Powerless and Unmanageable
The first step in A.A.’s program of recovery reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable”. On its own this statement seems hopelessly self-defeating and disempowering, but when placed in context as the first of twelve steps to recovery, the idea becomes both liberating and empowering. In fact, the declaration of powerlessness over alcohol fills many of us with a sense of relief that at long last the fight is over and we can now look forward to a more manageable life.
Of course we didn’t intentionally set out to become alcoholic. Most of us started drinking casually and if there was anything different in our reaction to alcohol, it was just below the surface and nearly imperceptible. However, in just a few years our drinking and our lives spun quickly out of control. The first drink triggered a craving for another and over time we began to experience problems at home, at work, and with personal relationships. We would sometimes find ourselves in jails and hospitals. Those who were most impacted and hurt by our drinking pleaded with us to get help. Yet, in spite of this, we simply could not or would not admit we had a problem, and as long as we held that state of mind, it was impossible to ask for help. We were powerless.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Knowledge is power, knowledge is safety, knowledge is happiness”. Isn’t the admission of powerlessness over alcohol an acknowledgement that we have a problem? Are we not simply accepting the truth? We think so, and we believe that in so doing, we entered into a new state of awareness. We were at last in a position to accept the truth that would light the pathway to safety and happiness.
It’s as if we had walked out of a dark cave into the light of day. We have in fact been enlightened. We now understand and accept our problem and we can ask for help. In psychological terms, we are no longer in denial of our alcoholism. It seems that our admission of powerlessness opened the door to recovery so we can begin the process of restoring ourselves to physical and mental health. We turned the corner and though we can never again drink normally, we see that we can live happy and purposeful lives free from alcohol.
If at first our admission of powerlessness seemed self-defeating and disempowering, it now has quite the opposite effect. Our surrender wasn’t a permanent defeat after all, but it was a necessary concession to achieve sobriety, the ultimate victory over alcoholism. We realized we no longer need attempt control of our drinking, but instead we simply avoid the first drink. This revelation, this awareness was truly empowering.
Hardly any of us arrived at this conclusion until we experienced enough pain in our lives. It may have been brought on by circumstances directly related to our drinking. Perhaps we were arrested for drunk driving or our employment was terminated. In such situations our unmanageability may have been more obvious, but even without these problems uncontrolled drinking by itself was evidence enough that our lives had become unmanageable.
Although we will never again control our drinking, we find that we can regain at least some degree of control over our own lives. Manageability begins to return the moment we recognize that we have a problem and that we need help. No longer do we deny our problems as we did our drinking, no longer do we insist on going it alone. Our admission of powerlessness over alcohol taught us the value of being fair and true to ourselves. We learned that honesty is indispensable if we were to become free from alcohol, and regain not a problem-free life, not a rigid and controlled life, but a manageable life.