Kevin Griffin, in his book One Breath At A Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps (www.kevingriffin.net), explores the way Buddhism and the Twelve Steps can be used together on the path of recovery.  In discussing the first step he addresses the concept of powerlessness.

I have always struggled with the first step, in part because feeling powerless has been a core issue in my life and development.  As a child, I felt powerless against the force of my father’s rage and verbal abuse.  I started drinking in high school, in part, because I felt powerless to fit in, to be popular and liked by my peers.  This insecurity continued in college and young adulthood.  I had a time of clarity in my 30’s when I went to nursing school and focused all my attention on getting perfect grades and excelling in this new career.  I lived at home and helped my parents by condo sitting when they were traveling.  I got married, became a step-mother to two beautiful girls, and had three children.  When my middle child was three-years-old he was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative condition.  My mental and physical health collapsed as I tried to grope with this new state of powerlessness.  All the trauma I thought I had stored away came rushing back with terrifying intensity.  I could not fix this, I did not know this disease was hidden in my genetic code, and in my ex-husband’s.  To this day I blame myself for my son’s suffering.  Never had I felt so helpless, so responsible.

I struggled to maintain my sanity and mother my children.  Divorce and financial devastation followed, but my family rescued me.  They picked me up, and my three children, and helped us move to be close to my sister who, with her husband and daughter, became our foundation.  They were there in ways I can never repay.  Still, I continued to feel powerless over the pain that raged through my body and my mind.

I met and married a wonderful man, who took in my children as his own.  Dan, my son with Ataxia-Telangiectasia, was frequently in the hospital for long periods of time which took me away from my other two children.  After a particularly difficult time with him, I started to drink heavily.  At the time I was on narcotics for pain control and anti-anxiety medications for my panic attacks.  Over the next few years I lost both of my parents.  At the urging of my family and out of my own desperation to break out of the cycle of my addictions, I went into rehab and got sober.  I started running, which gave me a natural outlet for my anxiety.  Counseling with an addiction specialist helped and as I rebuilt myself I was able to get a job.  I started drinking beer and was able to consume it responsibly most of the time.  I ran a marathon, started training for triathlons, and there was almost a year where Dan was not in the hospital.

Then, two days before Dan’s 20th birthday, after six hospitalizations between May and September, we learned that Dan would have to choose between coming home with hospice or having a tracheostomy and being dependent on a ventilator.  We were told it was his best chance to come home and stay at home.  I started to drink more often and in greater amounts.  Not all the time, but too often.  I was able to emotionally support Dan and stayed in the hospital with him full-time taking leave from my job.

After weeks of training in how to care for him, we were told that nursing could not be found for our home.  Our only option was to stay in the hospital indefinitely or move Dan into a home with two other individuals with tracheostomy’s and ventilator dependency.  Again, the feeling of powerlessness overwhelmed me and I felt like I was drowning in anguish even as I continued working and trying to be there for Dan.  My drinking once again became out of control.  My sister, my daughter and my husband confronted me and helped me to see that the way I was living was not sustainable.

It has been a week since my last drink.  This morning, listening to Kevin Griffin, I was given a revelation.  He said, “Powerless does not mean helpless.  It does not mean you are a victim.”  Those words resounded in my mind like a depth charge.  Powerless does not mean helpless, it does not mean you are a victim.  I am still absorbing this.  Powerless is not the end of the line, it is not a label of deficiency or lack.  Powerless is the nature of being human,  a condition all of us must face.  We are powerless over the cycle of birth and death, of pleasure and pain.  We are fortunate to sometimes sit on the shore of the ocean, but cannot avoid the waves that crash over us as life unfolds.

I am thankful for this week of sobriety.  It is day to day and I take nothing for granted.  Craving will come and I will use all the tools I can to feel it and let it go.  I am powerless, but I am not helpless.  I am powerless but I am not a victim.  I am powerless and that is a part of this human life.  I am powerless and I am grateful.



~ by janetlandis on December 23, 2017.

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