The Sheer Power in Admitting Powerlessness

The 12 Steps are based on the admittance of one’s powerlessness over their particular addiction or compulsion.  The irony of doing this is that it takes incredible personal power to make the statement that you are powerless.  The decision to admit powerlessness over our disease is not an easy one.  It always comes at the end of a long battle, with many heartbreaks and material losses.  It is literally the U-turn we are making from being dysfunctional into a very powerful creator.

Addiction and co-dependency are the same disease.  Most people do not understand it in that way.  The addict uses a drug or behavior that stimulates the mid-brain chemical reaction known as the Brain Reward Cascade.  The co-dependent uses thoughts and actions to stimulate the exact same process.  I was coaching a client recently who has a family member suffering from addiction.  Midway through the call, I referred to her as an addict.  She was stunned and replied that nobody has ever called her that before.

I went on to explain that anytime we rely on an outside source to control our own happiness, we are playing the “reward cascade” game.  Co-dependency, much like gambling addiction, shopping addiction, and sex addiction, are considered the pure addictions.  This is because the desired result does not come from any external source.  They are thought and action-driven addictions which stimulate the dopamine release, providing us the reward we are seeking.

Once we have the awareness that we have a disease, a continuing and progressive illness, we are put in the position of making a choice.  Do I continue with my behavior in spite of my knowledge?  Or do I accept my condition and make the necessary changes?  This is pure power and control, the opposite of powerlessness.  Granted, we cannot recover ourselves.  We do need help and guidance from others.  Again, we are placed in a position of using power to do what is needed to make sure that we rehabilitate the behaviors that no longer work for us.

Our thoughts create our emotions.  Most people are not aware that this is how our brain works.  Have you ever been walking down a street at night when the thought comes to your mind that it may not be safe?  What happens?  Your heart starts racing.  Your breath becomes rapid and shallow.  You simply had a thought that triggered the body’s “fight or flight” response.  This thought was created by you.  It didn’t just happen to come across your mind; you created it.  What’s more, you likely created it out of data in your brain from an external source without any relevance to what is real in that moment.

This is how we operate most of the time.  We come from data external to our self and act as though it is the God-given truth.  We end up building our life around these beliefs we have about how life is, and those beliefs are typically created out of faulty data.

Recovery is all about using our power to change our beliefs that are based on faulty data.  The 12 Steps provide the necessary tools for experiencing life from a place of power rather than of powerlessness.  Abstinence simply is not a satisfying enough response to the admittance of our inability to control our use of drugs and behaviors, but changing our perspective from one of “life is happening to us” to one of “life is happening through us” will repair our low self-esteem and allow for life’s greatest joys to be experienced.

(Kevin McCormack C.A.d, is an addictions professional and Conversations with God life coach.  Kevin hosts an Addictions and Recovery column on the website  He is a recovering addict with over 26 years of sobriety.  Kevin is a co-host of “Conversations with God on Recovery” workshops and retreats.  The next retreat will be held June 23rd – 26th in Medford, Oregon.  To contact Kevin, visit his website or email him at

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