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Old 01-03-2011, 07:03 PM   #1 (permalink)
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What AA Means By "Powerless"


Through the years I've heard a number of people say they can't stand/wont tolerate AA because "they tell you you're powerless". Since I think people are interpreting it incorrectly I want to explain what it means. At least my take on it.

The only place the word "powerless" appears is in the first step: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. You must take this literally: we're powerless OVER alcohol.

I call myself an alcoholic because I can't have one drink. I may say I'll have a drink and even believe it but I'm incapable of stopping at one and typically drink to a blackout. Non-alcoholics can have a drink or two, they have a switch in their head that enables them to stop. I've never had that switch.

When we stop drinking we become very powerful indeed. Without booze and drugs we can create lives have rewarding work, families and friends. We're powerful when we decide we're not going to drink today. When I was an active alcoholic I gave all my power away to a bottle, which called the shots in my life because I put it before family, loved ones, work.

Finally, AA doesn't tell anyone anything. I think it's a good idea to keep it simple. "The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking". That's it. You don't have to even say you're an alcoholic, only that you don't want to drink/take drugs. The Big Book says that everything else is a suggestion. If you decide you're an alcoholic and want to do the 12 steps, you start with step 1.

There's nothing harder than getting sober and it took me years to realize what a gift the program was in my life. But this has saved my life: It's only today I don't drink. As an early sponsor said, "life only su*ks one day at a time too."

Oh yea!
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Old 01-03-2011, 07:13 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Well stated. It's a simple program for complicated people, and we sure can complicate the heck out of anything.

Just put a few or more drunks in the same room and watch the fun begin. :rotfxko

When alcohol or drugs are in my system I am certainly powerless. As long as they are not in my system, I've nothing to worry about. And as stated, alcohol concerns are only involved in step 1.

Beyond that it is learning we are powerless over other peoples' actions and thoughts.

But it's nice to know, I don't have to be perfect (other than step 1) at this. Heck, some of my character defects will probably die ten minutes after I do.
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Old 01-03-2011, 07:19 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Agreed. It just means that you can't regulate or stop on your own. The withdrawal symptoms alone were enough to make it impossible for me without intervention. Maybe not everybody is powerless. Theoretically any cyclist could win the Tour de France if they had the psychological focus of Lance Armstrong. But the vast majority of cyclists are just normal humans and can't do it.
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Old 01-03-2011, 07:48 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Good thread! Thanks! I am experiencing right now just how powerless I am. I have been having thoughts of drinking off and on since before I left my office. I have heard others say that the first step is the only one you have to work perfectly, and this is why! Even with a handful of 24s the thoughts of a drink still can haunt me.

I need to work step 1 today and every day, lest I forget. It is one of the things I am doing differently this time around.
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:36 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Well, I think that it is not just the idea of being powerless that fails to resonate with some ... It is where there source of power that we do bring into our lives originates.... Higher Power or Will Power...
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:38 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Powerlessness is when you continue to drink without your permission.

Powerlessness is when you continue to drink knowing that negative consequences will ensue.

Powerlessness is when you continue to drink despite it no being fun anymore.

Powerlessness is knowing that you are pissing your life away and living well below your potential, but you continue drink.

Powerlessness is knowing that you are on a self-destructive path to an early grave, but you continue to drink.

Some people can drink with impunity. Others cannot. An alcoholic may have gotten away with their drinking early on in their career, but if you are an alcoholic it will eventually catch up to you. You will invite negative consequences into your life and the disgusting part is that you bring them onto yourself.

It seems paradoxical, but the only way to win for an alcoholic is to surrender to the cold, hard, sobering truth. Alcoholics cannot drink with impunity. Our drinking in unhealthy, dangerous, destructive, and deadly.

