It is quite easy to overestimate the amount of control we have in our own lives (and, in many cases, in the lives of others). As addicts and alcoholics, we like to believe that we are in a position of high authority, conducting our lives as we see fit. The notion of predestination and the will of a higher power eludes us completely as we selfishly attempt to orchestrate those around us. Many of us convince ourselves that we are, in fact, in charge – especially when it comes to our drinking and drug use. We sincerely believe that we are running the show, and that we will be readily able to set down the drink as soon as we deem doing so necessary. We believe that we are using recreationally, the same as our peers. We shield our deep-seated delusions in well-worn catch phrases such as, “I can stop when I want to, I just don’t want to.” And, “Why would I stop, I’m still having fun.”
Hitting Rock Bottom and Shattering Delusion
This is why hitting a brutal rock bottom is often so crucial to making a beginning in recovery. Once an alcoholic hits a hard enough bottom, his or her delusions will be swiftly shattered, leaving a brief window of opportunity through which the harsh light of reality shines. And hopefully, this blaring and undeniable truth will illuminate the gravity and urgency of the issue at hand. Once we are faced with the indisputable proof that everything has fallen to pieces, we are significantly more likely to admit our powerlessness over our drink or drug of choice. Of course, bottoms vary greatly. Some alcoholics may come to terms with powerlessness after being reprimanded at work, while others may desperately cling to denial as they sit naked in a jail cell, thinking to themselves, “Well, I should probably lay off the tequila – vodka and beer from here on out.” Regardless of how high or low a bottom may be, the experience will bring about the humility and the smashing of self-deception that is absolutely vital to finally making a positive change.
Powerlessness VS. Self-Will
From a young age, we are instilled with the notion that we can and should solve all of our own problems. We are taught that we can achieve our goals with a lot of hard work and determination, and that we can overcome any potential hurdle that may lay in our path – so long as we sincerely try. The truth is, however, that not everything in our lives is a matter of will power – and we cannot solve every problem by simply exerting an increased amount of effort. Self-sufficiency fails us. We clearly need help. What stands in the way of our asking for it?
There are many stigmas surrounding alcoholism and drug addiction, many directly involving questions of morality and self-will. Those who are either misinformed on the subject or lack adequate education regarding the disease model of addiction may assume that those who claim they are ‘addicted’ to a chemical substance are merely looking for an excuse to behave badly. Powerlessness? Please. He can control his actions. He is simply looking for something to blame for his DUIs and reckless promiscuity. Take responsibility! Grow up!
When Addiction is Concerned, Do We Have a Choice?
And of course, we must take responsibility for our own actions. But when we are in the grasp of substance dependency, things are not quite as simple as owning up and making the necessary changes. When we are active in our addictions, we are suffering at the hands of a chronic, relapsing brain disease. We have become physically and psychologically dependent on a chemical substance, and we quickly find we cannot stop using despite steadily accumulating personal consequences. In order to truly recover, we must undergo intensive therapeutic treatment, coming to terms with underlying, contributing factors and thoroughly healing on a spiritual, emotional, and mental basis. And – we must understand our powerlessness. It is often said that Step One is the only step we must do perfectly on a daily basis – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
What Is Powerlessness?
Before we are introduced to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, we are powerless of alcohol in two separate senses. We are powerless over taking the first drink, and we are powerless over what happens once the first drink has been ingested. As soon as the thought of drinking enters our head, all bets are off. We are drowning in an uncontrollable mental obsession, and there is no lifeguard on duty. And as soon as that first drink enters our system, no matter what we convince ourselves of, we have no idea how much we’ll proceed to drink or where we’ll wake up in the morning.
Here’s the good news:
Once we work the 12 steps, undergo intensive therapeutic healing, and truly begin to recover, we do regain some of that elusive power. We regain the power over whether or not we take the first drink. We regain the choice. But we do remain powerless over how much we consume once the barrier has been broken. We will forever be powerless over alcohol in that sense. Once we admit powerlessness and unmanageability, we can begin rebuilding our lives and recovering from the devastation and destruction of addiction. With the right tools, support, and professional help, we will finally be able to sweep aside the debris and reveal the new and beautiful landscape underneath. Of course, doing so will take a great amount of patience, work, and faith. Admitting and accepting powerlessness is only the first step in addiction recovery – but it is one that will open the door to innumerable possibilities, and the brilliant empowerment that comes with crossing the threshold.