Reframing Powerlessness and Surrender 

Reframing Powerlessness and Surrender 

If there is one guiding principle that explains the difference between a person who is in the throes of addictions and someone who is living a life free of dependence on addictions, it would be the concept of “choice.” My belief system puts choice as the number one determinant of my future actions. Thinking that some external force, be it the law, family, or for that matter God, is going to intervene and strike me cured goes against all logic. Recovery folks talk about how people can only find recovery when they are ready and that recruiting and promoting their participation will not work until the people can see that there might be a better way of living that would bring them more joy than their addictions. The same folks who talk about how a using person must come to the point where they are willing to make the choice of recovery, then suggest that the newcomer must then accept that only by relying on some external forces, be it people, places, or even God to accomplish this new way of living. That seems to me to miss the point of this whole experience,

The primary determinant of whether people continue to use or go back to their addiction is “choice.” The first three Steps of the 12 Steps start out with the understanding that one’s old thinking and actions have been unable to produce the desired results in one’s life and have only lead to misery and personal destruction in one form or another. What that is really declaring is the new realization that one’s “best thinking” has not worked and that they are clueless as to what to do next. That realization is a necessary prerequisite to deciding to make a new choice. The two parts of the choice based on that realization are, first the need to stop doing what they have been doing and the second is knowing that they don’t know and must start to learn from those that are already living the “good, happy life” they desire. In other words, through this realization, they become teachable.

Unfortunately, the wording of the 1st Step has a built-in misdirection in that it introduces the idea that people are “powerless over their addictions” The powerlessness part is only true if they continue to think and act as they did before choosing to stop using and the reality is that when they made the choice to stop, they stopped and will stay stopped as long as they believe that this new choice will produce the results they hope for. 

The misdirection in the 2nd Step is the implication that only if they then rely on some God force to lift that compulsion can they ever achieve the new addiction-free life they desire. To instill a belief system that only by trusting in some Divine intervention can there be any lasting recovery just feeds into an old belief system the looks at one’s experience of life as being the effect of what people, places, and/or things do to them or for them. In other words, life is about being the victim who is then rescued by something other than the choices they make. In this case, God is the rescuer.

The misdirection in the 3rd Step is the implication that it was God that got them to realize that “the jig was up” and had them make this choice to discover a new path, when in fact it was the results of what they were doing that caused the realization that they needed to change. As in Step 2, it also feeds into the belief of needing to rely on an outside rescuer rather than continuing to learn to make better choices.

These are misdirections because they shift the focus from a workable solution, that of learning a new way of living, by doing the rest of the 12 Steps and continuing to make good, responsible choices to one of labeling their habitual usage as an incurable disease that can not be cured and over which they are powerless if they don’t rely on an external force.

My belief system acknowledges that there is a Universal Life Force, God, that has given us, both, the power of choice and a great feedback mechanism, a Still, Small Voice inside of us that guides us to think and do things that will produce long term positive results in our lives. That Voice is always present although we have the Choice to listen to it or not. 

To me, a better way of looking at how one moves from dependence on addictions to freedom from them is the following:

  • First, there is a realization that their thinking and acting continues to produce undesired results and that their Still Small Voice inside tells them (a)that they need to change something and (b) that they do not have not a clue as to what to do next other than stop what they are doing. The chances are that that Voice has been saying this for quite a while and they ignored it until their life experience forced them to pay attention. 
  • That Voice then prompts them to search for new solutions and they choose to follow those promptings and find various recovery opportunities.

God’s contribution in this process is to give them that internal feedback mechanism, the Still Small Voice, and the ability to make choices. In this case, the choice is accepting that they are clueless as to the changes to make, becoming open to learning new solutions (become teachable) and to suspend their old thinking and just follow the new directions. 

The misdirection in the 3rd Step that declares that only by giving up one’s choice of deciding how their lives will unfold, to a power outside themselves totally ignores that that Power, God, created and resides within them in the form of that Still Small Voice, sometimes referred to as conscience. That Still, Small Voice constantly provides good feedback and guidance, if listened to, and the very powerful ability to make great choices. 

