What Does Powerlessness Mean in Recovery?

Clinically Reviewed by Sarah Hogan, MA LPC

Sarah is a Licensed Professional Counselor with 13 years of experience in the behavioral health field as well as a certified provider of Cognitive Processing Therapy for Trauma. She has extensive experience in counseling and case management with local mental health authorities, emergency homeless shelters, leading high acuity response teams, and serving first responders/veterans.

What is Powerlessness?

You may have heard the term powerlessness in relation to recovery. But, what does powerlessness really mean? This term is widely misunderstood in recovery terms. So much so that newcomers are sometimes repelled by the idea of powerlessness. No one wants to be told they are powerless after all. If you don’t understand what the powerlessness concept means in a recovery context, it can sound like you’re giving up or giving in. 

The reality is that couldn’t be further from the truth. What powerlessness means in recovery is that we accept that we are powerless over addiction when we try to rely on willpower alone to overcome it. Read that line again and really let it sink in.

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired and you’ve finally become ready for drug rehab, then that idea probably rings true to you, doesn’t it. You’ve tried willpower to resist temptation and overcome addiction already, haven’t you? No one gets hooked on something after a month and then checks themselves into rehab after all, do they?

Of course not. We tend to test our limits and it usually isn’t until we’ve had some fairly nasty consequences that we even begin to think about stopping our use of drugs or alcohol. Then perhaps we try. We make solemn promises to ourselves. We may even swear to God. “God, if you let me drive home safe tonight, I swear I’ll never drink and drive again” or “God, if I wake up in the morning, I swear I will quit, I’ll do better!”

Many of Us Have Said

Most of us have said things like this to ourselves on more than one occasion. But how many of us follow through and keep those promises? Very few. Almost none of us, in fact. Why? Is it because we are bad people? No. Were we lying when we made those promises? No, we really intended to keep them at the time. Is it because we lack the willpower or stamina? No, it’s not exactly that either. It’s because we truly are powerless over addiction when we try to take it on all at once.

That does not mean it cannot be beaten however. The secret is that we need to outsmart and undermine our addiction. We don’t have enough soldiers to take it on, head-to-head. We need to admit that to ourselves before we can really make progress and change tactics. When we do, we discover what’s called for is not brute force, but intelligence and wisdom. We also cannot do it alone. That realization is a major turning point in recovery. In the 12-step programs, it is the first step. We admit that we are powerless. 

What Powerlessness Isn’t 

Remember though, admitting you are powerless does not mean there is nothing you can do. What it means is that you accept that the way you have been trying to battle your addiction is not working and it’s never going to work. You’re powerless when you try to fight addiction this way. It doesn’t mean there isn’t another way to win. In fact, there is. Admitting you’re powerless is a necessary psychological step so you can move on. In order to embrace the tactics that can actually work here, you have to admit to yourself and someone else that your way isn’t going to work and you’re ready to leave it behind and forget any pretense that you can drink or use successfully and manage your consumption. You already know in your heart of hearts that you can’t. The “powerlessness” step is really just about saying that out loud and letting yourself hear it.  

Acceptance is the Key

So, we’ve accepted that willpower is not the answer here. We can’t white knuckle it or muscle our way through resisting our addiction. So what is the answer? Well, if you don’t have the power you need, then it’s time to find something that does. That is where the higher power concept comes into play. This is another place where some people find an obstacle where one really doesn’t exist. For most people who struggle with this, it’s their concept of God that’s a problem. Perhaps they had negative experiences with organized religion. Maybe they have no experience with organized religion. That’s OK. You don’t need to have any religion at all to make this work for you. In fact, you don’t even need to believe in God in the conventional sense at all.

All you really need is to believe that there is something outside of yourself. Something greater than you, which does have the power you need to overcome addiction. Believe that and believe that you can tap into that power and make use of it. That’s it. If you need evidence that power exists, no problem. Take a look around you. 

12-Step Recovery is an Evidence-Based Solution

How many millions of people have worked the 12 steps and managed to find success in sobriety when nothing else could seem to save them from themselves and the fury of full-blown addiction that was consuming them. That should be enough evidence for anyone that the needed power is there and it’s working for people. Sometimes the answer isn’t trying harder, but just getting out of our own way and opening our minds to a different solution. 

If you’re ready for a better solution, Plum Creek Recovery Ranch is ready to help you find a better way to live. All it takes is a phone call to (512) 488-1128 to make your start. Let’s talk!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *