Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat? The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.” Genesis 3:11-13
In a recent homily, our parish priest reflected on the blame aspect of this passage, and how the devil uses blame to separate families. I had never thought about it, but it makes sense: Blame is a natural consequence that flows from original sin. Even before punishment entered the world, we were making excuses for our actions and claiming others were at fault: “She gave it to me.” “He tricked me into it.”
It’s interesting that the snake is the only character that doesn’t cast blame on anyone else. He doesn’t have to say a thing. He’s letting us do his dirty work, compounding our sins through blame. Doing the sin separates us from God, then the blame separates us from each other. The perfect demonic two-for-one deal!
It seems to me that with problem drinkers, the devil takes this strategy and doubles down. Blame is what lets the alcoholic get past the disconnect between his bad behavior and his image of himself as a good person. He may lie, get into fights, forget entire evenings, neglect his responsibilities, and so on, but none of that is his fault. He had to because of what someone else did. He’s a victim, to the point of absurdity, like when my alcoholic husband blamed me because he knocked over my drink. For an alcoholic, if he can blame someone else, then he’s not responsible. If he’s not responsible, then he doesn’t have to change.
Just like in the post-fruit Garden of Eden, this blame is contagious, even to those who don’t drink. There was a time in my life when I blamed everything on my husband. I yelled because he yelled first. I skipped Mass because my husband didn’t want to go. I was late for work because my husband doesn’t help with the kids in the morning. Once, as I raced off to a party I had forgotten, I grumbled to myself that it was his fault I forgot. Like an alcoholic, I didn’t see the absurdity of my blame.
A couple of years ago on retreat, I finally had the chance to make a thorough examination of conscience. You know, more than my usual 5-minute reflection while waiting in the confession line. As I contemplated my life, I realized something: I focused on my husband’s behavior, blaming him for anything and everything bad in my life, so I didn’t have to consider my own faults and bad behavior. As long as I fixated on his behavior, I never had to think about what to change in myself.
After that, I started thinking more about what I needed to change in myself and less about what my husband needed to change in himself. As I did this, I saw more clearly what I was and was not responsible for. I stopped blaming my husband for the things for which he was not directly responsible. The amazing thing is, when I did that, the blame he directed at me didn’t upset me as much anymore. I now know clearly what is my fault and what is not. I don’t take it seriously when he says otherwise.
In my marriage, the devil’s blame strategy is no longer working on me. He’s not tricking this woman anymore!
Copyright 2018 Monica Portogallo