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From Addiction To Recovery Through The Power Of 'Response-Ability'

Steven Serba wrote to me with a great example of the messiness of being directionally correct and still achieving a great personal outcome. His is a story of overcoming addiction and homelessness through the power of personal response-ability.
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No one walks the path of self-improvement in a perfect way -- unless, of course, every path is perfect, even in its challenges, roadblocks, stumbles, etc. The principle lessons we all get to learn are ones of awareness, intention, accountability and "response-ability."

  • Awareness: what are you experiencing in your life -- good, bad or neutral?

  • Intention: what would you prefer that you can reasonably commit to working toward?
  • Accountability: are you willing to own the outcome you prefer?
  • Response-ability: what choices do you have right now that will get you moving forward?
  • (Here's a link to an archive of my articles, which will provide greater insight into these themes, all available for free.)

    The whole process of learning these lessons comes down to recognizing that if you want your life circumstances to improve, the first requirement is to choose to improve despite your situation. Hand in hand with the choice to improve is the realization and practical reality that while perfection is unlikely, even a small improvement is better than none at all. I like to call it a choice of being "directionally correct" over "perfectionally correct."

    Last week, Steven Serba wrote to me with a great example of the messiness of being directionally correct and still achieving a great personal outcome. His is a story of overcoming addiction and homelessness through the power of personal response-ability. Please take note when he points to a real key in his transformation: Steven eventually chose to move toward a future more than away from his past.

    Thank you for this article [Forget About Perfection... Just Improve What You Can]. This is something I realized several years ago when I was a homeless drug addict. During the beginning of that period, I spent much time blaming everyone -- society, and of course my perceived personal defectiveness as a human being. After a while I realized this kind of blaming would only keep me getting high, not taking responsibility for anything, and feeling justified in committing crimes.

    I have begun writing about my experiences on the streets and my process of being homeless or living in a dilapidated SRO Hotel in San Francisco. I almost died from this experience in 2004 from pneumonia. At that time I thought I wanted to die. I had nothing to live for except misery. However, I did not want my life to end in that lousy hotel. I thought that I had not really gotten a chance to live yet. How could I let it end in such a depressing way? So I didn't. It was very difficult to come back to that hotel after 6 weeks in the hospital and it took another couple years of drug use to finally stop. I believe that if I did not start taking responsibility early on, I would not be writing this email to you today!

    I thought when my life ends, I would still be a lonely a drug addict, and no one would miss me or care what became of me. I was not in touch with family and had lost good friends several years before. I was determined to make the best of a bad situation. If I wanted to continue using drugs, then I had to take responsibility for that choice. But in that choice I was limiting my life, and limiting the kinds of choices I could make.

    [I frequently had to choose] between two things that were both bad, [choosing] between the least harmful or miserable. Often these choices were about remaining in a housing situation that was unsafe. Basically I could have a roof over my head, but my life would be threatened in other ways. Better to have nowhere to stay than be afraid for my life.

    Eventually, a time came for me to quit using drugs when I started living in an apartment. I did not consciously make a decision to stop using drugs, but in taking care of the apartment, I started taking care of myself. With regular gym attendance and proper diet and rest the desire to use drugs disappeared. As more time passed and I became healthier, I joined a martial arts school and began learning taekwondo. After a year of training at the school, I was offered a part time job. I am now a Jr. Black belt, I am an assistant instructor, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    Now, I have found even more opportunities to take responsibility for myself. Before I got into trouble with drugs and being homeless, I rarely took responsibility for myself. I blamed my actions on being defective because of my upbringing. I blamed society, I blamed depression and anxiety, I blamed critical employers who "just didn't understand me."

    I'm sure it took having nowhere to live and a debauched life to learn how to become the grateful, mindful person I am today. What I think is interesting in my life's journey are the chances to continue to improve my well being, hence the well being of those around me by taking responsibility. I find that taking responsibility allows me the freedom from hurting myself emotionally. I no longer have to bog down my psyche with bad behaviors, self denigrating talk, and feeling badly. Also, being able to deal with things that come up in a timely fashion has increased my self worth, and I am quicker to address situations that arise with myself or others.

    Thank you again for your articles. It is reassuring that others also think about these things to improve ourselves, and the lives we live, hence being good role models for those around us.


    Steven Serba

    Thanks, Steven, for your willingness to share your powerful and personal story with our readers.

    What about you? I'd love to hear from you about the value you have been able to extract from these articles. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at

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    If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life, or how you can take a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, download a free chapter from Russell's new book, "Workarounds That Work."

    Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about his work by visiting his website at You can contact him by email at