“The longer we deny and reject the opportunity of using the Gift,
the harder It becomes to recognize and use.”
POWERLESSNESS AND RIGOROUS HONESTY
Copyright September 2008
Alcoholism is what is called ‘a three-fold illness.’ It is PHYSICAL, MENTAL and SPIRITUAL. It is also PROGRESSIVE.
At the physical level, it is said that it takes at least 90 days for the body to be completely rid of alcohol. That is to say that as long as alcohol is in the body, there is a tendency for the body to call upon more alcohol when the body starts to detox. As the body is releasing alcohol within that 90 days, the brain is stimulated to respond to what is happening to the body. Just as the brain is affected BY alcohol going in TO it, so is it affected by this removal of alcohol.
This removal sets up a second set of circumstances, which are mental.
At the mental level, this 90-day detox will trigger many psychological symptoms. That is to say that our thinking is affected by the brain and body detox. Our thinking is affected because it is not receiving the effects of the chemical that made the brain and thus the body passive. When the brain and body experience alcohol removal, then they become acute. The acute condition brings forth many feelings that were not previously experienced due to the numbing effect of the alcohol on the body and brain.
As the brain and body experience these acute feelings, memories in the mind are called up. The memories act as a rescue for the body. The mind has in memory the experiences of what the body and brain felt like when alcohol was introduced to them. And so these memories are brought forth as the alcohol leaves the brain and body.
Without a memory of what to do in the absence of the alcohol in the body and brain, the mind logically concludes the only way to reduce the pressure of these memories is to put alcohol back into the body. When we do, the pressure of the memories goes away, the brain feels relaxed and so does the body. Hence, the mental, the mind, feels it has the perfect cure for the pains of not only its mental memories, but also the pains in the brain and the body.
The final aspect of the disease is SPIRITUAL. Of course this speaks of how the mind, brain and body made a stimulant the god it serves. By doing so we give away our sanity, our right use of mind, body and brain, and spirit. In our succumbing to the dictates of the mind, body and brain, we feel we have lost all the will of our spirit, the interest of our spirit, and the worth of our spirit. In mysticism, the spirit is called the Self. The process of withdrawal of alcohol or drugs from the body then becomes a reclaiming of our Self-will, our Self-interest and our Self-worth.
A progressive illness, such as alcoholism, means that biologically there is an allergic reaction that occurs in the body and brain when alcohol is taken into them. Even though the body stops taking in alcohol, this allergy does not go away. It does not end. The allergy seems to intensify with the elimination of alcohol. If, then, after weeks, months, years of not drinking alcohol, the allergy has grown proportionately in that period of time. When the person takes that first drink after ten years, his alcoholism or his allergy to alcohol has ‘advanced.’ A return to alcohol, then, after long periods of time is actually MORE harmful then if a person never stopped drinking. The effects can be devastating, even terminal.
My experience with recovery and contact with A.A. and the literature provided by those who came before us to give us this gift constantly evolves. As it is a Gift the Universe provides, it must be BECAUSE It is designed to help us evolve, or change our ways of thinking about ourselves and the world.
Recovery is a Gift from the Universe. It is a Gift from God. When recovery comes into our life, Spirit is saying, “It is time for you to begin living a new way. I have selected this time for you to be responsible for what you are doing to your mind, brain, body and spirit. It is time to sober up. It is time to come to know your Self.”
When Spirit gives a Gift, it comes with THREE opportunities. That is to say that we will be given THREE chances to seize upon the Gift and use It wisely, two times if we reject It when It is first offered. For the alcoholic, that means if he ‘slips’ once, he will only be given two more times to slip. If he can stop drinking before the third slip, he will be able to bring a new way of living and thinking into his life. If he does not, the Gift is withdrawn, and Spirit will offer the Gift again at some future point in time, when Spirit sees the person is once again ready to accept and use the Gift. It could be weeks, months, even years before the Gift is offered again. What I am saying is it is not possible for a person to get sober if the Gift of Sobriety is withdrawn, no matter how hard he tries.
