De-bunking Powerlessness: I Have Power Over My Choice To Remain Sober

by Dick on May 14, 2012 · 12 comments

in 12 Steps, Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Alcoholism

The first part of Step 1 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous states that “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.” There is a lot of talk in AA meetings about the concept of powerlessness and what it is.

Being the over-analytic attorney that I am, I often find myself trying to figure out what this whole notion of powerlessness really means — to me. I’m sure I’m guilty of over-thinking all this stuff, but it’s just my nature.

I certainly bristle over the notion that I am powerless over my choice to remain sober. Does Step 1 really mean that I am powerless over my choice to be sober? I hope not.

I believe that I make a choice everyday to remain sober and not take a drink. I don’t “turn it over” to anything or a Higher Power. (This is where I diverge from a lot of AA folks). I make a choice not to drink for a day. Just like when I was drinking, I made a choice to take that first drink. I make a choice to attend AA meetings. I make a choice to do a ton of reading about recovery. I make a choice to write this blog and hang out with others in the recovery community. I’ve made a choice, or more accurately, an informed decision (after extensive “research and development”) that I simply cannot drink anymore. It’s a complete evil force in my life which will doom and destroy me, and I won’t go down like that.

I’m hoping Step One really means that

“It’s the first stepping stone to obtaining freedom for yourself. You’ve admitted that there are serious issues with your life. You may have realized you have issues with your family, with work, your friends, and your career. You may have started to realize the extent of damage your addiction has caused in your life. And you know without a doubt that you’ve lost control. At this stage of your addiction you may not fully remember the actions you have taken in the past. But you have made the crucial first step in admitting that you have a problem. From this point you have a decision to make. Do you continue your addiction and risk losing your own life or risk other relationships that are important to you? Or do you reach out and seek treatment?” (Credit, Ocean Recovery)

Yet, I’m not relying on my own willpower alone. I have a lot of resources at my disposal:  AA, medication, therapy, meditation/relaxation, exercise, cognitive-behavioral strategies, fellowship, reading, writing and the sober online community. I think I use more recovery resources that most of the people I know in the AA program.

I do believe, however, that if I take that first drink, I am powerless over what may happen next. I could be fine. Yet, most likely it will lead me down the destructive cycle of addiction as it has done in the past, leading to the downfall of my family, my career and my relationships. Why take that chance?

I guess in the end, I believe that my recovery will always start and end with me and my own choice and personal responsibility. Maybe that’s non-AA thinking, but it’s the honest truth.

Well, enough debating AA doctrine for one day. I have a life to live and enjoy!

What do you guys think?


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  • Julie Theisen

    Yes, I agree with your perspective here. I have always viewed the first step as “I admit that I have a problem”. I can only start to work some for of recovery when I admit that I need to change what I am doing.  I can’t stop after the first sip and I have successful destroyed my life. Now I can move forward, but only if I choose to….
    I took a year long DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) course to work on my skill sets for recovery. I believe, too, that everyday is a choice. I can choose to go to a meeting or I can choose to go to the liquor store. Through DBT, I have the ability to weigh the pros and cons, take a step back, get centered and analyze what the appropriate decision is to make.  Slow the mind down because once that first drink is in my hand, I am not stopping until someone sits on me or I pass out. That’s when I know I am powerless. I have been having some of my own recent issues with AA. I have actually had 5 people telling me that I am doing my recovery wrong. I guess I need to say “Go to an AA meeting, take what you need and leave the rest!” I am now looking for additional resources, like the ones you mentioned to enhance my chances of success in sobriety.I always enjoy your blog, thank you for sharing your journey with us all!  

    • Dick, Sober Lawyer

       Thanks for the comment Julie. I’m glad that folks here in AA pretty much mind their own recovery and business. Rarely will someone say anything like that unsolicited. Kind of an unwritten rule. Your sponsor may, but not anyone else. I think a lot of old time AA folks are uneducated and intimidated about newer therapies and therapy in general. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks…I try to spread the message about what I do, and it seems to get positive response from people. Whatever works for people…

  • Suzanne

    I think you got it exactly right – once you take that first drink, you ARE powerless.  Before then, you are not.  We lawyer types do tend to overthink, but this one is simple :).  Just don’t drink and keep the power to have your life, the one you can live and enjoy not the one you have to suffer through (and make all those around you suffer through too).  And whatever tools work to stay away from that first drink are the tools you should be using, just don’t forget where you put the tools down.

    Liked your last post – I settled a big case last week and it was so, I don’t know, LIBERATING to get some of my time  back.  For me, a looming trial renders me powerless over most of my time, and that is not usually a good feeling.  But I am not crazy about being a trial lawyer anyway, like the ‘read and write’ part about doing appeals which is most of what I do.

    Have a great day and keep blogging! 

    • Sober Lawyer

       Thanks Suzanne. Great to have a fellow attorney here! 

      Trials are always super stressful for me, and before I got into recovery, I never really had a positive outlet for all that stress — except for drinking. Interestingly, I find myself almost not caring as much in the sense that if it doesn’t go my way, oh well, that’s life. I’ll do my best and that’s all I can do. Hard to control what a judge and 12 jurors do! Talk about trying to control people, places and things!!!

  • Mrs D

    I am powerless over alcohol because when I start drinking it something clicks in my brain and I find it very difficult to stop.  I am not powerless over my decision not to drink it ever again.  AA or no AA it’s up to me.  Thanks for this post, it’s great.  xx

  • B. (Below Her Means)

    I’m being a broken record here but I still recommend Rational Recovery. READ IT!

  • FRed Augustine

    I really like this post. I, too am an alcoholic lawyer (corporate), and what you have written rings true. How is ANY lawyer truly able to state that he/she is “powerless”? That just isn’t in our hyper educated DNA. BTW, I’m still drinking; have gone to local Lawyers Helping Lawyers meetings; and plan on a detox evaluation this week.

  • T

    Yes yes yes yes yes!
    Dick, I just went to my first AA meeting last night. I am of the firm belief that if alcoholics were really powerless over alcohol we would all need to be locked up in a dry hole somewhere. We’re not. We make the choice every day whether or not to drink. I’m subscribing to your blog, and I started one of my own. I’m on my 4th day of abstinence – headed towards sobriety and living my life differently, without alcohol or drugs. I need all the help I can get. Including your blog. Thanks.

  • Suesue

    I’m a lawyer too. I struggled with this exact point. I agree with your analysis of the first step.I’m not powerless over this addiction as I can control my decision to never drink again. I accept I can’t control my use of alcohol cos if I take one glass tho all bets are off. So that’s why I’m never drinking again. Just a newbie still finding my way.

  • charlie

    The step starts with: admitted we were powerless over alcohol. The word ‘were’ is important to note. Once the physical and mental obsession has been been quieted then one has the power to make a choice. They were powerless, not anymore. It’s an admission one was addicted or dependent, nothing more than that.

  • Clare, You There?

    I’m not anti-AA but I’ve tried it and it wasn’t for me. I’m almost two years sober and rely exclusively on sobriety memoirs and the friendships/words of other sober bloggers. I agree that we are not powerless even for a second.

  • RMV

    I’m also a lawyer, though not currently practicing. I’ve been struggling off and on to get sober for about 6-7 years now, in and out of AA. My analytical mind wrestled with the notion of powerlessness. After a several day binge, I am intent on getting and staying sober. I am also worried about returning to AA. This post is just what I needed to read this morning. I don’t have to reject all the other available tools just because I seek support in AA. I currently work in mental health (isn’t that ironic, a drunk helping other people with addictions and mental health issues) and actually consider returning to the law. I can’t do it unless I am sober. Thank you

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