The Concept Of Powerlessness: Why Do People Struggle
For those who are new to recovery, wrestling with the concept of powerlessness can be troublesome and can drive them away from the help and support they need. For some addicts who struggle with this concept, they may associate powerlessness with being weak or helpless while others may feel it brings forth a victim mentality.
As human beings, it is within our nature to feel we have control over the people in our lives, as well as any situation or thing that crosses our path. The thought that a substance can have the power to completely take control of ones life to the point of dysfunction seems inconceivable. Addicts rationalize their behavior or engage in substantial denial that a problem even exists. Rationalization, denial, and other defense mechanisms provide a smokescreen to obscure the truth that is in plain view.
What Groups Use Powerlessness To Benefit Recovery
Many 12-Step programs are well-known groups that use the concept of powerlessness to benefit recovery. The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book says powerless over alcohol as its first principle. AA members believe they cannot control their drinking without the help of a higher power. This belief is what gives them hope and helps them stay sober.
The Narcotics Anonymous Big Book states that we were powerless over our drug problem as its first tenet. Like AA members, NA members believe they cannot control drugs without the help of a higher power.
Other 12-step programs include Al-Anon, Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and others. These groups use similar principles, but each has its own unique approach.
Signs That Your Life Has Become Unmanageable Due To Alcoholism And Addiction
Renascent Staff | January 17, 2017
Step One in the 12 step program of AA is actually a two-part step. The first part of Step 1 is an admission of powerlessness over the drug of choice. Though there is much debate about what constitutes powerlessness, one can say it simply means that the individual cannot control their intake of the drug or alcohol. They will, over time, always over-use and abuse the substance. Because many addicts and alcoholics have had the experience of not being able to stop drinking or using even when they desperately want to get clean, some find it very easy to admit to powerlessness over their addiction.
The second part of Step 1 can be trickier for many to see: Unmanageability. Because denial is one of the main characteristics of addiction, many arent even aware how unmanageable their life has become it just seems normal to juggle creditors, tell lies, hide the habit, engage in criminal behaviour, avoid family membersanyone can increase the list. Everyone likes to think that they have a handle on their own affairs and everyone has become accustomed to their own coping strategies, even those that cause a great deal of suffering. But in order to proceed with the rest of the 12 steps, an addict has to admit that their life has become unmanageable.
Here are some signs that your life has become unmanageable due to alcoholism and addiction.
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Clinical Supervisor Primary Therapist
Vanessa is certified in addictions counseling by Marylands Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists, with credentials as a clinical supervisor. She comes to The Freedom Center with over 14 years of direct experience in residential and outpatient treatment between the private and federal sectors.
In addition to helping those suffering from addiction, Vanessa has dedicated part of her career to helping the helper. In 2015, she began working in a Training and Career Development Center coordinating substance abuse trainings for other clinicians. Her experience in behavioral health training, program development, and organizational leadership lead her to pursue a certification as a Project Management Professional in 2018. Vanessa also holds a Bachelors of Arts in Behavioral and Social Sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Masters of Business Administration-Human Resource Management from Columbia Southern University.
Vanessa is a Montgomery County native who spends her free time traveling with her daughter and volunteering in the community.
Here’s What Author And Interventionist Jeff Jay Has To Say About Step One And Being Powerless:
“In AA and Al-Anon, the first half of the Step says: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.” It does not say we were powerless over our choices, over our life, or over our relationships with other people. It says we were powerless over alcohol, and that limiting phrase, that tight focus on the drug, is critical.
“In order to break our addiction, we have to admit that we can’t change what it does to us. It affects our brain, our body, and our spirit, and there’s no sense in denying it. We’re powerless over the effect the chemical or behavior has on us. We’re not going to get good at drinking or drugging, we’re not going to get more rational about it. We’re not going to get better at controlling. We’ve tried it a hundred times already.”
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There Is The Obsession That Somehow Someday They Will Beat The Game
Have you ever gone to the beach during a storm and tried to stop a wave from coming ashore? I doubt it! Why? Because were sane enough to know that we dont have the power to do it. No matter how hard we could try, we know we would never accomplish such a foolish idea. There is no way we could prevent the wave from rolling over us and onto the shore. Some of those waves would probably knock us down, and some would cause us physical harm or even death as the storm got worse. Yet how many of us just tried to stop or control our drinking. Isnt that just as insane if we understood powerless?