A better way of stating the 3rd Step might be that when people decide what is the next thing to do and then do the footwork, the Universe, God, will provide feedback for that footwork in terms of the results. My business is to do the footwork and God’s business is to provide the feedback as to the results of that footwork. When I let God take care of the results and concentrate on the footwork in front of me, I become free of anxiety. Anxiety is actually a fear of future results. By doing my work, the footwork, and staying out of all fear and speculation about the results which is in God’s realm, I become anxiety-free!  

So rather than becoming powerless, if one recognized that God has provided them with a powerful ability to choose and a Still Small Voice to provide feedback and guidance, then they will search for new direction and teachings as needed and continue to make positive choices towards creating a meaningful, joyous, productive and successful life.

©2016, rev. 2020, J.Jason Wittman, MPS, LAADC, CATC-IV

Neglect This and Recovery is Just Temporary!

Neglect This and Recovery is Just Temporary!

Without assisting people with addictions to develop a high level of self-esteem all treatment for addictions are just temporary fixes. Eventually the same or another addiction will develop to cope with the pain of low or no self-esteem/love.

Addictions are merely maladaptive behaviors that are chosen to cope with the internal psychic pain associated with low or no self-esteem/love. Although they do provide varying degrees of relief, all they are really doing are masking and diverting attention from the pain. As with all behaviors, when they are done repeatedly will become firm habits. When those maladaptive habits involve the use of chemical choices to produce that relief, physical addictions can and do develop.

The problem with most current methods of treating addictions is the assumption that the addictive behavior and associated chemical dependence is the problem rather than viewing it as a symptom. The current emphasis on medically assisted treatment (MAT) certainly will block the use of specific drugs choices and will open a window where long-term solutions can be explored without contending with daily physical cravings. Unfortunately, without enhancing the client’s self-esteem, this is just a high stakes, expensive game of whack-a-mole. Block the opioid, that’s nice. What about all the stimulant choices, the psychedelic choices, and the non-chemical choices such as compulsive sex, over-eating, work, gambling, compulsive exercise, dieting, etc., etc.

The non-medical treatments and programs for recovery from addictions, including the 12-Step ones,  that are focusing on the chemical or behavior of choice without addressing the underlying need to blot out the pain of low/no self-esteem/love are to a lesser degree still doing an incomplete job. They are teaching more responsibility and better coping skills, but if they neglect assisting the development of a high level of self-esteem/love they are missing the point and their clients will eventually miss the mark.  Regarding 12 Step programs, they provide a very supportive, positive environment, and working the Steps very effectively prepares a solid foundation, unclouded by past emotional baggage for one to then work on developing one’s self-esteem. Unfortunately, developing self-esteem/love is not directly addressed in the Steps, nor anywhere else in those programs, so their members are still at risk for relapses and the switching of addictions.

©2018, rev. 2020, Jason Wittman, MPS, CATC-IV, ILAADC

[Permission to reproduce this article is granted as long as this notice and the "About the Author and the copyright information is included.]

*About The Author*

Jason Wittman received both his B.S. degree in business management and his Master of Professional Studies in Counseling Psychology from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He is a Certified, Level IV, Addictions Counselor ( CAADE #155970-IV ) a Licensed Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor (LR01700815) and an Internationally Certified Clinical Supervisor. He is also a Certified Hypnotherapist and a Certified Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Jason has had a private practice as a Counselor and Coach since the middle 1980s. Currently, his practice, focuses on coaching and advising business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions to work and live at their exquisite best. He is a recognized expert in teaching and guiding his clients through the "getting-on-living" stuff including enhancing their self-esteem/love that only emerge as issues after the focus is no longer on figuring out how to stay clean and sober.  

He can be contacted at, or 213-804-4408

Why labeling a decision to return to old behaviors as “Relapse” is counterproductive to the behavior change process.

