The Power Of Powerless In Recovery

** A lil disclaimer for this blog. I want to stress that yes, I am a recovery coach and yes, AA worked for me and no, my coaching isn’t the same thing as having a sponsor and no, I don’t preach AA to my clients. 🙂

Powerless. That one word has sparked debates and criticism and scorn, in the recovery community, since Step 1 was written in Alcoholics Anonymous. While I have no doubt that Bill Wilson knew the word powerless would be a tough pill to swallow (pun intended).

Our ego drives us to say ‘I’m not powerless!’ We hear statements like:

  • ‘If I focus on chemical dependence, I will never deal with the real reasons I’m drinking too much.’
  • ‘Powerlessness is a myth and alcoholism has nothing to do with alcohol. I need to become more connected to myself.’
  • ‘It’s psychological – not physical.’

While there is truth in the above objections for admitting that one is powerless over alcohol, it took me a few years to get to the point where I was able to dive into understanding that my drinking was an external manifestation of something deeper. When I first got sober, I wasn’t clear-headed or mentally/physically/emotionally/spiritually stable enough to dive into the social and psychological factors that contributed to my alcoholism. I could only focus on not picking up. That being said – back to the word powerless and why it may not mean what you think it means. I believe the word powerless was chosen because of the punch the word packs. It hits hard. It has to.

For those that become defensive and extremely bent by the word powerless, there are even more who are alive because they admitted they were powerless. I am one of those people.

Now by this point, you probably think that I’m a Big Book Thumper, but nothing could be further from the truth. I know what worked for me. I know what’s worked for others. I also know that AA isn’t the only recovery modality that exists or the only way to get and stay sober.  While some recovery modalities are rooted in the foundation of self-help and self-empowerment, those didn’t work for me. I couldn’t self-help or empower myself out of a paper bag let alone try to navigate recovery. However, I was a master at being a hot mess. The only thing willpower did, when I tried to stop drinking, was land my ass right into a relapse.

Don’t get it twisted, admitting I was powerless over alcohol did not mean that I was a powerless person. It meant that I was powerless ‘over’ alcohol. The ‘over’ tends to either be omitted or overlooked a lot.  Simply put, I couldn’t control my drinking. My life was a shit show and while I thought I had power over my life, I didn’t. The most powerful thing in my life was the bottle. When I hit rock bottom, I pushed the self-help books to the side, I surrendered. I admitted I was powerless over alcohol. I kicked my ego out the driver’s seat of my life and opened up space for something new. Without the surrender, there wouldn’t have been space in my mind, heart or soul to be willing. Willing to be uncomfortable. Willing to listen to someone other than myself. Willing to do the one thing my ego didn’t want me to do – stop drinking.

While I didn’t know this at the time, there was an unknown power in admitting I was powerless. It seems paradoxical but I couldn’t get sober unless I stopped overestimating the power I had over my life. I didn’t know how to have power over my life in a way that was logical, healthy and fulfilling.  My ego was the all-powerful Oz, leading me down the yellow brick road to hell.  That’s where my power had taken me.

That brings me to my final point, the powerlessness paradox.

It has taken me over ten years for me to articulate the primary truth surrounding the paradox of powerlessness. The most powerful thing I’ve ever done was admitted that I was powerless ‘over’ alcohol. Only by admitting I was powerless over alcohol was I able to embrace a new way of being and a new way of living. The result? Achieving more sustainable power than I thought imaginable. The difference between my power now vs my power then is that back then, my power was driven by my ego and self-preservation.  Now, my power drives me to be a better person, which has me living a life that I never thought was possible.  That’s the paradox and that’s the truth that so many refuse to validate because their ego leaves them stuck on the word powerless and fuels them to bash something they either didn’t take the time to explore or bitterly protest it didn’t work for them.

Without my recovery and the fellowship of AA, I wouldn’t have had that realization. I wouldn’t have been able to explore the deeper issues of my alcoholism because I would have been stuck grasping at concepts that I could never embrace due to the fact that I was frozen in ‘I want to stop drinking’. Now is AA for everyone? Of course not. And that’s okay! I don’t believe that there is only one way to get sober. That said, I will never understand how peers that claim the same acceptance repeatedly bash any methodology that they either don’t understand or don’t support. But for those that find it necessary to bash AA, please stop. It may not have worked for you or you may not agree with what AA is fundamentally but it could be the one thing that helps another alcoholic like me. Recovery is life or death for many of us. Stop hating on that which you don’t understand. This isn’t a competition. You can justify your methodology without condemning mine. Stay in your lane and I’ll stay in mine. 

If you are exploring ways to help you get sober, I applaud you. Here’s a bit of advice. Don’t listen to the rhetoric. Don’t take my word for it and don’t take their word for it. Keep an open mind until you find what works for you. 

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