It may not resonate with some because of denial. I never met an alcoholic who never experienced denial at one time or another. Alcoholics have a tendency to lie, minimize, and rationalize their way to another drink. It is not called an addiction for nothing.
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Old 01-04-2011, 05:11 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nyte Byrd View Post
When alcohol or drugs are in my system I am certainly powerless. As long as they are not in my system, I've nothing to worry about.
Since this was an AA question, I think it's worth clarifying. There is something else going on for the real alcoholic described in the BB. Not just the abnormal reaction, the physical craving for more once I start. My real problem is the utter inability to leave it alone once I've stopped. The last half of Chapter 2 and almost all of Chapter 3 have nothing to do with what happens when I drink. It's all about the insanity that leads me to the first drink, time and time again.

The solution laid out in AA is all about dealing with that mental obsession. Once I'm convinced that I can no longer drink any amount safely, then I need a solution for how not to pick it up again.

Hundreds of people come on this site and put down the drink for a time. They realize it's causing them harm and they put it down. Their life gets better, they feel happier, and then out of the blue, they pick it up again.

That mental obsession (even if it's nor recognized as such) is the real problem for the real alcoholic targeted by AA's program of recovery.
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Old 01-04-2011, 05:38 AM   #8 (permalink)
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My disagreement with the concept of "powerlessness" is the notion that the power to quit drinking comes from an outside force. I also don't care for the proposition that this power is bestowed by the outside force on a daily basis "contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition."

OTT
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:20 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Wink

i also have to remember that not only am i Powerless over Alcohol.. But.. Also how cunning baffling and Powerful it is. Several times after a period of no drinking for a long spell my drinking Seemed Better for a short time.. only to Get Much Worse in Short Order!
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:42 AM   #10 (permalink)
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This thread was just what I needed this morning. I am starting out for about the five hundredth time, trying to get sober and stay that way. It's impossible for me, I've tried it again and again. Sometimes I've stayed sober for several years. I always have gone back. I have this huge sense of shame that I've not been able to stay sober, and it makes it hard for me to reach out to others, especially in AA. I also have no confidence at all that it's going to work this time. But, I'm going to do it anyway, because the alternative is so horrible and bleak. Thanks for this thread reminding me that this powerlessness is part of the disease. I am powerless over alcohol even when I've been sober a long time. I need a power greater than myself if I want to stay sober, and I do. So, now to find that power quickly...
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:50 AM   #11 (permalink)
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@keithj Thanks for your input. I've read that alcoholism is heavy drinking + obsession. The mind of an addict. Put down alcohol others pop up. Gotta quit smoking, now I'm mainlining sugar, blowing money, sex addiction ... someone once said to me "I'm in so many 12 Step programs I'm surprised I only have two parents".

The insanity is extraordinary. My experience: I had quit smoking 15 years earlier and went to Florida to stay with a friend for a few days. Had forgotten that he's a smoker but once there, decided to have a few. Roughly three per day. After four days back home I realized I hadn't even thought about cigarettes. My first thought: oh great, I'll go out and buy a pack.

That's the sanity of addiction.
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Old 01-04-2011, 07:11 AM   #12 (permalink)
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KarenElaine ... one reason I'm sober is because I was told to keep the focus on today. I only stop drinking today. If I'd thought "I'll never drink again", I wouldn't have gotten sober. For me life is only manageable when tackle problems in the very short term.
And, we're all alcoholics and what alcoholics do is drink/take drugs. We have a daily reprieve. "I'm sober today" is all any of us have.
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Old 01-04-2011, 07:15 AM   #13 (permalink)
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I'm not powerless over alcohol, because I've stopped.

The problem is that my brain stem and limbic system let off a fireworks display of dopamine at that first drink, and will try every trick they've picked up through our evolutionary history to make the thinking portion of my brain keep drinking. This 'pleasure-reward' system is so hard wired in an alcoholic's brain that the limbic system and brain stem will create even more dopamine receptors to reinforce this response, making a horrible situation even worse.

