Powerless over people, places and things; it’s a two-way street
In the program we put a lot of emphasis on our being powerless. For many of us this was a big change. We had spent a good part of our time attempting to control others. If only they would do it our way, then our lives would improve; or so we thought. In sobriety, we began to understand that the only person we had some degree of control over was ourselves. Acting maturely and responsibility gave us a better shot at our goals, but there were no guarantees on how others would respond. Once we accepted this, we were ready for a second aspect of being powerless. Just as we were powerless over others, they were powerless over us as well. This fact was a revelation for us. We had often tailored our behavior to the needs and wants of others. While doing so we picked up a lot of resentments along the way. We began to realize that fulfilling the requests of others was a choice, not a foregone conclusion. We always had the option of saying no. Perhaps this was initially difficult for we feared the withdrawal of love from others. Ultimately we came to see that people had power over us only when we gave it to them. Being powerless went both ways.
Personal Reflection: Have I accepted that being powerless is a 2 way street?
Obsessive thinking can be the bane of the recovering alcoholic or addict. Without our drug of choice our minds can run rampant with fear and worry. At times, we are almost immobilized by our thoughts. Usually these thoughts are tied into future events.
Part of sobriety is understanding that that future outcome is ultimately not in our hands. Of course we still need to take actions to best ensure that the desired future outcome has the best opportunity for taking place. The challenge is that when we are in anxiety, we can almost become immobilized. The key is find the inner strength to take an action towards our goal. Sometimes we are so overcome with fear that we can’t even get out of our beds. Then the action in that moment is to force ourselves to throw off the covers and get dressed. What we discover at that point is that once we begin to take action, our system gets jump started and further movement towards our goal takes place. Pushing through the initial resistance is the hardest part of the process. Once we do so, our anxiety decreases as we put in energy to reach our goal. On the deepest level we are still powerless over outcome. We are not powerless over resistance to action and the elimination of anxiety.
Personal Reflection: How do I push through resistance?
Many people in the program were extremely successful in their given careers. Among us you will find lawyers, doctors, CEO’s, architects and other professionals. We were highly regarded by our colleagues in our respective fields. A good part of our success was due to discipline and hard work. That was why it baffled us when it came to our drug of choice. How could we be so successful in our professional life; and yet when it came to a drug, alcohol or food we constantly relapsed. We had so much self directed will in one area of our life and yet in another we did not.
Many of us entered the program because of this very paradox. Early on we learned that our experience was actually quite average among addicts and alcoholics. When it came to our drug of choice, we needed to accept that willpower alone would not help us break our endless cycle of use and remorse. We accepted that we were indeed powerless over alcohol, drugs or food. We needed to turn to a “power greater than ourselves” for assistance. For some, that power was their home group or sponsor. For many, we had a true spiritual awakening and recognized the role of a Higher Power in removing our obsession to use.
Personal Reflection: Do I need to let go of my will in some area of my life?
Sometimes a question can be answered on different levels. Take for instance the question, “where do you spend most of your time?” The simple interpretation of this question is that it is referring to place. Thus a person might answer, “the office”, “on the road”, “at school” or “at home.” This question can also be answered as it applies to time. In that case, we can either be in the past, the present or the future.
In the program, we strive to spend most of our time in the present. Yes, it is pleasant sometimes to wax nostalgic about the past or dream about the future. These both have their place in how we spend our time. However, when we get lost in obsessing about the past or ruminating about the future, we are essentially wasting our time. We can not undo what occurred in the past, and we are essentially wasting our time when we attempt to do so. The same holds true for the future. We really have no control as to how the future will turn out. If you think differently talk to people who bet on horse races. The only thing which we can hope to influence is the present. That’s where we need to concentrate our efforts.
Personal Reflection: Where do I spend most of my time?
How does a person come to the point where they identify themselves as an alcoholic or an addict? Of course each person is different but there are some commonalities. Many people say that when they first started using, it was fun. Somewhere along the way it stopped being a fun experience and became a routine way to bury their pain and fear. For others, there was that moment when the person realized that try as they might, they could no longer control their drinking or substance abuse. When they attempted to put down their drug of choice they were unable to do so. No matter how they tried to sweep that fact away, the fact remained that they could not stopped using.
