The Problem with Powerlessness

The problem with the idea that I’m powerless over my addiction is that it’s not true.

Obviously. Even in the depths of my addiction, I made choices. For example, I don’t sit and watch porn on the computer that’s in our main living area. I used the laptop. So coming into recovery where these yahoos were telling me that I was powerless over my addiction seemed crazy. For me, there was a definite yucky, cultish-evangelistic-stupid feel to the whole thing. Truth be told, it led me right to the Orange Papers.

Since then, I’ve come to believe that I am powerless over my addiction. Believing this gives my brain a way to relax enough that I can have some hope of stopping. Plus, it’s a way that I can avoid the overwhelming shame that comes with doing bad stuff, and having little or no self-control. That does NOT mean that I don’t take responsibility for my actions, it means that telling myself over and over that I’m a worthless slut is not an effective strategy for getting myself to stop any kind of compulsive behavior.

Almost everyone has over eaten at some time or another. Has it helped to tell yourself that you’re a disgusting pig? That time that you called yourself those names and tossed the food in the garbage, was it the last time you over ate?

Ultimately, what’s been most helpful for me is to remember to treat myself with the same compassion as I would treat my daughter if she was me. Of course, in the midst of a slip, I did not remember to do that. But I reached out to my therapist and he helped me. He did not think I was a worthless slut, but rather a person who became overwhelmed and returned to compulsive sexual behaviors.

Once I become overwhelmed, I become unable to resist compulsive sexual behaviors that I’ve engaged in since before I was in kindergarten (the masturbation, not the porn!) add a health dose of self-hatred and you’ve got an addictive cycle that’s difficult to break. That’s powerlessness.

Managing my life so that I do not become overwhelmed, that’s power.

When I’m sober, I have power.

If you’re struggling with this whole powerlessness thing, think of it as a mental trick. It’s a way to free your brain from its chinese finger-cuffs. And if there’s a better metaphor for addiction, I can’t think of it just now.






  1. Gentle Path,

    Thank you for your reply. To stay or go is the big question and I wrestle with it every day. On one hand, it is a simple decision. I know that I cannot accept his behaviors. If I had evidence that he were upset at his own behaviors rather than snowing everyone around him, including people in program, I could be more accepting. So the logical answer is to go.

    But my daughter is one year away from her own independence and my financial life is tied up with my partner. I want desperately to allow my daughter stability in her last year at home, and I am not ready financially to leave.

    That said, I’ve begun to plan for leaving as soon as possible and am working to extricate myself from financial dependence. Living with him in the mean time is heart-breaking and soul-draining.

    • I wish there was a way you could live with him and not have the heart breaking and soul draining. But I know that’s probably like wishing to go for a walk in the rain and not get wet.

      • Indeed. I’ve been working to accept THAT. Wishing for the heart-break to go away only weakens my spirit. Accepting the pain is helping me to get more grounded.

  2. I know this is an older post, and maybe you won’t see this comment, but here I go anyway.

    When I read your blog I’m able to have compassion for you, even when you slip, because I see how hard you’re working to unravel the “stinkin’ thinkin'”. I can see how it’s a coping mechanism that you fall back to. I can see how, yes, you have choices, but you’re working with the compulsive drive behind those choices.

    I don’t see any of this with my partner. I see him going to meetings and sponsoring people, yes. I see him drive off to his men’s group, yes. But I also see that in the 4+ years we’ve been together he hasn’t been merely slipping. He’s been maintaining a nearly steady low-grade supply of painkillers, alcohol, and sex offender forums. I see that every single month of recovery there has been maybe three weeks of sobriety.

    He was in recovery for over 3 years before I met him, and led me to believe he was sober. He also failed to tell me about the sex addiction until we were fully enmeshed.

    So when I look at him I’m having a very hard time feeling anything even remotely akin to compassion. Particularly when I see, for example, how methodical his choice is to do painkillers for three days out of every month and not talking to his sponsor about it and while volunteering to run a jail AA meeting.

    What I see is deliberate deception.

    • I did see your comment and I appreciate your kind words. “When I read your blog I’m able to have compassion for you, even when you slip, because I see how hard you’re working to unravel the “stinkin’ thinkin’”. I can see how it’s a coping mechanism that you fall back to. I can see how, yes, you have choices, but you’re working with the compulsive drive behind those choices.” Although I’ve been doing very well in my program, there are still days when life is rough and it helps to reread this on those days.

      When you’re a recovering co-addict and your spouse is in active addiction, even when the acting out is “low-grade,” what do you do? I guess when you come right down to it, you can either stay or leave. If you stay, you can either stay and accept or stay and not accept. I know that with my slip, my acting out behaviors were acceptable to my husband, plus he knew that I was trying very hard to get back on track. But honestly, although I was having a very rough time, he wasn’t. It’s really nice to not be enmeshed. When you are an individual part of a marriage, it becomes a relationship that’s greater than the sum of its individual members. But when you’re enmeshed, it’s a matter of one partner being engulfed by the other in a never ending see-saw of dysfunction. It feels strong, but it’s not. Picture two separate trees vs two trees each vying for their patch of sunlight. When you step back the entangled trees may look strong, but it’s at each other’s expense. The two separate trees do much better.

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