In Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the first step is: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” In this context, being powerless means you can’t drink in a controlled way. Many of us tried again and again to moderate our drinking or drug use before accepting we had no control over them. But powerlessness over substances and empowerment in recovery are not mutually exclusive.
I don’t use AA, but if you do, I still think it’s useful to separate out these concepts. Feeling like you have no control over yourself can make you rationalize drinking or using again.
AA’s third step says that participants “made the decision to turn [their] will and [their life]” over to a higher power. But the steps—or the work you do in recovery—requires a lot from you. You don’t just sit around and wait for change to happen.
Even giving yourself over to a higher power requires going through an intentional process of acceptance, figuring out what constitutes a higher power for you, and doing deep internal work.
How Can Addiction Recovery Be Empowering?
Ultimately, being powerless over alcohol or drugs just means you have an addiction. Everything else you do once you accept that fact and decide to change can lead to empowerment.
It’s common when you’re in active addiction to feel powerless in many aspects of life, not just your substance use. You’re not cognizant to make active, well-thought-out choices. Addiction decreases gray matter in the prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain involved in decision-making and impulse control—so you’re physiologically at a disadvantage in making sound decisions.
Your brain starts to heal once you remove substances. When you’re not in an altered state, you can trust your own choices. In active addiction, I felt like I was stumbling through life. I have never felt more empowered than I do in long-term recovery, because I can have real trust in myself.
Having the tools to cope with stress without substances is also a form of empowerment. This can be something you give yourself by learning what works for you and practicing healthy coping. Many of us used substances to cope because we didn’t know any other way. That’s helplessness, a form of powerlessness.
Admitting that you are not able to control your drinking or drug use does not mean you can’t feel empowered in other aspects of your life. Recovery is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever experienced. It not only teaches me that I have the power to change, but that I have the capability to know when I need to change and how that should look.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. Amatus Recovery Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will empower you with the tools to thrive in sobriety. To learn more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.