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

Planning on Stopping Smoking or Other Not So Good Habits? Here are Some Useful Suggestions

Planning on Stopping Smoking or Other Not So Good
Habits? Here are Some Useful Suggestions

It’s almost the first of the year when, for some strange reason human beings go through a curious ritual of making resolutions to change those things that didn’t work out during the just concluded year. The problem is that they might have all sorts of good intentions when they make those resolutions, but they lack most of the internal tools to keep the resolve up long enough to have any success. It’s one thing to acknowledge that a behavior has not been working in our best behalf and it’s another thing to let go of that behavior and all the short term goodies, sometimes referred to as secondary gains, that were derived from that behavior. It’s the biggest thing of all to actually make the changes.

For most folks, this won’t be the first time that they made these same resolutions. After many attempts that ended in failure there is a part of their inner mind that is as negatively powerful as the undesirable behavior. That part has a voice that says, “So what is going to be different this time? It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s just going to end in disaster as usual.”  Variations of this mantra will show up in one’s internal conversations. Sometimes it will manifest itself nonverbally as defeatist behaviors such as procrastination or flat out giving up. One way or another, unless this part becomes convinced that the desired change is winnable, it will sabotage all efforts.

What follows are some concrete suggestions for how to use your mind to successfully assist you to once and for all win the resolution game. Although I am talking about stopping the use of tobacco products, the suggestions are equally applicable to any habit you might want to change.

One of the most resolutioned behaviors is the use of tobacco products. These days with fewer people smoking, a more health conscious population whose tolerance for second hand smoke is at an all time low, and smoking banned from all public places and public transportation, the external pressure is on to stop. External pressures, on their own, are not usually enough to get one to resolve to stop. But all that pressure on top of becoming aware of the deteriorating condition of their lungs, as evidenced by smoker’s coughs and frequent colds, makes it hard to ignore that nagging feeling that maybe the jig is up and that they had better quit now before it is too late. 

Tobacco is the perfect drug. Its ingredients are both a stimulant, nicotine, and a calmative agent, acetaldehyde (the first metabolite of alcohol and the probable cause of hangovers). It is a literal smoke screen and it gives one something to do with hands. What more could you want? Well, maybe, the ability to breathe fully and live long. The problem is that those are long term goals and they are usually trumped by short term gains because the emotional costs of giving up those short term gains are too painful to withstand. Until the cost of the short term gains become too high or are satisfied by other means, smoking will remain as an entrenched habit.

If you are one of those who is resolved to be successful this time, here are a couple of my most useful tips:

A lot of folks use nicotine replacement aids, like the patch, to make the process easier. They work. The main reason they work has less to do with withdrawing from the nicotine — the body will be detoxed after a couple of weeks of abstinence — than giving the inner mind three months to get used to functioning without the physical act of smoking. 

If you are going to be using patches or some other type of nicotine replacement source like nicotine gum, you should know the physical addiction to nicotine would be over in a matter of weeks if one was to just quit cold-turkey. The main reason why the course of treatment with patches lasts for three months is two-fold. The first is that reducing the amount of nicotine in the system in increments gradually makes it less of a jolt to the system than cold-turkey. A sudden jolt could produce sufficient anxiety to trigger the urge to resume smoking. Furthermore, an even more important reason why the patches are used for three months has to do with the other part of smoking, the secondary gains or payoffs. There will be three month of break from the physical habit of smoking during which time the person will have the opportunity to develop new behaviors that will more responsibly satisfy those needs. A third and most important reason has to do with how the inner, or sub-conscious, mind works. 

The inner mind will automatically carry out whatever programs it thinks are normal and natural. After smoking for an extended period of time, the inner mind thinks that smoking is the normal program and will do everything it can to carry that program out. The longer one stays away from the physical act of smoking the better the chance of the inner mind understanding that just breathing air is the new normal program. Once it gets that that is the new program, the urge to smoke will be gone. 

It is very important to understand the concept that the longer the time away from the physical act of smoking, the more solid will be the inner minds adaption of the new behavior. Many people will have a cigarette every once in a while during the three months of the nicotine patch program. Every time they do that, they are effectively starting from scratch in the campaign to get the inner mind to adopt the new behavior. In coaching folks who are using nicotine substitutes to stop smoking, I have found that the success rate is way lower for those who occasionally smoked during the three months than for those who stayed cigarette free.

Regardless of what method one uses to stop smoking, those who daily visualize about their new tobacco-free lives have the most success.  The easiest way to do this type of visualization is to make yourself comfortable in an environment where you will not be disturbed. Take some nice, deep breaths letting them out slowly. As you take the breaths in, notice the parts of your body that are a bit tense and tighten the muscles in those areas even more. Then, as you let the breaths out let those muscles relax. Doing that regularly will teach the inner mind to associate slow, deep breaths with body relaxation. If you have problems with this exercise, email me and I will send you a free MP3 download called “Conditioning for Self-Hypnosis” that is a real good progressive relaxation training.

