Are We Really Powerless Over Our Addictions?

If you have been struggling with the concept of powerlessness, you are definitely not alone!! Practically no one wants to admit lack of power or control over anything in life, and especially not over drinking. I mean aren’t we the ones making all the decisions and in charge over our lives?
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I completely understand! The word itself has a bad connotation, and it may be quite revolting to many that there is a possibility of being powerless over anything, but hear me out.

If you have ever honestly wanted to quit drinking, and you found that you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, or what happens to you when you drink, you may be powerless over your addiction.

This is what happened to me over and over again: I tried to quit a billion times. When I could not fight the cravings anymore, I found excuses as to why I should drink or can drink, and I would drink again. Then as soon as I picked up, I could not predict what trouble I would get into, or when I would stop, or if I would end up passed out for days, or in jail, or some unfamiliar place. Worst of all this did not depend on anything that was happening in my life; things could have been good or bad, it made no difference in my inability to manage my drinking.

Of course, don’t get me wrong – my life did not fall apart every single instance that I drank! There were times that I seemed quite in control; I had just a few drinks like I told myself to do, or I managed to quit for a week just to see if I could, and I even managed to stay sober through almost my entire pregnancy! But there were many more times when I made decisions about how I was going to drink, and what actually happened after I drank was not even close to what I had planned to do! (You can read about My Journey to Recovery and the 3-day blackout HERE).

I like to think of powerlessness as an equation, because I like to be logical.

Powerless = mental obsession + phenomena of craving + spiritual malady

Mental obsession: Before I even put any alcohol into my body, my mind turns against me. It creates all sorts of fantasies and lies. I tell myself this time will be definitely different, or I fantasize about how much fun I will have this time, even though my history suggests otherwise. My obsession wears a lot of different masks too – it can be this nagging feeling of I want a drink, I want a drink, I want a drink, or it can feel like nervousness, boredom, arrogance, self-pity, or even anger. Most importantly this all happens before I pick up a drink and it is all in my head.

imagePhenomena of craving: After I put alcohol into my body something happens to me physically which makes me drink too much no matter what is happening, or what I have promised myself – I don’t seem to have a stop or that’s enough switch. I also once again engage the cycle of cravings. In a nutshell, I crave a drink, then I cannot stop once I start. This part is purely physical. I must take a drink to trigger this reaction.

Spiritual Malady: This is what triggers my mental obsession. It is that hole in my soul I cannot seem to fill. The void, the missing piece, that thing that makes me feel so very inadequate. I try to fill it with all sort of things: food, over working-out, sex, relationships, success, money, high drama, being perfect, unique, etc. All failed attempts cause more pain and anguish, and I turn back to drinking.

It’s a constant cycle!

But powerless does not mean that I am weak. It means that I give up the fighting, and trying to figure out how to drink “responsibly.” Instead, I come to an acceptance that I in fact, and without any reservations, I have absolutely no control over my drinking. This acceptance is crucial – I was totally unable to get rid of my alcohol obsession until I first accepted that I was powerless over it and then let it go!

You can ask practically anyone in long-term recovery, How did you finally quit drinking? and the answer is usually is that they quit fighting, gave up the struggle and moved on to a resolution which was sobriety.

Then and only then, I was able to move forward to a solution and finally get and stay sober.

We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality – safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.
-AA, Big Book, oh 85.

*** Next week join me in a post about Spiritual Malady and the concept of a Higher Power.


If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please click the Find Support link for an extensive list of support groups. Also please check out the links to many useful resources in the sidebar, and always feel free to contact me anytime at sobercourage@gmail.com.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. SoberCyclist says:

    I struggled with the phrase “powerless over alcohol” for a long, long time. I finally surrendered and accepted the fact that I was powerless over alcohol after I recognized my understanding of the phrase was a bit skewed. There were times when I could “control” it (briefly) but there were far more times when I couldn’t. I often thought that because I could have a few drinks at dinner with my wife (who would order cranberry and club soda) I was in control. Now, I recognize that I wasn’t in control then either — I needed to order a drink when she wasn’t drinking which meant I wasn’t really in control, even if I stopped after one or two.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. riding on empty says:

    Great post. I really like and identify with the “powerless equation.” It makes a lot of sense. As a high achieving control freak, my powerlessness over drinking has been baffling and frustrating. Your equation puts it into the most understandable terms I’ve read, in all the books and blog posts and, well, anywhere. If I understand correctly, if you can figure out and solve the “spiritual malady” part, that’s the key step (treating the disease, not the symptoms.) Thanks for putting it in terms that resonate.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Bren Murphy says:

    Hi, I like how you recognize sobriety came when you “quit fighting, gave up the struggle” – it was the same with me. I carried a reckless resistance that simmered underneath everything I did and usually this meant I was too easily caught up in the excitement and passion of drinking to the point of being completely, blacked out on someone’s (anyones?) couch, drunk.
    Becoming sober, I actually felt the release of “giving up the struggle” as a physical experience – I cried and cried and cried and finally knew I was forgiven and that I was good enough and that nothing I had ever done was really that bad that I should beat myself up about for a lifetime.
    It was a spiritual awakening.
    thanks, bren

    Liked by 1 person

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