Power vs. Powerlessness in the Recovery Community

Have you noticed that the recovery community embraces the concept of powerlessness while the psychology community, and certainly the motivational self-help community, often emphasize empowerment? The message of most 12-step recovery programs and treatment centers is that we are powerless over alcohol, people, places, and things. Many articles on the Psychology Today website written by psychologists and psychiatrists claim we are not powerless over our addiction, people, places or things. It’s all very confusing.

As a recovering alcoholic and a physician, I agree with both camps. I believe that we can be powerless as addicts and, at the same time, not powerless at recovering. To better understand this, let’s look at love and how it works.

The Recovery Community and Love

Most of us have experienced two very different forms of love—the state of being in love (a noun) and the daily devotion of loving another person (a verb).

“In love” is rooted in biology. It originates deep within the brain in our instinctual drives, in our emotional system and rewards system. I’ve never met anyone who could control who they fall in love with. We meet thousands of people throughout our lives and we fall in love with “that one.” Sometimes this person is completely unsuitable for us, yet we are completely blind to it. Not even our most trusted friends can make us see reason when we are under love’s spell.

Loving, on the other hand, is not instinctive; nor is it blind. It takes thought, planning, and appropriate decisions followed by actions. Scott Peck, MD in his book, The Road Less Traveled, emphasizes love as “promoting the spiritual well-being of others.” This is usually not an easy endeavor. It takes practice, a resolve to learn from failure.

In love behaviors are like addiction and alcoholism behaviors. Both arise out of our subconscious, our instincts to survive. We have zero thought control over our subconscious. We are powerless and will always remain powerless over our subconscious. That’s why it’s actually called a subconscious. But look at loving and how it requires conscious, rational decisions—even when a person is deeply in love. Loving is like recovering from alcoholism and addiction. Both require the use of reason and a focus on the well-being of others. Both can and must be practiced even when reason is impaired by an addiction. So, powerless and not powerless. Both are correct and indispensable. Neither negates the other.

Power Through Love in the Recovery Community

Many people across the world believe love originates from a power greater than ourselves. Maybe that’s right. What I’m absolutely sure of, though, is that loving, which is demonstrated in our very earthly human relationships and interactions, is hard for most of us. Like recovering, it takes lots and lots of practice. Practice, followed by failure, followed by resolve, followed by more practice. And in the end, it is ironically and paradoxically, in the steady practice of loving (and in the steady practice of recovering) that we find our own needs have been met.

In enriching the lives around us we, perhaps ironically and paradoxically, find our own wants and needs met.

Being in-love and the loving as a verb arise out of two completely different parts of the brain.

Now we’re talking not about instinct but about our frontal cortex–the same frontal cortex that alcohol has particularly damaging effects upon. Is it any wonder that some of us find it particularly difficult to constantly behave in a loving manner towards others? Even towards our own loved ones?

How the Recovery Community Practices Love

Common knowledge holds that any area of our lives that we feel “out of control” or completely helpless manifests as severe psychological stress. That’s human nature; it’s an inherent human struggle not unique to the alcoholic or drug addict. Some people handle stress far better than others. The addict or alcoholic? Not so much; considering their go-to feel better solution is another drink or drug.

This is where the philosophy of the recovery community comes into play. Building a circle of support during recovery allows for for the practice self love and love for others. To learn more about this and other aspects of recovery, contact Hayver today at info(at)hayver.com.