Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

What Surrendering and Being Powerless Doesn’t Mean

When I first heard I had to “surrender” and admit I was “powerless” in order to not drink another drop of alcohol and to start eating in a healthy manner, I thought the people telling me this were nuts.

There was no way in hell I would (or could) utter such insane words.  I wasn’t going to surrender and bow down at the feet of anyone or to anything.  I most certainly wasn’t going to admit I lacked power over how I lived my life.   I mean come on already, hadn’t I done enough by admitting to how much I drank and how little I ate?  What more did they want?

This line of  defiant thinking is exactly what kept me lifting a glass of wine to my lips and keeping a fork from them.  I had yet to realize the wine and the food were not the addiction.  The addiction was control.  I was completely and irrationally in need of being in control of all things at all times.  The mere idea I would have to surrender my control and admit I was powerless over my ability to curtail the amount of wine I drank or increase the amount of food I ate, sent my head spinning.

My recollection of the days, weeks, even months before recovery are a tad blurry due to too much alcohol and too little food in my system.  So while I can’t say for certain, I’m guessing I had a rather defensive look on my face when I was told I had to surrender and admit I was powerless over alcohol and my ability to feed myself properly.  What I do remember quite vividly was someone telling me, “You won’t understand this now, but trust me, you will.”

But since I had agreed to be willing and open to what was suggested to me, I dug a little deeper into this idea of surrendering and being powerless.  What I found out first was, what they weren’t.

Surrendering didn’t mean I was saying I was giving up.  It didn’t mean I was waving the proverbial white flag with a message of, “You win.”  To say I surrendered was really my way of saying, “I have no idea what to do anymore.  I tried to fix myself and I just can’t.  I’m tired of trying.  If anyone can guide me to a life less dependent on wine and the number on a scale, I’m ready to listen.”

When I surrendered I wasn’t bowing down, I was standing up with arms raised tearfully and willingly asking for help.

In as much as surrendering doesn’t mean giving up, admitting I was powerless didn’t mean I was weak.  The acknowledgment I lacked power simply meant I understood that I no longer had any control of my addictive behaviors.  I lost that control long ago.  Being drunk and thin went from wanting to be that way to needing to be that way.  My ability to manage my how much I drank and how little I ate was long gone.  I was unable to stop no matter how hard I tried, what I told myself, what promises I silently made or what I falsely promised others.  I could not stop.  I had become powerless.

Once I figured out what they weren’t, I stopped resisting the idea of surrendering and admitting I was powerless and started taking action to change.

Yet it’s important to know this change isn’t a one-time occurrence.   Since those early days there have been several times I have had to accept how powerless I am over some things and surrender any false belief I can control others.

The mere fact I know when to do this is indeed another example of how powerful a transitioned life can be.


What do you think about having to surrender or being powerless over something?  I’d love for you to add your comment here in the “Reply” section. 

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3 thoughts on “What Surrendering and Being Powerless Doesn’t Mean

  1. In a word – COURAGEOUS!

  2. Samantha on said:

    I was first introduced to your story a couple months ago while in treatment. My therapist printed out your entry on boundaries, which proved to be very helpful. Ever since then I’ve been turning to your blog for advice and reassurance. I’m fairly new to recovery and being able to relate to your story is extremely comforting. Thank you!

    • Thank you for your kind and generous words Samantha. What an honor to know your therapist chose to share some of my insight with you which ultimately led you here to visit with me again. I’ve found staying connected with those who share similar experiences and challenges keeps me grounded and willing to stay healthy. I’ll keep your courageous effort in all my positive thoughts. And remember, today will be manageable if you take things one slow deep breath at a time.

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