I Am the Problem
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. James 4:1-2
When I was using my own license to divert opioid pain medications, it was inevitable that someone was going to find out. I knew that. Someone did eventually suspect something and alerted those with the authority to investigate it. I don’t know who that someone was and of course, now, I’m thankful for that individual. At the time though, that person was the enemy. They did this to me. Later, by the time my name was in the paper, I felt that same impulse start to grow. They’re doing this to me. By that time though, I was far enough along in recovery that I was able to see that nobody had done anything to me. I’d done it to myself. The disaster that followed my addiction was no one’s fault but my own.
For recovery to happen, it was necessary to accept this. I couldn’t change anyone else. As long as all of my problems were the fault of others, I was powerless to change anything. Accepting that I was at fault was, in a very real sense, liberating. I can only change me. Thankfully, my life problems are my own doing. I can do something about that.
Still, this is an ongoing struggle. When I get angry and act shamefully, it’s easy to blame those who made me angry. It’s your fault I’m cursing and throwing a fit. Daily, I must remind myself that no one can make me act badly. My behavior – and the consequences that stem from it – are my responsibility alone.
James pointed this out in today’s passage. In it, he rhetorically asked what causes our conflict. Answering his own question, he said that it is our own flawed nature that makes us miserable. We have self-destructive passions that cause self-inflicted destruction. Until we accept this and take responsibility, nothing will ever change.
It’s maddening to watch someone else do this. Working in addiction medicine, it’s a daily occurrence to see others blame everyone but themselves for their calamity. I didn’t deserve to lose my job. I don’t belong in jail. The judge is out to get me. None of this is my fault. There certainly is injustice in the world. If, however, my life pattern is one of blaming everyone else for my own mess, then I’m never going to stop the downward spiral. I’ll never begin to be able to fix anything until I accept this painful truth – I am the problem.