I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who's sort of hovering around the edges of being in a 12-step program
. And she said that it didn't seem likely that she would right now, because she wasn't ready for the whole powerlessness thing and the whole idea of turning things over to a higher power
I thought that was a really amazing way to put it and that the way she phrased it perfectly described the way I think of being powerless. So I explained that to her.
"I thought it was funny because you said it like 'it's unlikely,' as if you weren't actually the only one who decides whether you go or not. Like, not like 'I'm not doing it right now' or 'I don't think I am ready for it' or whatever. And my first reaction was that you're the only one who's responsible for going or not.
"But THEN, I was all, I totally get that 'unlikely' thing, because there are lots of times when there's something I am debating doing - like on a Saturday afternoon when I'm all, oh, there's this thing tonight, and I can't decide whether I'm going to go to it, and then I sort of want to, but then time wears on and finally I am all, oh, clearly I am not going to this. And now I can recognize when it is 'kind of unlikely' that I am going to do something, because I know my patterns and I can be all, this does not look like it, it is not working for me right now or I am not into it really or whatever it is.
"And THEN I realized, like: intellectually, we think that we're in total control of all our decisions and actions, so the first reaction is right according to that. But in reality, there are forces at work that we're not in control of, and there are times when the reality is just 'I can tell that it's not likely that this is going to happen right now' or whatever.
"It is like, the very statement that it is not likely to happen right now, the way it's worded, perfectly illustrates the idea of not being the one in total control of it. That life is a dance that we do in partnership with the world around us or whatever we believe we're dancing with, and we don't control all of the moves. There's our subconscious and our past experiences and our fears and all kinds of other things moving around in there too, making things happen.
'And that's where powerlessness in the scary sense comes from. It's like with alcohol, being powerless over alcohol doesn't mean that you physically cannot move your hand to pull the bottle away from your mouth, like sarcasmo alcoholics who hate program say it does. It means that for whatever (and I assure you they are fear-based) reasons, you aren't willing to face the reality of what is happening AND choose healthier things for yourself. You don't have the information or the support that you need to get there, by yourself. You have to get power from outside to get there, in the form of other people who have done it already and whatever other resources.
"It is also kind of like how there are times, in that vein, when I push and push and try everything to make things happen. and sometimes things happen like I am moving in the direction of the current in a river, like everything is in line with the universe's plan for me or what I am supposed to be doing in my life right now or whatever. And sometimes I push and push and shit just keeps on cropping up and shoving back and getting in the way and it is not going to happen. And a whole big part of program for me is (like the serenity prayer) learning how to tell from that when I am moving in the right direction and when I need to change something to move with the flow so that awesome things keep happening in my life.
"It is like when people looking at SIA are all, I don't want that because I have spent my whole life trying not to be powerless anymore! and I am all, that is not what it means. In SIA they say we are powerless over the abuse and the effects of the abuse and our lives have become unmanageable, and it means that what happened was not our fault and we had no control over it and that now we can face it to move through it and move on. It is like, the opposite of society's power-over oppressive connotations to 'powerless'."
The reason it's the opposite, I think, is that... especially as abuse survivors, we learn that it is BAD to be powerless. Because we felt and were so powerless when we were being abused. So we think, powerless = abused = bad. Like when we're powerless it means that we can get hurt again.
But there are at least two kinds of powerless. There's powerless as opposed to powerful, which is that kind that we associate with abuse. And there's powerless in the sense of knowing what we can and can't control. The boundaryful kind of powerless. The kind that frees us from having to control and fix everything in the whole entire world to make sure we're never ever abused again. The kind that empowers us and frees us to put our energy into all the things that we can and should control - all the places that we actually have power in our lives.
It's really important to think about with abuse, too. Because what the first step says in SIA is that we are powerless over the abuse and the effects of the abuse: that it was NOT OUR FAULT. And that nothing we can do now is going to change the fact that we were abused. Which means that we have the freedom to stop dissociating, stop using whatever self-harming things we've used to try to control and erase the abuse somehow, so that we never have to feel our feelings about it or accept that it happened. It gives us the option of healing it and moving through it to a new free life that we can't even imagine yet.
To me, "powerless" is shorthand for learning where the boundaries are between what's in my power and what isn't. And knowing that stuff means that I can give my energy to the things that are in my power, and be so totally empowered in my life. Instead of trying to change things that are not mine to control and wasting my life and my energy beating at brick walls. It's the judicious use of power and wisdom. It's sort of paradoxical, and i love it.