with a vengeance. Going way beyond appropriate taking of responsibility for our actions, we heap huge doses of condemnation, hatred, insults and all kinds of negative self-talk onto ourselves. This accusation kills self-esteem, and heaps on the shame and isolation.
Likewise, when we excuse ourselves, we typically do so to the extreme. Circumnavigating any healthy focus on ourselves, we obsessively focus on anything but us: the conditions, that situation, what they did or said (or didn’t say or do), etc. This excusing blocks us from seeing our part in our problems, and therefore keeps us from doing anything constructive about it. Like a pendulum, we swing from being ‘innocent’ to being a ‘monster’; and back and forth…
Paul’s argument in Romans begins with an extended (and deliberately exaggerated) critique of stereo-typically negative Gentile behaviour in chapter 1. In doing so, he gets the Jewish readers on his side, pumping their fists in self-justifying, self-righteous fervour. But then he pulls the rug out from under them as he turns the corner into chapter 2, boldly claiming that the Jew is just as bad as the Gentile. Paul’s goal is for the Jew (and Gentile) to have self-awareness. Nathan did a similar thing with David in 2 Samuel 12: he told him a story about a hypothetical person’s harmful behaviour, and then confronted him with the charge that he had done the same thing. Finally, Jesus talked famously about the need to focus first on the ‘log’ in our own eye, before we worry about the ‘speck’ in anyone else’s eye. Interestingly, and with stark imagery, he says that when we remove the ‘log’ in our own eye, we can “see clearly”, or in other words, be self-aware.
As the AA big book suggests, resentment is the “number one offender”. We get so busy feeling burned up at all the wrong things other people do, we fail to look at ourselves and “change the things I can”, as the Serenity Prayer reminds us. Until we surrender our pride and become willing to see our faults, defects and sins, we will not see them. We will continue to resist the advice and feedback from others, and continue to suppress the signs that bubble to the surface of our awareness.
Lest this post be overly filled with ‘we’ statements and devoid of ‘I’ language, let me close by affirming that I can only say the above because, like so many in recovery, I’ve had to face up to my own behaviour, and I’ve known first hand the humbling and liberating effect of working these spiritual and biblical principles.