When Weakness is Empowering

In recent years, criticism has been directed toward mutual aid societies that practice the 12 steps. In particular, they find fault with first step’s phrase “we were powerless over…”. Critics say that this perspective is wrong, too negative and needs to be replaced with the concept of empowerment.

Here is what I know to be true for me: it was really hard to quit using what my brain thought it needed to survive. Willpower is overrated and was ineffective for me when I was struggling with compulsive behaviors that turned into a physiological dependency.

This is what powerless means to me: There is something in my life that is so powerful, cunning and baffling that I am unable to comprehend that this thing that I think is making me powerful and in control is actually killing me. IN SPITE OF MUCH EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY, I am unable to see the writing on the wall and read its message. At the worst of my using, I was absolutely completely powerless over the denial and self-deceit that served as sentries, blocking the obvious truth that I was dying. Both served at the pleasure of my survival instincts, which were compromised and confused as a result of my eating disorder.

However, none of this made me a powerless person; it did mean I was powerless over the effects my Substance Use Disorder was having on my capacity to reason. In fact, the recovery process teaches me how to take responsibility for my recovery. It has EMPOWERED me by giving me a new, inspired way of seeing God, myself and others. It has provided me tools to manage the issues that drove my substance use. It has given me the support I needed as I regained my footing and found my capacity for taking the next right step.

If you are fretting over the word “powerless,” maybe it is because, to you, like me, the word feels shaming. Who wants to be powerless? Instead, consider it as an acknowledgement that you have figured out that your willpower and good intentions are not enough to treat what ails you.

For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (b) NIV

Shame is a Spiritual Antagonist

I don’t know how to keep shame from creeping into a room. Heck, I don’t even know how to keep shame from eating away at my heart.  But because I personally have struggled with shame so much I have learned a few techniques that help me manage it, even as I work and wait for healing.  Shame is going to make merry anytime we are trying to improve our conscious contact with God or become more decently human or love others or treat ourselves and others with respect.  Shame is a condition many of us need to heal from AND learn to manage as we recover. 

 

The aforementioned church staff was simply a family system of sorts that was experiencing a team shame attack.  Before we could take meaningful action we had some work to do. 

 

As I sat, listened and learned from their family fight, I identified the group at the precontemplation stage of change.  There was no meaningful contemplation happening; they were ill-equipped in their whipped up stage to determine a direction and they certainly were NOT ready to proceed with action steps.  In precontemplation, they were reacting to the crisis.  These guys and gals were saying, thinking, feeling and proposing action steps that were more related to how they individually and collectively handled stress than anything more substantive and meaningful - like following their core values!  This stuff happens to me all the time, so I could feel their pain.

 

I saw a glimmer of opportunity.  Perhaps I could provide some much-needed calm.  Of course, me being me, this would require divine intervention.  But isn’t this where our hope always lies?  In recovery, aren’t we always called to admit our powerlessness and unmanageable parts, come to believe that a power greater than us can restore us to sanity, and turn our will over to God’s care and control?  Under duress, these were not the primary thoughts of the group.  Maybe I could remind them that we had a God who was ready to help us.

 

So we looked at 1 Corinthians, and then I asked them a question:  what do you see here?  At first, all they saw was what their shame wanted them to see - sexual immorality was super bad and it got people banished.   Look, this is true.  But it is an incomplete version of the truth and does not get us to the heart of the issue.  When we read a passage like this we're being dumped into the end of a story, and we miss the process.  When we miss the process we overlook some important dynamics that lie beneath the story itself.  

 

We have lots of contemplating to do before we just jump on the banishment bandwagon.  Because the truth is, God has many tools dangling from his belt.  Banishment is not the only option.  Plus, it wasn’t the thing I was hoping they would notice. 

 

To be continued….