Authority vs Responsibility

Many who come to work with us discover that a significant problem is with unbalanced relationships, whether spousal, familial, professional, or personal. This commonly involves a controlling spouse, parent, or friend and virtually always includes passivity and passive-aggressive drinking (“try and control this you #@##!). Additionally, alcohol provides us with a “protective bubble” we can escape into and block out the demands, criticisms, and/or abuse that are heaped upon us.

So what is the solution other than escaping physically if you’re going to give up you alcoholic shelter?

This is the point where we usually point out that the productive alternative to passivity is assertiveness, not passive-aggression or aggression, the latter being another common alcohol fueled response to feeling put-upon and powerless. Note the word “powerless,” which is one of the ways in which AA makes victims situations worse – you aren’t powerless. Not over alcohol nor over the conditions you are self-medicating rather than resolving.

So, frequently with Dr. Barnes’ guidance, you begin to become a bit more assertive in any of your relationships. What does that look like?

The short test that you are inching along in the right direction is to note where the “authority vs responsibility balance” is.


Here’s a common example. The wife complains that her husband never does his share of the kitchen duties. He responds and says, fine. Since you prefer to cook, I’ll do the clean-up. So, she cooks, he starts to clean up and she says, “STOP! You’re doing it wrong!” (Especially with regard to loading the dishwasher.)

Frustrated, the husband gives up this no win situation after a few tries and she goes back to complaining.

Solution: she or he who has the responsibility, whether for cooking or clean up, has the authority to decide how it will be done. My purview and responsibility.

That’s right – if you offload the responsibility, you also give up the authority.
Granted that this is a modest example but a common one which generalizes to bigger ones. Don’t want Mom and Dad interfering with your life choices? Quit taking money from them.

The list is endless, takes practice, is scary at first, and isn’t limited to the Queen, Harry and Megan – though they do provide an excellent public example of the concept taken to its illogically extreme ends. They want the money without the strings; the fame without the press; the deference without the duties. Good luck with that.

The Two Varieties of Self-Destructive

Some of us more than others, have self-destructive streak which we then blame our drinking on and decide we must root out if we’re ever going to regain control. As stated above, good luck with that.

As is frequently the case, the confusion comes from thinking in all or nothing terms.

Some of us are born with a high-risk taking streak which can lead to self-destructive behaviors which may include excessive alcohol consumption. But it can also lead us in other, more productive directions which the more timid among us would eschew without a second thought.

But the choice is not between risk and retreat.

The choice is between which branch of the self-destructive highway to take.

Branch A: Life denying self-destructive, which includes drugs, alcohol, and evading choices, change and autonomy.

Branch B: Life enhancing self-destructive, which might include sky diving, motorcycles, spelunking, moving to another culture, and any number of other activities, relationships, or life style choices.

While my choices would not be yours, and mine no longer exist in any case, you might be amused to read about my choice to move to a small inland Eskimo village in western Alaska in 1969. That choice involved building a cabin and learning to live without radio, TV, phones, roads, electricity, plumbing, and most of the other “comforts” of mid-20th Century America.

Links to “VISTA Alaska, The Little Russian Mission Letters 1969-1970” are available, along with links to other Alaskan writing, at Feel free to vicariously enjoy one self-destructive man’s choice to enhance life, not diminish it (though the chances of diminishing my life-expectancy were also enhanced).