The doctrine that you are "powerless over alcohol" is also a ready-made excuse for drunken binges, the morning after — "Honey, it isn't my fault that I got drunk last night and went on a huge binge and threw a screaming drunken temper tantrum and tore up the house. Dr. ‘Silkworth’ says that I have a disease, and I'm powerless over alcohol, so I can't help it
" Bill Wilson actually did exactly that — threw a big drunken screaming temper tantrum and kicked out the door panels of his wife Lois' house, and threw a sewing machine at her.2 Lois Wilson screamed at him and called him "a drunken sot", an act of disrespect for which the vain, anarchistic Bill Wilson never forgave Lois.
When Dr. Silkworth talked about alcoholism as an allergy, and alcoholics being powerless over alcohol, Bill immediately seized on the idea as a convenient excuse to explain away all of his previous bad behavior. And Dr. Silkworth's idea also fit neatly with Frank Buchman's religious doctrine that everybody was "defeated by sin" and "insane", and that only God could "restore one to sanity".
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Right here, right at the start, is a giant problem. I am not powerless over alcohol, not even close. I have almost perfect control over alcohol.
I can drink it or not, I can let it sit on the table and look at it, and I might even be able to juggle it. I can also drink enough to kill myself. It is my free will at work.
The second half of that sentence says that my life is "unmanageable".
No, that isn't quite right.
If I drink alcohol, my life becomes a disorganized mess — I drink too much alcohol, and I get more or less addicted to it, and I get behind on the rent, and the utility companies turn everything off, and I starve, but I still wouldn't say that my life was "unmanageable" because I was "powerless" over alcohol.
Step one might be half ways true if it said that us alcoholics couldn't manage our lives very well while drinking alcohol.
And Step One might be true if it said that it was ultimately impossible for us to continue drinking alcohol and still have a happy life.
But that isn't what Step One says.
Bill Wilson's statement that alcoholics are powerless over alcohol was just Bill Wilson’s translation of Dr. Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman's strange Oxford Group religious doctrine that we have all been "defeated by sin" and are powerless over it (so the only remedy is to "surrender ourselves to God-control").
Bill Wilson wrote that alcoholics are so powerless over alcohol that they simply can't help but take a drink and go on a binge now and then, so only A.A. and its "Higher Power" can save the alcoholic from Demon Rum.
In the Big Book, Bill had one alcoholic saying this after a binge:
"I now remembered what my alcoholic friends [Bill Wilson and Doctor Robert Smith] had told me, how they had prophesied that if I had an alcoholic mind, the time and place would come — I would drink again.
They had said that though I did raise a defense, it would one day give way before some trivial reason for having a drink.
Well, just that did happen and more, for what I had learned of alcoholism did not occur to me at all.
I knew from that moment that I had an alcoholic mind.
I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots.
I had never been able to understand people who said that a problem had them hopelessly defeated. I knew then. It was a crushing blow."
And Bill Wilson drove the point home:
Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.
The Big Book, 3rd Edition, William G. Wilson, Chapter 3, More About Alcoholism, page 43.
So you are just helpless — powerless — when it comes to quitting drinking by yourself. You just can't resist the temptation of that first drink.
Bill Wilson's dogma is contradictory.
He declared that alcoholics cause their own problems — "After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol" — and then Bill declared that alcoholics were powerless to save themselves — that they couldn't change their own behavior and recover by their own efforts, not even to save their own lives.
So you are very powerful and in control of your life and responsible for your actions when it comes to drinking and creating your own problems (so you should feel guilty), but you are "powerless" and unable to control your behavior when it comes to not drinking and not creating problems for yourself.
That is nonsense.
It is also heretical.
If we humans have free will and can choose good or evil for ourselves, then we cannot also be powerless and unable to control our actions.
My doctor said it this way, "Alcoholics have great control over their sobriety. They can stay sober for years at a time. They just don't have any control over their drinking. Their drinking will spin out of control very rapidly."
That answered a lot of questions for me, because I had always had a problem with the A.A. "powerless over alcohol" confession. I'm not powerless — I can stay sober for years at a time, and have done so before, and am doing it again.
I only have a problem with alcohol when it is inside of me. Then I go non-linear and try to drink myself into the astral plane. The doctrine that you are "powerless over alcohol" is really bad, and has killed a lot of people. It is a formula for disaster that is often a self-fulfilling prediction. When people really believe that they cannot control their own drinking because they are powerless over alcohol, then they don't. They tend to go on prolonged binges, imagining that they have no choice in the matter. (Well, stupid as it is, it sounds good when you are drunk.) The idea that you are powerless over alcohol and can't help yourself is an alcoholic's ready-made rationalization for taking a drink whenever the urge comes along. In one controlled study of A.A.'s effectiveness, court-mandated offenders who had been sent to A.A. for several months were doing five times as much binge drinking as the other alcoholics who got no such Alcoholics Anonymous "help".
For a while, I did believe that I was powerless over alcohol, and powerless over tobacco, too. I had quit and backslid so many times that I thought, "What's the point in trying to quit again? You'll just start again. I Might as well just stay stoned until the bitter end comes." I didn't get my health back and my life together until I came to believe that I was not powerless over alcohol or tobacco — that I really could quit, and stay quit, and then I did just that.
Step One is a setup for surrender to the cult.
Since you are powerless over alcohol, you will need somebody or something else (like a sponsor) to be your keeper, and take care of you, and tell you what to do, to keep you from drinking.
This step encourages dependence on the cult instead of self-reliance; incompetence and failure instead of competence and success. Margaret Thaler Singer considered inducing a sense of powerlessness and guilt to be one of the five essential conditions for an effective mind-control, or "brainwashing", program. This step and the next two where you confess that you are insane, and then surrender to "Something greater than yourself", do a fine job of inducing a sense of powerlessness.
And then the following steps, Steps Four through Ten, induce plenty of guilt.
I may not be a real alcoholic, but I will do until the real one comes along.