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Clinical Social Worker/Therapist

To admit or even be mindful of powerlessness is a rarity outside of recovery. Our culture is so entrenched in competing for success that we're uncomfortable acknowledging the limits of what we can and cannot do, individually.

We in recovery are accustomed to living at the extremes of all or nothing. Many of us prove our worth by managing everything and everyone but not ourselves. Even in sobriety, many of us tend not to respect our limitations and we pay too high a price accordingly.

Powerlessness is Counter-intuitive but Simple

In AA we're confronted with the reality that "... we were powerless over alcohol...". For many of us, it's the first conscious exploration of powerlessness: it's Step One of the 12-Step program.

At face value, this seems untrue. I have the choice to not drink, therefore I am not powerless over alcohol. Digging a bit deeper it's clear that we become powerless to control ourselves and the manageability of our lives when we drink.

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

Acknowledging powerlessness therefore means that we stop trying to do the impossible.


Powerlessness is commonly mistaken for helplessness or hopelessness. It's actually very simple. There are only two things to consider:

  1. what we can control, and
  2. what we cannot.

In application, I recommend using the serenity prayer regardless of what a person's faith is, because all of us are seeking three simple things:

Serenity, to accept the things I cannot change (other people).
Courage, to change the things that I can (myself).
Wisdom, to know the difference. (This is a matter of awareness and acceptance not a lack of ability to make this distinction).

Power & Control

Addiction and survival are always fear-based.

Fear makes us crave control. The number one character defect for most of us is that we are control freaks. If we don't feel like we're in control of everything in our lives, we feel like we're out of control personally.

We aren't conscious of our desire to dictate the behavior of others. We seek to influence and persuade, but we manipulate as readily as we draw our next breath.

Like a playwright we develop "scripts." We decide how others should feel, how they should view things, and how they should treat us. We are generally afraid to simply ask for these things and so we seek strategies to covertly evoke the outcomes we want.

Vulnerability is Key

Vulnerability simplifies everything. Instead of railing against powerlessness or relying on unhealthy ways of getting our needs met, we can simply share our struggles and ask for help in getting our needs met.

Our fears of rejection and/or disappointment prevent us from asking friends, family, and folks in recovery. When we allow our fears to dictate our decisions, we suffer.

When we choose to see vulnerability as an act of courage rather than weakness, we create possibilities and move more fully toward the person we want to be.

Spiritual Growth

I try to approach fear by asking myself, "What's the worst that can happen?" If I choose to trust a Higher Power to handle the things that I cannot, this does not in any way change the fact that I am powerless to do anything about them anyway. By asking a HP to handle these things, I move toward acceptance of my powerlessness and choose therefore to direct my time and energies toward areas where I am not powerless.

I take heart in William James' words, "Faith is a bet you can't lose." If I choose to believe that things I'm powerless over can work out without me, then I have more peace. I worry less and cease searching for ways to not be powerless.

All of this culminates in my choice not to take responsibility for the feelings, beliefs, and actions of others. It allows me to focus more fully on what I am able to offer to myself and others that is healthy, sustainable, and satisfying. This acceptance creates more harmony and allows me to relate to myself in a far more loving manner.

About the author Jim LaPierre:
My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: recoveryrocks.bangordailynews.com Thanks! Jim
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Page last updated Jan 06, 2015

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