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Power, Love, and Giving a Shit

Mike Mather
AA's Powerlessness and personal responsibility are two sides of the same coin.


The first step of the 12 Steps of AA is to admit that we are powerless over alcohol and that our lives have become unmanageable. This means recognising that we cannot control our drinking or using, even though we may have tried many times to do so. It also means accepting that our addiction has caused a great deal of damage in our lives, and that we cannot fix things on our own.

Personal responsibility

Although we are powerless over alcohol and drugs, we are still responsible for our own actions. This means that we are responsible for making the choice to stay sober or to pick up a drink or drug. It also means that we are responsible for the consequences of our choices. Karma sux.

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Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

How the two concepts work together

Admitting our powerlessness over alcohol and drugs is a necessary step in recovery. It allows us to let go of the illusion that we can control our addiction, and it opens us up to the possibility of receiving help. We can, however, take one vow that will change everything ~ don’t drink.

Taking personal responsibility for our actions is also essential to recovery. It means being honest with ourselves about our choices, and it means accepting the consequences of those choices. When we take personal responsibility, we are empowered to make different choices in the future.

Here is an example of how powerlessness and personal responsibility work together in AA:

A person is struggling with their addiction, and they keep trying to control it on their own. They go on diets, they make promises to themselves and to their loved ones, but they always end up drinking or using again.

Finally, they realise that they are powerless over alcohol and drugs, and that they need help. They start attending AA meetings, and they find a sponsor. With the support of their sponsor and the other members of AA, they are able to stay sober.

Recovery Road

However, they know that they are still responsible for their own actions. They know that if they pick up a drink or drug, it will be their choice, and they will have to live with the consequences.

This is why AA members often say that they are “powerless over alcohol, but not powerless over their own lives.” They have admitted that they cannot control their addiction, but they are taking personal responsibility for their recovery.

By admitting their powerlessness over alcohol and drugs, and by taking personal responsibility for their actions, AA members are able to find the strength and support they need to stay sober and live happy and fulfilling lives.

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Image by Sophia Nel from Pixabay

Developing Equanimity

There is no sense in feeling attached to someone who appears attractive, feeling aversion towards someone who appears unattractive, or feeling indifferent towards someone who is neither attractive nor unattractive – they are only my mistaken projections. They make my mind unbalanced and peaceful, and destroy my happiness.

“On the ground of equanimity pour the water of love and sow the seed of compassion, From these the harvest of bodhichitta will arise.”

The recovery movement is all about compassion – the shared comradery and empathy. Buddha’s definition of love is ‘wanting others to be happy’. The shared suffering of alcoholism and the wish to be free from the attachment to harmful actions and substances is The AA way.

Isn’t this exactly what Buddha teaches in the seventh lamrim?* Developing equanimity is watching our reaction to the world with the intention to love and care for all others. In humans, this reaction is often prejudice and trepidation. For addicts that have an obsession, it is to use.

In this simile, alcohol (or other substances) are the defence mechanism against pain and trauma, and in all others we are protecting ourselves against potential suffering with prejudice.

Equanimity and 12 Steps lifestyles both help us interact with the world successfully, where once we were habituated by trauma and memory of past pain.


I could be wrong about this, so check with yourself if this rings true.

A boy from a strict household finds love with the first pretty girl that shows him some attention. After she dumps him, he relentlessly pines for her and dates other girls to get the same feeling of ecstasy. He falls ‘in and out of love’ looking for a lasting high. The high that he gets from the chase and conquest isn’t the same as love. His selfishness destroys him.

Same as drinking. He gets such a rush from that first drink, he spends 30 years seeking out the same feelings. Some call this feeling, ‘being coloured-in’, and others say it ‘fills a hole’.

The hole is ‘God shaped’. The absolute need for spiritual connection is the essence of our deficiency. Connecting with a Higher Power, and other sentient beings, is the recipe for filling this hole.

See also 'Wishing Love and Recovery From Alcoholism'

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Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Not Me

Not knowing why he ends up in unsatisfactory relationships, he blames the other party, unfairness, and God for all the bad luck that comes his way. The drinker seeks more, and more often. Nothing seems to make him happy, and he complains that other people, his job, and the politicians are responsible for all his ills. His health deteriorates and he drinks more as people abandon him.

In both scenarios, our protagonist is seeking happiness from without and, whilst always looking for something to ‘fix’ him, fails to look within.

Universally, we want happiness. Buddha tells us that this is possible only with a peaceful mind, and the opposite of this peaceful state is looking outwards for satisfaction. Dissatisfaction happens when our needs and want are not met. We can become satisfied, therefore, by getting all that we want.

Or diminishing our wants.

*The New Meditation Handbook

About the Author Mike Mather

Mike was born in 1963 which technically makes him one of the youngest of the Baby Boomers. An Australian with Indigenous and European heritage, he has been an avid and required student of Buddhism and alcoholism since 2008.

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