Why labeling a decision to return to old behaviors as “Relapse” is counterproductive to the behavior change process.

The standard definition of “relapse” is a return to an active disease state after a period of remission, sometimes referred to as recovery. The problem with all these terms when they are used in the context of addictions is that they are being used to describe a condition that is primarily a very ingrained habit as if it was an incurable disease. For the sake of this discussion, I am defining an addiction (including an alcohol one) as a mal-adaptive behavior chosen by individuals to cope with emotional pain that, through both repeated usage and the initially pleasurable aspects of the behavior, becomes an ingrained habit. When those behaviors utilize substances that are physically addictive and painful to stop fit makes that habit even more ingrained.

The process of becoming addicted starts with personal choice. There was some sort of unfulfilled need within individuals that seemed to be satisfied by their initial experimentation with the behavior. At that point, there was a choice to continue that behavior because it was producing the desired relief from their internal pains. With any behavior, repeated use will eventually signal to the Inner Mind (subconscious) that the behavior is normal and natural so the Inner Mind will adopt it as the standard operating procedure and will produce that behavior on cue. At that point, the behavior is now a habit. The longer that habit is practiced, the more ingrained it will become. What started out as a choice has now become an automatic process and will stay that way until another choice to the contrary is made.

Because some of these habitual behaviors involve substances that are physically addictive with real withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping their usage, this whole process of behavior change has been labeled by the medical world as a disease and all the disease metaphors have been applied to it. There are actually two things going on here, a physical addiction and an ingrained habit that have been conflated into one disease concept.  Because of that the focus becomes treating a disease rather than of changing a habit. Also, by using disease metaphors, especially the “incurable” ones, it is a set up for returning to the old behavior. The meta-message for the term “relapse” is that going back to old behaviors is a normal and natural part of the cycles of recovery That might be true for cancer, but with the changing of ingrained habits, it is just a convenient excuse for choosing to return to a former behavior.

Because I believe that what is usually labeled as failure is really just feedback that something was missing in a previous attempt, so some new learning needs to be learned. By labeling a decision to pick up an old habit again as relapsing, instead of as a conscious decision to abandon a responsible course of action for an acknowledged poor one, is only useful to eliminate self-blame and shame of making a lousy decision. The problem is it is a set up for future repeats of those lousy decisions. There is no shame in owning having made a poor choice, learning how to do things better, and choosing to do those things, no matter what.

Looking at this entire process from a habit change point of view

  1. Through progressive, negative experiences that can be associated with what was here-to-fore pleasurable activities, a realization emerges that continued practice of the behavior is producing an unmanageable life and that something needs to change, though how to do that might be a mystery.
  2. They made a choice to stop the behavior and seek a better solution and as long as there is a hope that that will happen, they will stay stopped. This is actually a very powerful choice because normally the Outer Mind just carries out the automatic programming of the Inner Mind. When that programming is producing nothing but continued grief, the Outer Mind overrides that programming and stops the behavior.
  3. As they learn new and more effective ways of dealing with those inner hurts and as the time since the last practice of the old behavior increases, the Inner Mind starts to get the message that these new behaviors are the normal and natural thing to do and that becomes the new ingrained habit.
  4. So what explains the process of returning to the old behavior?
    1. They get a stray thought of “wouldn’t it be nice to do……….”
    2. They choose to ignore all their past history and their Inner Voice that knows and tells them that this is a foolish move. Part of this choice might be that they have not gotten enough good feelings out of this new behavior change process fast enough to satisfy their need for relief, so they give up prematurely.
    3. They choose to continue through all the precursor steps that eventually result in doing the old behavior again.
    4. They choose to use.  To excuse this choice by labeling it as a relapse, as if some evil disease grabbed them and caused them to do things they didn’t want to do, is a less than useful description of this process. It fails to recognize the ability to choose one’s behaviors. It totally ignores that God gave us the powerful ability to learn from past experiences and to choose to do things differently. That is the process of becoming a responsible adult
    5. The final prevention step would be to explore what added change in thinking or behaviors might be needed to ensure that any possible cause for reverting to old behaviors would be eliminated. With the root cause of all addictions being low or no self-esteem/love, the chances are that redoubling the efforts to build a great self-evaluation of one’s being, ie, self-esteem/love, would be the best solution.