The longer we deny and reject the opportunity of using the Gift, the harder It becomes to recognize and use. If we never use the Gifts, we eventually leave the planet not ever benefiting from the Gifts. In this, we will have to come back, in another body, in another lifetime to attempt to accept the Gifts again.
Physical death DOES NOT ALLEVIATE FROM US WHAT WE MUST OVERCOME AND RISE ABOVE IN A LIFETIME. This means if a person dies an active alcoholic, he or she will come back in another life, in another body, with the addiction to resolve. This is why suicide is foolish. Suicide terminates nothing except the body. The spirit, and its addictions, live beyond it.
The concept of powerlessness, I feel, is very misunderstood. As it is outlined in Step One, powerlessness is a state that we come to admit, as in “We admitted we were powerless…” What I think is misunderstood about the concept of powerlessness is that we tend to identify WITH powerlessness and in that regard think that WE are powerless. But Step One does not really say that WE are powerless. It says we ADMITTED we were powerless.
I think there is a vast difference between admitting powerlessness and saying “I am powerless.”
In the Step, the word ADMIT needs to be examined. To admit means to allow, or to welcome. “Jack was admitted to the hospital…” suggests that Jack felt it was essential to his health to enter the hospital. Of course, if Jack was ‘admitted’ against his will, or if Jack was sent there while unconscious, then the hospital would be the one doing the admitting. In those cases, the hospital would be ALLOWING or WELCOMING Jack as they see it is essential to Jack’s well-being.
But what I am saying is that the statement “We admitted…” is a statement of acceptance, of allowance, a statement that suggests we welcome something. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol…” In other words, we allow ourselves to consider that in the presence of alcohol we do not have a defense against our mind’s desire to guide us to reach for that drink. We accept the fact that alcohol seems to have more power to make us drink than we have to say no to it.
What is interesting about looking at Step One this way is that if WE ADMIT that we do not have a defense against the first drink, then we are actually exercising the power of surrender, or the power of willingness into our life. We are allowing the power of our mind to welcome the temptation we have that is associated with booze. This admitting, or allowing, is what I call RIGHT USE OF POWER. It means that the power we GAVE TO THE DRINK we are now claiming for ourselves and we are using the same power that we felt the drink had to exercise our willingness to say, “You, drink, will not have power over me.”
When something seems to have power OVER us, it is not because the thing has power over us. It is because WE GIVE THAT THING power to rule over us. It is OUR POWER WE GIVE TO the drink. When we do this, the drink seems to have more power than we do. And so in this regard, we say, “I am powerless over alcohol…” But I am powerless because I GAVE MY POWER TO alcohol.
Temptation is the power placed in something that seems to be stronger than our resistance to it.
The key to recovery from temptations and the powers that seems to rule over us is to be honest about this. But we must go further than that. We must be rigorously honest. So how do we exercise rigorous honesty with regard to our seeming powerlessness over alcohol?
First we have to come to see that we HAVE given power to something, whether it is a drink, or another person, our boss, our wife, our family, our husband, our job, the world, religion. Somehow we have willingly given away our power to something that we feel now controls us or is more powerful than us. We have to be honest with ourselves about this. We have to see that, “Yes, I seem to have no power and this temptation has more power than me.”
When we can see that WE have GIVEN POWER TO the thing that seems to be more powerful than us, we have taken the first step to reclaiming that power. In fact, rigorous honesty IS the reclaiming of our power.
If we go about saying, “Well, I am just powerless over my addiction…” then we are teaching ourselves that WE are weak and the addiction is strong. So when we see this we can ask ourselves, “How did I give my power away to this addiction?” When we begin to examine ourselves in this honest way, we can begin to EMPOWER ourselves to stop teaching ourselves that we are victims of something that is more powerful than us. If we choose to be victims who are ruled over by this powerful force that we feel is more powerful than us, then we can never reclaim the power we gave away TO the addiction.
