By: Craig Stratton

“Feeling powerless and not acting is like being hungry and not choosing to eat.” ~Naoshad Pochkhanawala

Stalled and Stuck at Step One? 


The recovery process is full of concepts, phrases, short quotes, and words that we take for granted or use to our advantage in many ways.  

It is often at a recovery support meeting where we hear, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or our addiction), that our lives had become unmanageable.”

To admit powerlessness is quite difficult for many. Powerlessness means lacking strength or power, being weak or feeble. It’s also identified as the aspect of a lack of ability or capacity. Hearing these definitions of “powerlessness” would be the last thing we would like to admit.   

We may have gone through our active addiction with great courage, the sense of being invincible, powerful, or in control. 

Powerful or Delusional?

When in fact, we were totally out of control, cowardly, and quite vulnerable. Maintaining the altered reality that we’ve created for ourselves was deceptive on so many levels. This reality that we protected for so many years kept us locked in, kept us suffering, and kept us sick.   

Not facing the “actual” reality of our circumstances seemed like a feat we would never be able to conquer. We maintained this thinking in such a way that we made it part of our very being. Assessing the altered reality we chose to exist in created a clear and somewhat comfortable place for us to move into the “victim role easily.” As we settled into this role, we’ve subconsciously adopted the definitions of “powerlessness” into our actions and dealings with others.

Where Am I Truly Powerless? 

Adopting this term leaves many people at a disadvantage when it comes to the recovery process. Over time, it becomes a part of our language and our very being. We make this our “go-to,” which is followed by excuses not to act. It creates a convenient barrier between us and the very things we should be working on to increase our growth. Through the process, if we state that we’re powerless, we need to make sure we’re not operating from effortlessness.

 There are things that we are, in fact, powerless over:

  1.  Other people’s actions
  2. What others may say
  3. Death 

While those three are only a few, I’m sure you may come up with others. However, at the end of the day, are we powerless over the above? The one thing that I always keep in mind when looking at the above examples is that my response to these is most important.  

I’m Not Powerless Over Who I Let In My Life

So, there is a level of power we can keep up with it comes to these events. There was a saying that I heard years ago that I continue to assess, “we are not only powerless over drugs and alcohol; we are powerless over other people.”

I now wonder if this is true. While some say yes, and some say no, we have to look at the situations on a deeper level to answer this for ourselves.   

We Make an Effort at Honesty and Willingness

Recovery is an inside job that requires complete and total honesty and a willingness to look at ourselves and address the very issues that have plagued us for so long. Suppose we can’t apply these concepts (honesty and willingness) into our personal recovery. In that case, we will be left with that feeling of being powerless and continue to use this as one of the many excuses we tend to use when we fall into the mindset of being “effortless.”  

Lack of “effort” can be pretty crippling to recovery. Effortlessness is the nature of not using physical and mental exertion. It is also: simple, painless, easy, or uncomplicated.  

These exact concepts are the same ones we displayed during active addiction. How can we expect to progress, transform and grow if we use the same thinking from the past?  

Going from Powerless to Making Effort

The very things we should be working on in our recovery that we choose not to will eventually resurface at a time in our lives that we may not be ready to discuss. Of course, I understand that recovery is a lifelong process, but keep in mind that it also requires rigorous honesty, work, and effort.  

Do we look at issues or situations in our lives and continue to say, “I’m powerless over that,” or do we say, “I need to put forth effort” in resolving that?  

We become the sole decider of how this plays out. In looking at the commitment made to this wonderful process, many of us are fully aware of the crutches we use to avoid addressing struggles head-on. We must acknowledge how we handle and manage difficult situations in our lives, and we have to be honest about that.

Effortless to Effort: A Transforming Experience

We know when we’re not putting forth effort; so be honest with ourselves. Understanding the actual definition of recovery will better help us in this process. Any shortcomings that we may display isn’t an unmistakable sign that we will return to active addiction; it indicates we have more work to do.

When we resort to using “powerlessness in situations that don’t necessarily warrant it, we convey to others that everything is alright and we have no problem with the current situation. Settling in this manner shouldn’t be an option. The goals in the process are to overcome, achieve, conquer, grow and obtain freedom. Moving from a state of “effortless” into “effort” can be a transforming experience.  

The fear of taking action will be non-existent at some point. We must remain diligent and faithful to our pursuits in recovery. Recovery literature discusses the promise of freedom, which cannot be obtained or accomplished by maintaining that alter-reality we had formed for ourselves. We can no longer use specific terms and phrases as crutches to not take action in our lives. 

Moving Forward

There are ways to address our automatic thinking better when it comes to our continued use of the word “powerless” and not putting forth “effort” towards a given situation.

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Assess, honestly, whether this is a problem issue for you.
  3. Look at your history of responses to a similar situation; was the outcome negative or positive?
  4. What’s your level of commitment to resolving this issue?
  5. Ask yourself; am I really powerless over this situation or issue? 
  6. Am I using the statement “powerless” as an excuse not to act?
  7. Do I want to stay within the definition of powerlessness; weak, feeble, lacking strength. 
  8. If the situation is emotionally overwhelming, can I seek more assistance, use a support network or outside counseling if deemed appropriate?
  9. Am I avoiding self-defeating statements?
  10. What can I do to allow myself to be successful in the recovery process?

Regaining Our Power and Control

Reflecting on the aspects of “powerless” and “effortless” requires a brutally honest self-assessment. Do you tend to fall within the deceptive ideas? If so, you can take action and be more open and responsible for your personal recovery. Just as we can look at others and point out their faults and shortcomings, we can do that for ourselves as well.


Bio: Craig W. Stratton MS, ASCAS

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisCraig is an Adjunct Professor at Hudson Valley Community College. He brings his personal experience of 22 years in recovery and his education to his students, ensuring that the next generation of substance abuse counselors understand the knowledge of addiction, but more importantly, know a representative of the addicted population. 

Bringing this human element to his classes, he advocates for recovery and, through his teaching and actions, will help remove the stigmas and myths associated with faceless addicts.

Combining Passion with Purpose

Combining his passions with a purpose is one of his goals. He has worked to help marginalized populations understand their addictions and introduce them to the benefits of recovery as a Case Manager for the homeless and those in the Drug Treatment Court.

He has also counseled adolescents, adults, and couples over the last 14 years in various agencies and worked extensively on Alternatives to Incarceration to incorporate treatment and not incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

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