One of the most critical, and perhaps controversial, steps in the 12-Steps for recovery as per Alcoholics Anonymous is admitting powerlessness. In fact, it may seem counter-intuitive: don’t people need willpower to defeat the struggle of addiction? The concept of powerlessness is frequently misunderstood. Rather than being a sign of weakness or defeat, it actually is a form of strength.
Read on to learn more about the concept of powerlessness, what it really means, and why it’s so critical in the recovery journey.
What Powerlessness Over Drugs and Alcohol Means
It is admittedly off-putting to think of yourself as “powerless.” Many people see asking for help to overcome a particular struggle as a sign of personal failure. This pervasive stigma is a big reason why seeking help for substance abuse, or even admitting you struggle with substance abuse, is so hard. It can be quite empowering to solve our own problems. However, some problems can escalate beyond our control. Addiction is one of them.
This step of accepting powerlessness from the 12-Step process of recovery essentially highlights the power of drugs and alcohol over our lives. Few people intend to destroy their lives and relationships by drinking or doing drugs, but that is what can happen with addiction. These substances literally rewire brain function, making the need to satisfy a craving take prominence over everything else in life–regardless of the consequences.
Acknowledging powerlessness over alcohol and drugs can be liberating for many people. It frees you up to focus your time and energy on things that are within your control. Perhaps you are familiar with the words of the Serenity Prayer, which is commonly recited at AA meetings. It includes the line, “Grant me the ability to accept what I cannot change; courage for the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Being powerless over addiction does not mean you are powerless in general. In our recovery programs for men in Colorado, we work on this step.
The accountability and encouragement in meetings and therapy break the power of secrecy where addiction thrives. It helps foster accountability and is a profound place of support. What happens in a group of people admitting powerlessness over addiction is a power in itself.
Admitting Powerlessness Is a Form of Strength
Addiction is not a character flaw, but a disease that alters brain chemicals. No one makes the conscious choice to lose control and wreck their lives. Many factors go into addiction development, from genetics to untreated mental health symptoms, for which some people turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of self-medicating.
Whatever the reason, admitting powerlessness is to say that practicing self-control does not undo the effects of drugs or alcohol on the brain. Accepting this reality is what will equip you to seek treatment rather than deny that there is a problem in the first place. That makes “admitting powerlessness” a form of strength.
Admitting Powerlessness Is a Paradox
The word “paradox” is defined as “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well-founded or true.” This is what “admitting powerlessness” sounds like at first. This step is not saying you are powerless over your actions, decisions, or relationships with others; only over your addiction to alcohol or drugs. The distinction is incredibly important. It is not an excuse to continue in a destructive cycle because there’s nothing you can do about it.
The impact of drugs and alcohol on your body over time renders your natural brain functions and mechanisms powerless. To acknowledge the way these substances have impacted your life is to admit that alcohol and drugs have made your life unmanageable and you can’t fix it on your own.
Addiction can be considered a health issue in need of treatment beyond your own sense of willpower. It is similar to the way that willpower alone is not enough to defeat cancer; you also need chemotherapy. People with substance use issues need things that are just as critical for survival: medical treatment and communal support. Once you accept that this condition is beyond your control, the more accepting you become of the world around you.
Admitting Powerlessness Encourages Acceptance
Admitting powerlessness means accepting what is true and what is not. It encourages acceptance of the circumstances rather than denying them. It is the first step toward freedom from addiction. Once you have this awareness, you cannot lose it. You cannot look back; you can only move forward.
For many addicted to alcohol and drugs, it’s difficult to admit the way addiction has made their lives unmanageable. They may deny the problem altogether, saying, “It’s only a few drinks,” or, “I don’t get high all the time,” or, “Things could be much worse.” Part of admitting powerlessness means acknowledging the reasons you struggle to admit the problem in the first place. The self-awareness that comes with realizing how bad things are and how damaging the substance abuse has been is how you can start to desire a better future for yourself.
Because the journey to sobriety is full of forward steps and backward ones, it may be necessary for some people to return to this step multiple times. There is no shame in that. The path to recovery is rarely a straight line, but a series of twists and turns. You may be powerless over the effects of substance abuse, but choosing to be better every day is where that power returns.
At Spero Recovery, we understand how hard it can be to admit that you are powerless over the effects of drugs and alcohol on your life. It’s not only damaging to your confidence, it can be humiliating. We all want to be considered strong and in charge of ourselves, so admitting powerlessness seems like a huge contradiction to that goal. Admitting powerlessness is what reveals your true strength, and our committed staff is ready to help you find it. We offer peer-led recovery programs that are rooted in the 12-Step program of recovery from Alcoholics Anonymous. We believe that these steps are the foundation for building a healthy, sober life, and we have seen the good fruit of these teachings in the lives of our patients. You can be one of them. To learn more about our vision and treatments, please contact us today.