When I am sober, I differ from non-alcoholics only in the potential to fall through the trapdoor in my mind that would permit a drink despite my experience. To examine whether I am powerless over people, places, and things, I need to look at general principles, therefore—are people, in general, powerless over people, places, and things?
If I were powerless over things, I could not lift up objects and throw them, create chemical reactions every time I cook, make things, or destroy things. If people were powerless over people, then no person could persuade or coerce another person to do anything. One glance at the world reveals this to be entirely untrue. The universe is a universe of universal persuasion and coercion, to the extent that few people are really making their own decisions, guided, as they are, by external influences, chiefly from other people. If people were powerless over places, man would be unable to effect change in the world, and every 'place' would look the same as it did thousands of years ago, before it was touched by human hand.
Clearly, as a universal statement, it is rubbish.
It is not, incidentally, to be found in the first 164 pages of the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' (although its presence there will be regularly cited!)
Yet this statement is regularly trotted out at meetings, perhaps accompanied by an apathetic wave of resignation to continued gloom at being at the mercy of a cruel world. 'Life doesn't stop happening just because you're sober' and 'life stuff is happening to me' are used as justifications for the inevitability of grinding suffering.
The doctrine, thus, is this:
I am powerless over other people. Yet people have power over me.
A more insane counsel of doom could not be devised by the cruellest of tyrants.
What does the Book say?
I am not going to talk here about powerlessness over alcohol, per se. The powerlessness I have, sober, is this:
It is the powerlessness to bring about the psychic (= mental) change necessary to live well, let alone sober, based on information alone.
"If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed will power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly." (44:4)
I am also powerless, unaided, to stop anyone else drinking and over the consequences thereof—and all my efforts come to nought.
"Our loyalty and the desire that our husbands hold up their heads and be like other men have begotten all sorts of predicaments. We have been unselfish and self-sacrificing. We have told innumerable lies to protect our pride and our husbands' reputations. We have prayed, we have begged, we have been patient. We have struck out viciously. We have run away. We have been hysterical. We have been terror stricken. We have sought sympathy. We have had retaliatory love affairs with other men." (105:1)
And yet they still drank . . .
However, in most of my human relations and relationships with the world around me, the real question is not one of powerlessness but one of how to exercise the power I have.
Option 1: be driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, stepping on the toes of our fellows, with them retaliating. Sometimes they hurt me, seemingly without provocation, but I invariably find that at some time in the past I have made decisions based on self which have placed me in a position to be hurt. (Cf. 62:1)
Under option 1, I will create confusion, not harmony (61:1) and not really be in charge, because I am the passenger in a car driver by fear.
Under option 1, even though the power, arguably, is being directed by my fear rather than my true Self, the power is definitely there, and I can have a profound effect on people, places, and things. It's just that the effects are baleful.
Clearly, under such scenarios, we can persuade or coerce, depending on our respective skills and position in the world, but the results of such persuasion and coercion will necessarily be limited and sometimes unanticipated and will certainly come at a price.
Option 2: be an intelligent agent, spearheads of God's ever-advancing Creation (49:1)
Also: "We know what you are thinking. You are saying to yourself: 'I'm jittery and alone. I couldn't do that.' But you can. You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself. To duplicate, with such backing, what we have accomplished is only a matter of willingness, patience and labour." (163:1)
The whole point of this deal is that we can gain access to infinite Power, which knows neither time nor limitation, so that we can have a positive impact on the people, places, and things around us. We can create order out of chaos and be the instruments by which people are lifted out of the mire that is alcoholism. That is real Power.
The condition is this: whereas, before, lack of power was our dilemma, now, what to do with that power is our dilemma.
For that power to be exercised appropriately, I must turn to God for guidance and strength.
Where the idea at the top is useful—the idea of being powerless over people, places, and things—is as an antidote to resentment. At any given point in time, what is, is. Railing at what is, because I cannot let go of my cherished vision of what I think should be, is insane, and, to this extent, I am powerless—wishing that, right now, things were different does not change things.
But that does not mean blind resignation to being the audience to a car crash.
It means seeking God and the vision of God's will (cf. 85:1), particularly with regard to the role I am supposed to play as the actor to God's director.
In other words, in the moment, I am relatively powerless over people, places, and things. However, over the course of a life, huge Power can flow through me to excellent effect in every part of my life, if I place seeking that Power above all things. We become the channels for the total recreation of our lives, and the people, places, and things around us inevitably change.