A very important takeaway is that people will gravitate towards happiness and away from pain. Most behavioral choice is driven by that principle. When people make the choice to stop their destructive habits they are doing so in a quest for a new happiness. The “attraction” reference in the AA Traditions is all about selling new people on eventual happiness. The laughter and success stories in the meeting are the best demonstration of that happiness. The problem is that if newer people do not quickly experience those feelings in themselves, the pull to disregard the bad times and chase the temporary happiness of their former behavior can drive them to once again choose to relive their past. For all people new to this process, it is a race against time to ensure that they get to the point where their new great feelings will override any stray “wouldn’t it be nice…” thoughts. In early AA, there was a push to do all 12 Steps in the first couple of months. I think they had it right. Added to that, of course, the enhancing of their self-esteem/love will make this a totally winning process.

© 2019, rev. 2020, Jason Wittman, MPS, CATC-IV, LAADC

[Permission to reproduce this article is granted as long as this notice and the "About the Author and the copyright information is included.]

*About The Author*

Jason Wittman received both his B.S. degree in business management and his Master of Professional Studies in Counseling Psychology from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He is a Certified, Level IV, Addictions Counselor ( CAADE #155970-IV ) a Licensed Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor (LR01700815) and an Internationally Certified Clinical Supervisor. He is also a Certified Hypnotherapist and a Certified Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Jason has had a private practice as a Counselor and Coach since the middle 1980s. Currently, his practice, focuses on assisting business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions to work and live at their exquisite best. He is a recognized expert in teaching and guiding his clients through the "getting-on-living" stuff including enhancing their self-esteem/love that only emerge as issues after the focus is no longer on figuring out how to stay clean and sober.  

He can be contacted at, or 213-804-4408

Preparing for Arthroscopic Rotator Cuff Shoulder Surgery

The following suggestions are offered as a result of my experiences of having this, Rotator Cuff operation on each of my shoulders, first the right one, and then the left. Fortunately for me, I am a social worker who habitually thinks 6 steps ahead and plans for all anticipated contingencies because the amount of information on preparing for surgery that was given by the surgeon was minimum. He is a great surgeon (he actually invented the standard tool that they use for this procedure!) but when I asked him after the first operation why they don’t at least have a nurse brief patients on what to expect and plan for, he said the insurance wouldn’t pay for the session. So here are my recommendations based on being the patient. I am not a doctor (although I can play one on TV), so my recommendations carry a lot of weight. Remember the MDs haven’t had the experience or they would do more of what I am about to do.

Pre-Operative Suggestions:

1. Get your doctor to write you a letter to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles (they actually have a form to fill out) requesting that you get a temporary disabled placard. Although they are going to tell you that you shouldn’t drive for the first month until your sling is off, if you are normally a one-handed steering type driver, you will have no problem driving after the first three days or so (unless you are taking lots of pain killers). I drove to the surgeon’s office to get the stitches out a week after both operations. If you don’t think you want to drive, also get him/her to sign the form for the transit company (MTA) for a disabled bus pass.

2. Make sure that you have enough ice packs so that you will be able to continually have your shoulder packed in ice, 24/7, for the first two days. You will be discharged from the out-patient surgery with an ice pack, but that will not be enough unless you have an ice machine. I didn’t plan ahead for this the first time and had to get my son to go and buy a couple of 2 pound bags of frozen peas, which actually make for the best ice packs. Costco (and probably most drug chains) sells a pouch with Velcro straps and a very flexible blue ice pack inside Not all blue ice packs are flexible when frozen. If all you can find are the stiff ones, when they are about half frozen, shape them into a curve that will wrap around your shoulder.

