Freedom and Powerlessness

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“In the late stages of our drinking, the will to resist has fled. Yet when we admit complete defeat and when we become truly ready to try AA principles, our obsession leaves us and we enter a new dimension – freedom under God as we understand him.”

  • As Bill Sees It, page 283

All we must do, in order to gain true, lasting, and authentic freedom, is admit defeat and become willing to live an entirely new way of life. Living a new way of life seems like a tall order, and of course it does. We are stubborn alcoholics, stuck in our ways and fiercely disinclined to admitting or accepting that ‘our ways’ are quite literally killing us. Putting down the drink or the drug means looking reality square in the face, and confronting all of the destruction and devastation we have caused in the lives of those closest to us. A painful process, undeniably. But the longer we desperately attempt to evade the inevitable, the longer we will remain prisoners of our own twisted thoughts and insane behaviors.

Admitting Powerlessness

For some of us, admitting powerless is not an easy thing to do. We like to believe that we are in control. When we are in control, nothing can hurt us – no one can hurt us. We call the shots and make the decisions. Of course, control is only an illusion. In reality, we only have control over our own reactions – and this is only the case when we have a sober mind; capable of remaining calm, cool, collected, and pausing before retorting. We have no control over our feelings, our thoughts, or anything outside of ourselves. We may spend months planning out the perfect vacation – pouring time and attention into each minute detail until we have truly designed the ultimate getaway. The day before we are set to board the plane, we may be hit by a car while crossing the street, sustaining an injury that prevents us from travelling. Our home may be hit by a tornado; our dog may fall ill and require our constant attention. We never know. And how could we, possibly. We can plan all we want to, but we cannot predict. Life is strange and unstable, and no matter how hard we try to gain control, we will remain powerless over the vast majority of people, places, and things.

Powerless Over Our Emotions

So why is powerlessness such a big deal when it pertains to drugs and alcohol? When it comes to sexual compulsion, to gambling, to strained interpersonal relationships? A lot of it has to do with fear. If we admit that we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable as a direct result of excessive drinking, someone is probably going to expect us to stop drinking. If we admit we have a problem with something, we will be expected to take the necessary steps towards remedying that problem. And how terrifying is that? What if we aren’t ready to stop? What if we want to keep on drinking until we are dead, in jail, or institutionalized? To the average alcoholic, these likely seem to be the only viable options. To the enslaved man, to the man who has not tasted freedom, oppression is safe and comfortable – captivity is the only fathomable way of life.

The idea of temporary emotional discomfort deters the average alcoholic from even attempting to make a change. Emotional discomfort is a terrifying prospect. Actually feeling things? No thank you. I would rather die alone on the bathroom floor than take an honest look at myself. Have a nice day.

Fear truly is an evil and corroding thread, and the quality of our lives is certainly compromised by our innate inability to admit defeat, even when defeat is literally staring us straight in the eyes and screaming, “Give it up! Give it up!” Once we commit to walking through our fears, however, we will begin slowly opening the door for an entirely new life – one free from the devastating grips of addiction. In order to obtain freedom, we must admit powerlessness. We must surrender. This may seem counterintuitive; admitting powerlessness may seem like forfeiting. But in reality, the contrary is true. When we surrender and accept the fact that we cannot, when left to our own devices, control our detrimental and self-destructive compulsions, we finally become able to conquer what it is that has for so long been holding us back.