Once you are in a relaxed state, you can then run a little mental movie in which you visualize how you are now living a smoke free life. For each scenario where you used to use tobacco products, picture and imagine yourself easily, confidently, and happily doing that activity tobacco-free and notice how great it feels to be able to breathe freely again. Notice how much money you are now able to save or whatever are the reasons why you decided to become tobacco-free. The important ingredient of this visualization is that it needs to be done in the present tense, i.e.: “I am having……” rather than, “I will have…..” The inner mind does not distinguish past from future and only operates in the now so, even though it seems like a strange construction, say, “The next time I am in a social situation, I am totally at ease…” It works the best. 

The other oddity of the how the inner mind operates is that it drops out of the sentence any negative modifiers, such as “not.” If you were to visualize “I am in this social situation where in the past I would have always smoked and now I am not smoking…” the inner mind will drop the word “not” out of that sentence and will hear it as “and now I am smoking.” Since English is usually spoken in negatives and double negatives, i.e.: “He is not unkind,” it really takes practice to be able to do a visualization totally using positive descriptors. 

As a hypnotherapist, I have always known that what you imagine gets realized. As far back as the Old Testament, Job says, “What I imagined is upon me!” There is a famous study of basketball players practicing free throws where one group physically practiced doing free throws for a period of time while another group did not do anything physically — instead, only repeatedly visualized making perfect free throws. The group what did the visualization had the most improvement! This works, and if you regularly regarding visualize a life beyond tobacco, you will greatly up the chances of success. 

Until the inner mind understands that smoking and the use of tobacco products is a thing of the past, thoughts will regularly occur that call for and urge you to indulge. Since it is impossible to block anything from one’s mind, the easiest way to deal with these thoughts is to acknowledge that they are there and thank that part of you that keeps bringing it up for sharing. Then remember what you were doing before the thought and go back to doing it. For persistent urges, when that voice won’t shut up, I suggest using the following NLP technique:  

Since most people compartmentalize their mind when they describe what’s going on inside by giving each part a voice as in, “There’s a part of me that won’t…..” I find it useful to use that self-description as a way of explaining how the process of changing out of the smoking habit works.

As strange as this seems, there is no part of you that is trying to do you in. All parts of you have good intention, even that part that keeps you using tobacco products.  They are simply attempting to satisfy your needs. The problem comes with the behaviors that some of those parts adapt to satisfy those needs. This is a very important distinction because it takes the fight, that internal, infernal battle, out of the recovery equation. Once we have acknowledged that the part keeps us using has only the best intention for us, we can start an internal conversation where we can thank that part for its concern and intention, and then suggest that it might help us explore other ways of satisfying those intentions — the ones that also allow the other parts whose intentions are to keep the body healthy, wealthy and well — to be able to support the new behavior.

The way the internal dialog or conversation would go is something like this: “Thank you very much for your wanting the best for me. Right now I am working on other ways of satisfying those needs you are so concerned about. So, for the time being I would love your support in my explorations for more effective and healthier ways of caring out your good intentions. I welcome your feedback as we try out these new ways. I only ask you to give these new ways a good trial run before judging their effectiveness. I am told that six months would be a fair trial period. I know that since you have my best interests in mind that you will be totally on board to explore even better ways of getting your intentions met then that of smoking. Thank you…Now where was I?” That last question will bring you back to what you were doing before the thought of having a smoke or chew entered your mind. This conversation is an important one to have both before starting a tobacco-free life style and regularly during the initial stages of the withdrawal process. Another way of saying that is “what you resist persists.” The best way to stop negative thoughts is to acknowledge them and then get back to the new thinking. That is what that internal conversation accomplishes.

This all might sound silly at first until we realize that we regularly talk to ourselves. Unfortunately most of that talk is negative, especially when it comes to ceasing bad habits. There are a lot of positive payoffs or benefits that are derived from bad habits so the part that controls that habit will fiercely fight for the habit to continue until it understands that the habit is no longer needed to provide the benefits. 

In the case of smoking, there are a lot of payoffs or benefits – nicotine is a stimulant; the second most active ingredient, acetaldehyde, is a calming agent; the smoke, itself provides a literal “smoke screen to ease social discomfort; and the physical act of smoking, the moving of the cigarette to the mouth and back down again and again, gives the hands something to do when doing nothing with the hands is socially uncomfortably.

This process of acknowledging the intention of the controlling part of the mind, and enlisting its cooperation in exploring new methods and behaviors to still achieve the payoffs that the old habit provided, is a great technique because it utilizes the internal conversation that most people already use to explain why they are defeated from achieving their goals by their own mind and turns it into a positive force for change.

Some people find it quite helpful to have a counselor/coach to talk to as they go through this process. The inner mind work is much easier to do with a coach as a guide. Having gone through this process myself, I understand the feelings, the emotions, and what it takes to win. So call me!

©2009,  rev. ©2016, Jason Wittman, MPS)

[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, MPS, LAADC, CATC-IV (aka Successful People’s Secret Weapon) is the former Executive Director of Los Angeles Youth Supportive Services, Inc. ( ) and has had a private practice as a Counselor and Coach for over 40 years. 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 an expert on teaching and coaching the “getting-on-living,” self-esteem building and spirituality parts of recovery. He has his master’s degree from Cornell University in counseling-psychology and is certified as a drug & alcohol counselor, a clinical hypnotherapist and a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He can be contacted at or 213-804-4408