Step 1 of the 12 Step Programme - Power LESS or Power FULL
I woke up this morning with a clear head. With excitement and energy, looking forward to what the day was going to bring (I didn’t know what that was, but I was glad to be anticipating it). I got up early, did a couple of hours work, sweated through a 15 minute workout before sitting down to enjoy a good breakfast. My brother and I then planned my day - the penultimate day of my little holiday. None of this would have been possible when I was drinking.
I love this feeling of being in control, being the driver of my own destiny with the power to create the reality that I want and the power to choose how I live my life.
I’ve been reading a lot of social media posts from all sorts of people who are living sober lifestyles and are sharing their experiences. A lot of them are from people who have used Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and are promoting some of the concepts behind the 12 Step Programme approach to addiction. The 12 Step Programme and the whole AA approach is based on an old non-denominational Christian movement popular in the U.S. and Europe in the early 20th century. It advocates taking twelve steps, some of which I find unhelpful and problematic.
At some point, I’d like to write a proper and full article examining the 12 Step approach and suggesting why it can be problematic for so many people but in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about step number 1 and why it doesn’t work for me. Step number 1 requires that the participant admits they are “powerless” over alcohol and that their lives have become “unmanageable”. When you begin to develop an understanding of how much the language we use affects how we experience life and even shapes our own realities, you start to understand why using this kind of language can be unhelpful.
If I were to give alcohol the power, to consider myself weak and helpless against it, it would be like relinquishing all responsibility and saying that there was somehow something wrong with me. It would be easy to slip into the commonly-adopted position of believing that I had a “disease”. Then, I would have to spend the rest of my life “battling” or “struggling against” something beyond my control. This doesn’t sound like a happy, fulfilling or motivating way to live my life.
I don’t want to make being powerless over alcohol my identity. I don’t want that to be how I define myself. In fact, the opposite. I don’t want to be power-LESS, I want to be power-FULL. When I realise that I have the power to live my life the way I want it, and to make the choices that are helpful to me, I am empowered and in control and more at ease with myself and my life.
I think it’s okay to describe my life when I was drinking as tricky to manage. It was certainly hard work – much harder work than being sober. But I wouldn’t describe it as unmanageable. Again, the opposite was true – I was making my own life very difficult and I was managing it well despite that. I was using some very high level management skills to deal with life even though I felt like I was falling apart. Throughout the latter end of my drinking days, I managed to keep it all together with skill, determination and planning. No-one who knew me suspected that anything was an issue for me, such were my acting skills.
So, words like powerless and unmanageable don’t work for me. I also think they prove problematic for other people as they work at an unconscious level to take responsibility and choice away. If someone believes they are powerless, they can kind of give up and hand over responsibility to someone or something else.
I understand that it can be scary to acknowledge that we are responsible for our choices and that we have the power to change how we behave because in doing that, it can seem like we’re also acknowledging that we have somehow “failed” at life. That we’ve messed up. And, that it can be a huge relief to relinquish that responsibility. However, those of you who have been working through the programme will already know that there are often very good reasons why we have made the choices to use alcohol in the way that we have and we don’t have to beat ourselves up over it. In fact, we've had a positive intention behind our alcohol-use and have used it to help ourselves, to make ourselves feel better – we’ve actually been looking after our own needs really well – it’s just that the medicine we’ve been using has stopped working and we need to address the unconscious programming that has now kicked in. There is no failure here, only feedback. And, the feedback we’ve been getting is that this way of living is no longer working for us. So, we need to change what we’re doing and do something differently.
But how about doing this in a way that celebrates your own power, your own capacity to create the life you want? Doing it in a way that celebrates you and your strengths and your ability to take control and change your behaviour? Doing it in a way that nurtures your emotional wellbeing and allows you to take responsibility for where you’re taking your life?
There are plenty of people who advocate the 12 Step Programme approach and for whom relinquishing power and control in step 1 is a strategy that works and works well. I’m firmly of the view that if something works for you, then great – keep doing it. But, because it doesn’t work for so many other people, it’s important to create alternative, healthier approaches to becoming sober so that there is more choice out there.
Is it helpful and a relief to you to consider yourself powerless against alcohol, or do you find it more helpful to have power and choice?