Since the problem is effectively in my head and is a misguided physiological response, it doesn't need to be rescued from some higher power (whatever that might be). All it takes is a firm decision on my part never, ever, ever, to pick up that first drink.

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Old 01-04-2011, 07:23 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by NYCDoglvr View Post
Non-alcoholics can have a drink or two, they have a switch in their head that enables them to stop. I've never had that switch
i have often wondered about my switch, believe me i know i am powerless and all that.
but why dosent MY switch work?? i cant help thinking its unfair, my switch dosent work, no matter how much i fiddle about with it,change the fuses etc,
it still wont work,
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Old 01-04-2011, 07:37 AM   #15 (permalink)
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I'm not powerless over alcohol, because I've stopped.
Then you're not an alcoholic like described in AA's Big Book, which was the context of the original question.

Or, possibly, you are an alcoholic like that, and just don't know it. Time will tell.
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Old 01-04-2011, 08:03 AM   #16 (permalink)
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This 'pleasure-reward' system is so hard wired in an alcoholic's brain that the limbic system and brain stem will create even more dopamine receptors to reinforce this response, making a horrible situation even worse.
Yea, I had that... I felt kinda powerless over those receptors and neural pathways and neurotransmitters... ... the only way I knew how to get the upper hand was with alcohol and pills...

Is it considered a moral failing.... this powerlessness?? Why does it evoke such strong feelings on either side? I don't know... So much involved in this that I see as often being in the semantics...

If I use a spiritual (not religious, though I am catholic) program to ride out the changes in, and expectations of, my limbic system and brain stem... does it make it (the program) more or less valid?
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Old 01-04-2011, 08:09 AM   #17 (permalink)
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My sponsor had me make two lists. The first list was all the crazy/bad/regretful things I did while drinking. The 2nd list was all the crazy/bad/regretful things I did while sober.

I remarked "that sober list is going to be short, all the crazy/bad/regretful things I've done was while drinking/drugging".

His response "...but you were sober each and everytime you picked up that first drink".

Wow. That blew my mind and opened my eyes. I am powerless over alcohol and my life is unmanageable. That simple statement put me into a state of mind that has skyrocketed my recovery. It took all the pressure off, suddently my life made sense.

I'm starting to become a grateful recovering alcoholic. I'm oh so happy I don't have to try to be special or unique anymore. I'm one of many. A worker among workers.

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Old 01-04-2011, 09:19 AM   #18 (permalink)
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It took me a wile to equate that powerlessness and unmanageably means the same thing to me: being out of control. As the The Mayo Clinic provides a good description of alcoholism:
When you have alcoholism, you lose control over your drinking. You may not be able to control when you drink, how much you drink, or how long you drink on each occasion.
I was most certainly was out of control with my alcoholism/addiction. AA and other treatment programs can effectively treat for alcoholism. Even tho the treatments of various recovery programs differ in their approach to alcoholism, the description of alcoholism looks to be the same.
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Old 01-04-2011, 09:26 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Then you're not an alcoholic like described in AA's Big Book, which was the context of the original question.

Or, possibly, you are an alcoholic like that, and just don't know it. Time will tell.
possibly you don't know?
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Old 01-04-2011, 10:15 AM   #20 (permalink)
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My disagreement with the concept of "powerlessness" is the notion that the power to quit drinking comes from an outside force. I also don't care for the proposition that this power is bestowed by the outside force on a daily basis "contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition."
Fair enough... not everyone is powerless and not everyone's life is unmanageable. And certainly, not everyone needs to find a HP to be relieved of their alcohol problem. If you're able to control your drinking problem with human-based help, you're not the type of drinker / alcoholic that AA was created to help.

For what it's worth, I didn't care for that stuff myself.....but I discovered it to be my truth - I am powerless over alcohol and nothing I tried relieved me of that problem.....until I went to a power Greater than myself.

Obviously, there are different types of drinkers. Not everyone is (thankfully) a real alcoholic (aka: a chronic alcoholic who's also lost the power of choice).
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