When we make a choice not to pick up the first one, we are assuming at the moment that we have the power to do that. How many times have we done this, and how did that work out? Isnt that a contradiction to being powerless and having no choice! Why would we choose to do something or try to prevent something from happening if we understood we were powerless? We wouldnt!
The First Step Toward Addiction Recovery
The first step of a 12-step program is to admit that you are powerless over your addiction, and consequently, your life has become unmanageable. For many, this is one of the hardest things to do. While it is important to believe in your ability to overcome your addiction, you first must admit that you have an addiction and you need help in order for things to change. Until you do so, drugs and/or alcohol will continue to exert their power over you and control every aspect of your life. The power of admitting powerlessness is that it is the first step to taking back your life.
It is not difficult to overestimate the amount of control we have over our lives, particularly when addiction is involved. When most people begin abusing drugs or alcohol, they truly believe they can limit their use. They are convinced they are recreational users who take drugs and alcohol because that is what they want, not what they need. This is why hitting rock bottom plays such a large role in addiction. As addiction begins to overtake your life, you lie to yourself about what is happening. Unfortunately, many cannot shatter that illusion until they hit rock bottom and are confronted with undeniable proof that everything is not okay. Only then do they feel that powerlessness that comes from addiction.
The First Step Toward A Solution
We live in a society that tells us we should be able to figure out our problems and overcome challenges on our own that if we cant, were weak. Being open to trying something new requires a great deal of courage because its an admission that you dont have all the answers.
Powerlessness is not meant to disempower. Although you may be powerless in the fact that you struggle with addiction and have no control over it, you are not powerless over the actions you can take because of that knowledge. By accepting the things you cannot change and understanding that its possible to change the things that are within your control, you open yourself up to options that can help you heal.
We Are Here For You
Letting go of the past, accepting your present and opening yourself up to a new way of living isnt an easy thing to do, especially in the beginning. The 12-step road to recovery can appear pretty intimidating to someone who is just starting out, but solutions exist. You just dont know them yet.
Powerlessness refers to a lack of control, and it helps you realize that there are things you can do to treat your addiction and create the life you want. Although you cant change your addiction, you can learn how to live a sober life in recovery.
What Does It Mean To Be Powerless
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of powerless is: devoid of strength or resources and lacking the authority or capacity to act. Similarly, if you look for the definition of powerlessness in the Oxford English Dictionary, it says: lack of ability, influence, or power.
They dont talk about how that connects to drug addiction, but one can instantly see the relationship without a proper definition.
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Taras John Robertson On Letting Go Completely
Living with a loved one who has a substance addiction can be devastating. Their addiction can turn our lives upside down and cause us immense suffering. We may despise them sometimes and pity them others. We may do everything we can to help them, only to be frustrated again and again by their continued substance use.
According to Taras John Robertson, friends and family members should try to focus on their own mental well-being instead of endlessly worrying and fighting with their addicted love one. The best thing you can do for your loved one thats chemically dependent is take care of yourself and set boundaries, he says.
A big part of this is letting go of responsibility for your loved ones addiction and admitting powerlessness. Friends and family often hold onto the belief that they can control a persons substance use, and this illusion must be broken in order for them to begin healing.
John explains how he helps people start the process of recovering from their loved ones addiction:
Ill bring family members to tears when they come through the doors at Tara. Ill look at them and say, Its not your fault. And theyll just start crying, because they think it is. They think, What have I done wrong as a mother or a father, or what have I done wrong as a spouse? Do they drink because of me?And thats just not the case. They drink because theyre alcoholic.
Is How Youre Living Really Working For You
I didnt know how to answer that question But what did pop into my head was how I was skipping classes because I didnt sleep all weekend, I showed up to work drunk and late reeking of booze and laughing about it, I kept getting tickets because I illegally parked everywhere and I couldnt remember to renew my registration and car insurance, and maybe I showed up to the places I was supposed to be, but I sure as hell wasnt present, I was thinking about where the next party would be or who I could hit up for my next drink. I had no friends because I used people to get what I wanted, until I didnt need them anymore, and my relationship with my parents was distant because I knew they wouldnt approve of my excessive partying.
So, I asked myself: How was that working for you?
I was miserable on the inside, hoping that I didnt have to wake up to see another day of the same routine, the same loneliness, and the same antsy insecurity of just existing in my own skin. Sure, I would rather be alone than with a bunch of people but more often than not I questioned my sanity.
