Overcoming Codependency: Practicing Powerlessness
Addicts and alcoholics are taught that they are powerless over their drug of choice and any substitutes. Until they admit and accept that powerlessness, there is little to no hope for recovery.
Those of you who count yourselves among the families or friends of addicts are powerless, too. That may not be obvious to you. You may believe the addict is the only one with the problem. You may resist admitting and accepting that you are powerless over a family member’s drug and alcohol use as well as your own inappropriate reactions to addictive behavior. Taking care of the addict has probably been central to your life for so long that you barely remember who you are.
You may think you can fix the addict if you just behave the right way or love him the right way. You’re always watching what you say and how you act. You might think if you can control your anger or stop making him feel like he’s not good enough, the drugs will lose their hold on him. It’s almost like trying to learn a dance, and you feel like you’re always doing the wrong steps.
Many addicts are happy to have codependents in their lives who think this way. They want you to believe it’s all your fault. As long as everything is your fault, he doesn’t have to change his behavior. You’ll keep trying to change your behavior, and he’ll keep doing what he’s doing. Or you may put your energy into trying to control his behavior. You yell, beg, plead or cry, but nothing changes, no matter what you do.
As long as you fail to admit your powerless over the disease of addiction, there is a good chance you will continue to expend untold energy trying to control people and situations over which you have absolutely no influence.
Recovery From Codependence
The word “powerless” implies weakness. But when it comes to addiction, the practice of powerlessness is the beginning of developing your inner strength. Addiction is a disease, not a moral weakness. You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it. People are probably telling you to “let go.” But how do you let go? At times letting go sounds about as possible as jumping over the moon.
Powerlessness doesn’t mean not acting. Chances are that doing nothing drives you crazy. Think of practicing powerlessness as an action you have to take. It’s not about being passive. It’s about being proactive. It’s about using your energy for positive change in your own life.
Two Steps for Practicing Powerlessness
There are two main steps for practicing powerlessness. It’s kind of like learning a new dance, one that is very different from the hopeless dance you’ve been doing with the addict.
- Recognize your tendency to take charge. Any time there is a behavior that you wish to change, the first step is noticing when you’re doing it. Pay attention. How many times a day do you catch yourself trying to control the addict’s behavior? What other behaviors are you consumed by? Are you digging through drawers looking for evidence, driving aimlessly around the neighborhood searching for the addict or exhibiting other obsessive behavior? If you write down every time that you catch yourself either obsessing about the addict and what he is doing or wasting energy raging, pacing, worrying or expending any other useless emotion, you will start to become aware of how much addiction has overtaken your life.
- Shift your focus to yourself. The art of practicing powerlessness requires that you do something constructive with all that energy you have been wasting. Think about how you can practice powerlessness today. That means doing something proactive for yourself, not for the addict. Sign up for a class. Go to a meeting. Call a friend. Walk around the park. Show up for your own life.
Learning to practice powerlessness will take time and practice, just like any new behavior. Remember that this isn’t about being weak or giving up. Practicing powerlessness will ultimately empower you to take charge of your own life.