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M(3), 1/19/15: The Paradox of Powerlessness


Thanks to the American holiday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my Monday meeting had a nice-sized turnout, and I was able to reconnect with some people I don’t normally get a chance to see. Great way to start the week!

As it is the third Monday in the month of January, today’s literature selection came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  We read the chapter that covers Step One:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable

Lots of great insight shared this morning, so I will keep my perspective brief:  I struggled mightily with the premise of this step.  At first, I scoffed at the idea that my life was unmanageable.  As a matter of fact I was managing just fine, thank you very much.  As my addiction progressed, I was forced to recognize that yes, if I continue along this path, the path where I insisted that I was okay to drink, and no one had the right to tell me otherwise, I could see the manageable parts of my life dwindling to zero.  With the clarity that only sobriety can bring, I can now see that even when I was insistent my life was manageable, it really was anything but:  the unhealthy fixation on when I could next drink, the guilt and the shame when I overindulged, the broken promises I made to myself, and the time and energy expended on the whole process.  What part of that seemed manageable to me, I don’t know!

But even while conceding the unmanageability component, I was still unconvinced on the powerlessness.  It made no sense to be powerless over something that had no power in and of itself.  It cannot force itself into my body, so don’t I ultimately have the power by choosing to ingest it?  When it was explained to me that I was powerless over the effect it had on me, that made a lot more sense.  There were occasions that I was able to “drink like a lady,” have one or two glasses of chardonnay and gracefully decline the third.  But for every one time I did that, there were many more times when I started drinking and I simply did not want to stop.  Or, worse yet, when I knew I should stop and did not do it.  So it was basically a crap shoot on how an evening would turn out if I were to drink.  Now, if that’s not powerlessness, I don’t know what is!

On to even better insights:

  • A newcomer to my meeting (but not to the Fellowship) said what stands out to her even more than “powerlessness” and “unmanageability” is the word admit.  For her, “admit” necessarily implies “the truth,” and it took her a very long time to actually admit that she had a problem… even to herself.  The denial was so deep and powerful, she used to hide alcohol in her own home, and she lived by herself!  For her it took some strong-arming to get her into the rooms of the 12-step fellowship, but once she did she was flabbergasted.  These people were telling her story!  It was not long after her first meeting before she could finally admit, “Yes, I am an alcoholic,” and that admission freed her in a way she never thought possible.
  • One of the regular attendees of the meeting said he too struggled initially with the concept of powerlessness.  “But I can control my drinking,” he argued with his sponsor, “Maybe not every time, but enough that I can’t admit to being powerless.”  His sponsor said the words that turned his thinking around nearly 30 years ago, “If you are working on controlling your drinking at all, you are already admitting you have a problem.  Moderate drinkers do not have to control their drinking.”  That was all it took for him to see the issue for what it was:  alcoholism.
  • Another friend shared how she resolved her issues with powerlessness.  As she pondered step one, she realized that with almost any doctrine, there is a paradoxical premise:  Buddhist’s teaching of self-effacement begetting enlightenment and Christianity’s Holy Trinity are just two examples that she cited this morning.  Powerlessness as a way of claiming power is the paradoxical premise of the 12-step doctrine.  Within this framework she was able to embrace it.  In so doing she is able to see that in accepting the “defeat” in not being able to drink she has been given the greatest peace she has ever experienced.
  • Finally, another eminently wise regular attendee talked about how she struggled with the idea of a Higher Power, and the only way she could get around it, in the initial stages of sobriety, was to use the collective wisdom of the people in the rooms of the Fellowship as her higher power.  As stubborn as she was, even she could see that this group had something she wanted and could not seem to get on her own.  She acknowledged that her best thinking was what landed her in the rooms of a 12-step meeting in the first place, and that by continuing to defend her reasons that she is not an alcoholic, she is closing her heart and mind to any other possibility.  Just that small change… my own thoughts are keeping in the same place I don’t like, maybe I could try to open myself to another possibility… was enough to start her on a journey of sobriety that has served her well for the past three decades.

Since it seems that I am also powerless over the bickering of my children and their friends, all home for the holiday, I better sign off and see how best I can mediate.  Happy Monday!

Today’s Miracle:

Both kids had a friend overnight, and all four made it through the evening in one piece, and, as a bonus, were still alive when I got home from my meeting, so that’s a miracle right there.  Here’s hoping the good mojo continues through the rest of the afternoon!

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