Making Choices and Accountability in Recovery

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There are many aspects that can be helpful in moving us from addictive thinking and behavior to recovery. In this article, I would like to focus on two aspects that have become important in my recovery journey as well as in those of a number of people I know. They are: making choices and being accountable.

Making choices

As I look back upon my addictive acting, I was most often triggered, and I would react to this trigger, with some kind of “acting out.” Sound familiar? Addiction is often a reaction to some kind of trigger or feelings of powerlessness that we are trying to medicate. I have come to see an alternative to this kind of reaction. This involves slowing down the process and becoming more conscious about making a choice in regard to this trigger. What might I do differently? Making choices also taps into some of the healthy hormones in our brains – like dopamine and serotonin. It is healthy to make choices and not just go with the flow.

Making choices and being accountable are two ways I have found to strengthen my recovery as well as draw upon the experiences of others.This parallels Step 3 of the 12 Steps: Make a choice to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God or a Higher Power of our understanding. I choose to add Higher Power to this Step because I have come to know many who have found a Higher Power other than God. This has been an important aspect of their recovery. I have enlarged the wording of this Step to hopefully include more people as well as different ways to be in recovery and work the Steps. This Step, then, emphasizes making a choice that involves a surrendering to a God or a Higher Power.

One of the things that I have found helpful in making choices when we are triggered and prone to addictive behaving is having in our hands – as it were – a “To Do” list of choices that give us alternatives when we are triggered. It is helpful to carry that list with us so that we can consult it and use it when we are triggered. Some suggestions for this list include calling a sponsor, taking a walk, and taking a couple of deep breaths. Having a list of alternatives in advance  can be a real help in making choices when we feel out of control.

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Being accountable, in a way, flows from making choices. Often addiction flourishes in isolation and in the world of secrets. No one quite knows what we are up to. Being accountable to another or others is one way to break out of isolation and secrecy. Basically, it is telling someone what we are doing, or trying to do, and letting them know how we are doing — both the ups and the downs. This puts the person in a community situation. Permit me to quote what I have found to be an interesting passage from the Bible, an important book in my Christian tradition. In the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 18, verse 20) Jesus says: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” What strikes me about this quote is that Jesus takes a very minimalistic stance of when he will be present. If there are two present (one more than) – not one thousand people – a Higher Power is present. I use this quote to help me understand accountability. Accountability to one person is sufficient to be in the presence of a Higher Power. We need others to walk with us with whom we can be vulnerable and honest about what is going on in our lives — both the struggles as well as the breakthroughs.


Making choices and being accountable are two ways I have found to strengthen my recovery as well as draw upon the experiences of others. As John Donne (1572-1631), an English poet, said, “No [one] is an island.” These ways present concrete ways of doing our recovery. Both enable us to come out  of the shadows of our addiction and move into the light of making good decisions and choices as well as being connected to others.

Mark T. Scannell is a veteran 12 Stepper who believes that communities or Villages are essential in helping people recover from our addictions. His most recent book – The Village It Takes: The Power To Affirm – explores this theme.

Last Updated on November 23, 2021

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