Admitting to being an alcoholic or addict was a huge first step. The fact that we even entertained the possibility of this being the case was in itself a clue that we needed to enter the program. Although most of us were in deep denial about our situation; somewhere deep inside of us was a voice that knew the truth. That part of us was nourished in the program and developed our capacity to become more honest in other areas of our life.
Personal Refection: What other issues do you “think” you have a problem with?
One of the hardest lessons we needed to learn in the program was powerlessness. We used to think that we had the power to control other people. If they only did it our way; then everything would be fine. “If only my wife would stop nagging me about my drinking, then our relationship would be so much better”. Or, “if only my boss saw how good a worker I was, then I would finally get that raise”. Or, if only my children took my advice about career choice, then they would be successful”. Usually an old timer brought us back to reality by asking, “so how’s that working out for you”? When asked that question we began to realize that we really were powerless over people, places and things. Our powerlessness extended far beyond controlling our drug of choice. It extended to our spouses, children, employers, parents, friends, and institutions. That realization was indeed humbling.
Along the way, we discovered something else. Yes, we were powerless over others, but they were powerless over us as well. Ultimately, no one could make us do something, or feel something unless we allowed them to do so. For a long time we played the role of victim in life. We came to see that this was also a choice. Others could not exercise power over us unless we granted them the right to do so.
Personal Reflection: Is powerlessness a one or two street for me?
Walk into any bookstore these days and you will often find an entire section devoted to 12 step programs. There are literally hundreds of books, guides and workbooks for people in recovery. All of these can be helpful; but we like to say that it’s a “simple program for complicated people”. Recovery can be boiled down to 3 components. The first is “clean house”. This goes far beyond putting down our drug of choice. It involves taking “a fearless moral inventory”. This means we honestly and diligently admit to our defects of character and how they manifested in all of our relationships. Where necessary we also make amends to those we have harmed.
The second component in recovery is to “trust G-d”. Over time we came to realize our powerlessness over people, places and things. We filled that power vacuum with a G-d of our understanding, and turned to Him on a daily basis. We especially liked the flexibility of evolving our own concept of a Higher Power.
The final recovery component is to do service. We appreciated that recovery is a we program. Just working on our own personal transformation was not enough. We also had an obligation to help others to recover as well. Helping others helped us in ways we never expected.
Personal Reflection: Do I keep my program simple?
The concept of powerlessness is often a difficult one to accept. Most of us would like to believe that we are in charge of our own destinies. That we could start or stop any behavior we wanted to at any time. When we got honest with ourselves, we admitted that this was not case. At least, not for our drug of choice. Whether it was alcohol, drugs or food we could not stop using it in an addictive way. That’s when we finally said, “I’m powerless over substance X”.
As we began to examine our life, we found that we had been attempting to change other behaviors for a long time. Perhaps it was anger or resentment or jealousy that kept popping up in our life. Try as we might, our behavior did not change. That’s when we realized that we could turn our defects of character over to our Higher Power. It had worked for us around our drug of choice; for our obsession to use had lifted. We began to apply the same principle to other areas of our life. We stilled worked on ourselves. We just became open to the possibility of G-d entering the equation.
Personal Reflection: Am I the driver or the passenger?
The second step declares, “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. We had turned to this step when we discovered the truisms from the first step; that our lives had become unmanageable and that we were powerless. For many years we had attempted to make changes in our lives. Utilizing different strategies, we ended up with the same results. We ended up back in the same hole with the same problems. In the program we learned to surrender and to admit our powerlessness. Instead of depending on our failed strategies, we asked our Higher Power for assistance. Then something miraculous began to happen. The more we were able to let go of controlling situations, the more positive the outcome. The more willing we were to let G-d drive the car, the smoother the trip began to be. Of course, we needed to test the waters. When we attempted to take back control, our lives started to become more unmanageable once again. When we allowed our egos to reclaim control, we lost our contact with our Higher Power. It was then that we realized that ego was little more than easing G-d out.
Personal Reflection: Who’s in charge today; G-d or me?