Jul 4, 2022 | By Tim Stoddart

Powerlessness: Taking the First Step into Sobriety


There are few things as baffling, irritating, and ultimately frightening as the moment we realize that a substance or a behavior has control over us. The fear that comes with powerlessness is something that unless one has experienced it firsthand is hard to describe. The broken promises to ourselves and others regarding never using again, cutting back on a behavior, or simply trying to apply “better judgment” to a situation long ago hijacked by addiction leaves many of us hopeless, fearful, and emotionally paralyzed as we realize that we may not know how to take the first step into what we will eventually refer to as our recovery.

Taking The First Step

As the 12-step recovery model first mapped out for us many decades ago, it all starts with step one: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or substances, or sex, or food, etc.) and our lives had become unmanageable.”

That simple sentence would seem to be a very easy first step to apply toward freedom however it implies a lot more than just the benign acknowledgement of an inconvenient habit. This first step of admission is one that is asking us to admit we are not in control, that we have lost some voice in our own lives to a substance or a behavior, and that maybe we don’t quite have it as together as the persona we’ve learned to live behind might indicate. While this first step sounds extremely easy and often gets glossed over in the process of recovery, we must realize what we are really saying by admitting this first requirement.

The first step is a call to confession. Many of us equate confession with a religious practice but recovery soon teaches us that this practice while it may be rooted in a religious tradition is far more of a universal spiritual principle that allows us to free ourselves of untold stories, secrets, and resentments that have participated in keeping us sick for far longer than we may want to admit. So, if the first step toward freedom is indeed admitting powerlessness to whom are we to admit this?

Talking To A Friend Or Sponsor

Many would say that we admit it to ourselves first but for so many of us we need help addressing the reality of the less than flattering aspects of ourselves and our circumstances. Very often the first step is a progressive process practiced in the presence of a trusted friend or sponsor. A friend in their own recovery might be all the better but at the very least we need the company of a nonjudgmental set of ears to hold space with us as we explore what is true about our lives and our relationship to others. Hearing ourselves admit things aloud to another human being for the first time can be the beginning of the healing we all yearn for. Sharing space with a trusted friend can often find us sharing more of our truth than we may have initially meant to but also experiencing more freedom than we might have imagined we could as well.

Admitting We Have A Problem

I often tell my clients that we can’t tell the truth to others until we can at first admit what is true to ourselves. For many of us with a dependency we have minimized our behavior by convincing ourselves of a less serious scenario playing out in our lives. A conversation built around honest confession with a trusted companion is often a process in our own realization that we are worse off than we even dared allow ourselves to believe. By admitting the truth to ourselves and our friend one on one we allow ourselves to begin experiencing the freedom of truth-telling from the very beginning. Sobriety is an exercise in ongoing honesty and vulnerability, but it starts with the willingness to be vulnerable with ourselves first.

What Does Powerlessness Mean?

Powerlessness simply means that we have lost our ability to choose whether or not we participate in a behavior with a substance. Whether it is due to physical addiction or emotional dependency we are no longer able to manage our behavior.

Admitting that we have lost control over something as a precursor to healing may seem a little counterintuitive. Our programmed nature regarding admitting “weakness” is to shore up a big dose of “I can do it myself” and launch out on yet another mission to slay the dragon alone. The reality of our powerlessness over a substance is also an admission that my illusion of control over my own life isn’t working. Sobriety embraces the loss of the illusion of control, the illusion of certainty, the giving up of my need to be right in all situations, and that I somehow possess the ability to fix others or shape them into whom I need them to be to fit my own agendas. To truly embrace the first step to healing we must recognize that our relationship to a substance or unwanted behavior is simply a symptom and often a microcosm of the rest of our lives.

If you are finding yourself entertaining the idea that perhaps your relationship to alcohol or another substance or behavior needs some evaluation sit down and ask yourself a couple of questions as honestly as possible. Ask yourself what unwanted outcomes you are now experiencing with relationship to your behavior. Are you experiencing more than a year ago? Are you now tending to disregard the consequences of the unwanted outcomes to continue to engage in the behavior? Are you lying about how often or how much you use? Do you find yourself looking for reasons to isolate to engage in the behavior? How much is shame holding you back from talking to a trusted friend about your behavior?

CTA to take the addiction quizzes (this is a note for myself)

At the end of the day there is nothing more valuable than the ears of a trusted friend as we begin to take the first step into admitting our need for help to ourselves. Once we tell ourselves the truth, we are free to share that truth with others and breathe in the courage necessary to take the next step in sharing our truth with those who will walk with us into freedom.

Leave a Reply

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

24/7 Rehab Help (866) 207-7436 Sponsored | Who Answers

Contact Sober Nation's Sponsored Hotline

If you are seeking drug and alcohol related addiction rehab for yourself or a loved one, the SoberNation.com hotline is a confidential and convenient solution.

Calls to any general hotline (non-facility) will be answered by Behavioral Health Innovators

Alternatives to finding addiction treatment or learning about substance:

If you wish to contact a specific rehab facility then find a specific rehab facility using our treatment locator page or visit SAMHSA.gov.

To learn more about how Sober Nation operates, please contact us