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Step one in the 12 step program of recovery states that we admit that we are powerless over alcohol. All 12 step programs begin with some version of this step. For many, this is a difficult thing to admit. As adults we are programmed to believe that we are in control of ourselves. In fact, our society largely demands that we maintain this basic level of self-control. For this reason, admitting we are powerless over a substance, often a substance we see others indulge in without any consequences, is incredibly difficult. We are struck with a sense of failure. Often there is no small measure of shame that comes with this admission.
Yet admitting we are powerless over our substance is essential to recovery. It is possible to see this admission as a moment of empowerment rather than failure. First we recognize that addiction is not a function of weakness. There are a number of theories on the nature of addiction, but the model that sees addiction as a disease has been most prominent. Rather than losing control over ourselves, we have succumbed to a disease. Admitting we are powerless in the face of a disease is a crucial step toward overcoming the disease. We gain a sense of power by letting go of the need to control the disease. By re-thinking our position relative to our addiction we can see ourselves in a more positive light, and this can be critical in early recovery.
Another way of looking at this is to recognize the struggle that comes with living with active addiction. The daily battle to get alcohol or drugs is over. The struggles with employers and family can finally be laid to rest. By admitting we are powerless over alcohol and/or drugs, we have called a truce with these fights. It is true that many of us will have work to do where family and employers are concerned, but we cannot address these problems while we are actively fighting an addiction. The moment we cede to the disease is the moment we can begin re-building and this is liberating. As the old saying goes: the first step to getting ourselves out of a hole is to stop digging.
12 Step Program – Finally, powerlessness is the admission we make in order to heal. The fact of the matter is that active addiction is a horrendous burden. Addicts and alcoholics spend enormous amounts of money to sustain their addiction. The constant preoccupation with the substance is a relentless battle.
Alcoholics and addicts are in a state of non-stop fear of being found out or even arrested. Many of the substances that lead to addiction are completely illegal and addicts run the risk of getting caught up with felonies. Beyond all of this there are the risks of physical danger to themselves and others. The risk of driving while intoxicated charges, and even the risk of accidentally killing someone as a result of being impaired. As soon as we admit we are powerless and enter into treatment and recovery, this huge burden is lifted. We need only follow through with a commitment to sobriety.
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