3. Practice doing everything with the other hand from the side that is being operated on, before the operation. For things that you are used to doing automatically, such as wiping yourself, you are going to have to teach the other hand, step by step, how to accomplish the task. I am right-handed. The tougher time was the first operation because I had to teach my left hand how to do most things. I was surprised, though, when I went through this step prior to my second operation, how many things I regularly do with my left hand, like reaching for things.

4. If you wear contacts, make sure that you have a pair of glasses with up to date prescription lenses because putting contacts in, for most people is a two-handed operation.

5. Think out the getting dressed process and practice it one-handed. I suggest you buy shoes that have Velcro straps instead of laces. The same goes for belts. Belts with military buckles will work because the hand that is in the sling can hold the buckle while the other hand pulls on the loose end. You might have to thread the buckle in backward from how you usually wear it.

6. Make sure that you fill the prescription for pain killers before the operation. Here are a couple of suggestions on pain killers:

– Vicodins, the drug of choice of most surgeons, is very, very constipating. With my first operation, after the second-day post-op I was so constipated that I decided it would be better to have a hurting shoulder than the constipation so I stopped the Vicodins. Lo and behold, there was no pain. For the second operation, I asked for a less constipating drug and was prescribed Tramadol HCL 50mg. As you will read in the next item, I can’t tell you if they are less constipating but the MDs said they are.

– Based on my experience the first time, for the second operation, I didn’t take any pain killers at all and religiously kept the shoulder iced for a solid two days. I did not experience any pain other than a very mild sensation as if someone had moderately punched me in the upper arm. I would have the prescription filled and on hand and only take them if you actually do have severe pain.

Post-op Suggestions:

8. They are going to insist that you have someone take you to the hospital and pick you up. How you get there isn’t important. What is important is that someone picks you up. Your arm from your neck to your fingertips is going to be numb and non-functional and you are going to be woozy from the general anesthetic. You also are going to need someone to stay with you for at least the first 24 hours because you won’t even have the use of the fingers on your operated side for the first 9 or so hours. I won’t spoil the surprise, but notice how the anesthetic wears off your fingers. An interesting phenomenon. I made sure that I had cooked enough food for the first two or three days so I could easily microwave them.

9. Ask your surgeon to write you an order for a second sling to be used after the second week when you are sleeping. I found that keeping my forearm bent at my waist 24/7 eventually started to give me physical problems. I was getting shooting pains in the muscles of the forearm. I found that sleeping, on my back, with the arm at my side alleviated the forearm pains. The problem, though, it that the upper arm still needs to be immobilized, and the solution is the following sling: It is made by Pro-Care. Model # 79-96820 It is called: Shoulder Immobilizer with Removable Straps. It Velcro’s around your waist like a weight lifting belt and has separate straps that Velcro around the upper arm and a second one, you won’t need to anchor the wrist at your waist.

10. A week after surgery you will visit your surgeon to have the stitches in your shoulder removed. If you were not able to get that second sling before the operation, this is when you scream for it. My insurance paid for it, but it took a week for them to do it so better get it done before the operation.

11. Physical Therapy. This is the key for you to make a full recovery of the use of your shoulder. If you do not attend or if you do not do the homework exercises and stretches your physical therapist suggests you do, you will end up with an always hurting shoulder that will not ever have a full range of motion. If you follow the directions, six months later or less, you will be fully functional. The stretching does hurt. As my Tai Chi Master said, “No pain, no gain!” Plow through it, breathe into it and you will get through it and thrive! My therapist suggested I get a cane so that I could push up my operated arm’s hand wrapped around the handle with my good hand at the bottom of the cane. (Strange sentence, I hope you go the picture).

Well, that’s it. Hoped this has helped. Once you have been through the experience, if you have additional comments or suggestions to make this guide better, please send them to me at

Go break a leg! (Is that an appropriate way to say good luck before a surgery?)

©2011, rev. 2020,  Jason Wittman, MPS ~