When we stop being victims who are powerless over something, we have started accepting the power and using it correctly. It is not honest to say, “I am powerless…” if we feel how powerful being powerless is. The concept of powerlessness is very powerful. And so in that regard if we continue to tell ourselves we are powerless, we can never rise above the condition. We have to be honest about seeing how we have GIVEN OUR POWER TO the addiction. Not even God can lift us out of our powerlessness if we are going to use our power against ourselves.
So how do we apply rigorous honesty and admittance of a powerless state in the face of addiction?
First, when the temptation arises, we can begin by being honest about the temptation. We can say, “I am tempted to go get a drink. Something in me is unsettled and from my past experiences I know a drink will settle me down.” This is the first warning. We can see that to give in to the temptation is to admit we are giving our power away. We can say, “I am tempted to drink. I am giving my power to temptation. Temptation is not a power greater than me. I am giving power TO temptation.” Then we can say, “I call upon the Power in me that is greater than this temptation.” Then we are exercising two principles - we are being rigorously honest about who is responsible for the temptation, AND we are exercising our power to overcome the temptation.
There are many things that will trigger a temptation. Our mind has ‘references’ in it. In therapy they call these references ‘triggers.’ Triggers are memories in us that activate an action when they are stimulated. Anything can activate a trigger. It can be a song, a place, a person’s face, the name of a person, a word. Our mind has a reference to the trigger.
When an event stimulates the trigger, it sets into motion a whole series of events that happen so swiftly we barely have time to intervene. This is why in recovery we are told to change people, places and things. The references of people, places and things from our drinking days will trigger a temptation that will lead us to a bout with drinking.
For example, I would go to a certain place every day to buy alcohol. My mind knows this routine. When I stop drinking, these memories do not end. They are just not active. But they are there. I may not be drinking for a week, or two, or even three, but if I go near that store, it ‘triggers’ those memories, and almost automatically my mind is directing my actions. And I find myself in that store, doing the same things I used to do when I drank. AND I MAY HAVE NO IDEA HOW IT HAPPENED.
Triggers are those memories that are recorded in our minds that give life to our actions. In recovery, the process of being rigorously honest guides us back into our minds to those memories where we have placed our power, and ‘removes’ that power so that these memories can no longer guide our actions.
So the first step in avoiding a trigger and the resulting consequences is to STAY WAY FROM PLACES THAT ONCE SERVED OUR ADDICTION.
As we stay away from temptations, we gain power in a new way of thinking and living. But we cannot expect to live a new way and think a new way if we are going to continue in our old patterns of behavior.
The longer we are away from a drink, the more the body begins to function better. The way to remove an addiction is to starve it. If we do not give in to the power of the temptation, then we are giving that same power to avoiding or resisting the temptation. We are not fighting it. We are simply not allowing our power to be placed in the temptation and trigger actions that we may later on regret. So to avoid temptations, there are things we can do:
1. STAY AWAY FROM PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS THAT REMIND US OF OUR DRINKING DAYS.
2. REALIZE THAT A TEMPTATION CONTAINS POWER TO DIRECT OUR ACTIONS AND THAT THIS POWER IS WHAT WE GIVE TO TEMPTATION.
3. REALIZE THAT IF WE ARE HONEST ABOUT BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR GIVING OUR POWER TO TEMPTATION, WE CAN STOP DOING SO.
4. EXERCISE THE RIGHT USE OF OUR POWER BY TAKING AN ACTION THAT IS NOT GOING TO LEAD US INTO TEMPTATIONS.
5. REMEMBER THAT WE ARE NOT POWERLESS EXCEPT BY THE GIVING AWAY OF OUR POWER.
If we can exercise this for 90 days, which is the amount of time it takes for alcohol to be completely removed from the body, we stand a good chance of staying sober, reclaiming our power, and living by sound and sane thinking. When we have practiced this sufficiently, the mind develops these new ways of thinking, overwriting the old ways of thinking. And at some point we realize the addiction is no longer more powerful than we are. We have risen above the idea of not only being powerless and weak, but we feel empowered to assist others in this new way of thinking and living. In A.A. this is appropriately termed ‘a psychic change.’