Does this make me powerless over alcohol and drugs? Rather, am I devoid of strength when it comes to drinking and drugs?
Well, my next move is determined by my next drink, I dont enjoy life unless Im drinking, and the only friends in my life are the people who can provide me with my next drink.
Am I lacking the authority or capacity to act when it comes to drinking and drugs?
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Recovery Steps : Powerlessness And Unmanageability
For individuals who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, there are countless resources and methods available to address this miserable and dangerous illness. While many addicts and alcoholics sadly choose not to get help, and reap the tragic consequences of their disease, many individuals reach a point at which they are willing and ready to change and accept help. For these people, there are numerous treatment centers, therapists, doctors, and psychiatrists.
In addition to these often necessary resources, there are also fellowships that offer recovery steps that can help addicts and alcoholics break free from their addiction. These organizations- most notably Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous- offer twelve recovery steps that can help desperate and hopeless individuals find a life free of substances and full of joy, purpose, and healing.
Alcohol Tobacco And Other Drugs
The misuse and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and prescription medications affect the health and well-being of millions of Americans. SAMHSAs 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that approximately 19.3 million people aged 18 or older had a substance use disorder in the past year.
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Whats The Difference Between Powerlessness And Unmanageability
These two words have an essential significance in the world of Alcoholics Anonymous. In their writings, they say: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable. Thats the premise for the first step of the program. But, while they sound similar on the surface, these concepts are very different.
Admitting powerlessness means we cant control our substance abuse. We might be able to stave off our abuse from time to time, but we start drinking or using drugs again sooner than later. As the definition says, we lack the authority or capacity to stop.
On the other hand, unmanageability tends to arise from our powerless behavior. Lets break down the word. The Merrian-Webster Dictionary defines the word managed as: to achieve ones purpose and to work upon or try to alter for a purpose.
Unmanageability means you dont have the self-will or the tools to take control of the triggers around you. Thus, life eventually becomes unmanageable. At this point, it is time for intervention and professional help if you want to regain control of your life.
The Difference Between Powerlessness And Unmanageability
Addiction treatment centers often talk about powerless as a way to describe the feeling of being unable to control ones life. This is different from the inability to manage ones life, which is what most people think of when they hear the word unmanageable. In fact, many people who struggle with addiction feel like they have little power over their disease but still want to change.
When you admit that you are powerless to addiction, you are empowered to reach out for support. By admitting that your life has become unmanageable, you open yourself up to letting go of control and gain acceptance of yourself.
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One: What Powerlessness Means To Me
We admitted we were powerless over our addiction that our lives had become unmanageable.
For those of us who used the 12 Steps on our quest to recovery step one can be a lot to take in. For me personally, this first step was a tough one. Step one encompasses the total and utter powerlessness found in the depths of the disease of addiction. As crazy as it sounds, I was completely powerless over my addiction but I was also completely ignorant of how far down the scale I had fallen. I was living in a delusion in which I truly believed I could control my drinking and drugging. After all, I still had a job, a home, and money in my pocket between my next drunks, so I was able to convince myself that everything was fine.
For me, I initially got sober and began comparing my addiction to the addictions of those around me. For example, I am not like them because I was never homeless and I never sold my body for drugs. My mind was subject to the very warnings that many of the sober women told me about always relate, never compare. Being the stubborn person that I am, I didnt listen. The word powerless was thrown around so often in meetings, I found myself uneasy every time I heard their nonchalant proverbial quotes regarding the subject matter. Little did I know that my comparisons would hinder me from fully grasping step one: powerlessness.
Many Pursue It Into The Gates Of Insanity Or Death
Feeling powerless makes us believe that there is nothing we can do. This is a half-truth. We dont have the power over the obsession to drink, nor do we have the power to control how much we drink once we start. What we can do is turn to a Power greater than ourselves for help. We let this Power do what we are unable to do for ourselves.
We sometimes feel as if we are the victim and point fingers at other people or situations. This kind of thinking prevents us from looking at our powerlessness. Accepting our powerlessness opens us up to the willingness for a Higher Powers help. We then offer the problem over to a Higher Power. We let this Power remove the problem by practicing the rest of the steps as a way of life. Until we can accept powerlessness, we will not fully seek Power. Accepting our powerlessness is the bottom that an alcoholic and addict must hit.
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