Powerlessness and unmanageability

The first step in any twelve step programme is admitting powerlessness and unmanageability. After attending meetings for a few months, I thought I should begin working on step one:

“We admitted we were powerless over others – that our lives had become unmanageable”

I’ve got a workbook to help me write my way through the steps. When I opened it and read the questions I’m supposed to be asking myself to start the first step it already felt like a lot to get through. There are four ‘notes’ pages per step. I could write more than that in response to each of the fourteen questions listed to open the chapter.

I decided to focus on the one that felt most pertinent to me today; “What does powerlessness and unmanageability mean to me today?”.


Powerlessness is a painful topic for me. I was sexually abused between the ages of ten and eleven by someone who had authority over me. When my brother was violating me, I was utterly helpless. I was frozen in fear and in my fear he had so much power. His power held over me even when I was safely away from him, I was always anticipating him telling my parents what I was. The secret gave him incredible power and made me desperately powerless. He controlled me with fear. He controlled me physically when he held me down – his sixteen year old grip was too powerful for my childish physique. I couldn’t fight him.

I still feel as though I am not tough enough to fight him. Even though I’ve reported him to the police and they are investigating my allegations, some part of me is still trapped and under his command. There is a very stuck, powerless little girl that lives in me who I need to empower somehow. At the moment, I just suppress her and ignore her as much as I can. She brings up too many awful emotions that I just don’t want to feel.


That leads me onto unmanageability. My life isn’t totally unmanageable today. I know this because I was sucked into the unmanageable not so long ago. It’s only been about eighteen months since I had a breakdown. I hated myself and couldn’t see any reason my life was worth living. I was scared of everything. I drank every day. I self-harmed every day. I plotted suicide methods. I took four very dangerous drug overdoses. In the psychiatric hospital, I fashioned a noose from a collection of shoelaces and managed to find a piece of furniture that would bear my weight. A friend wandered into my room when I was seconds from kicking the chair away. That is unmanageable.

Life today is hard. It’s really fucking hard, but I’m not determined to destroy myself anymore. I am managing. I go to work and literally ‘manage’ – it’s in my job title. I do therapy and see friends. When the darkness comes down I try and steer away from it by writing or painting or taking care of my garden. I do still abuse alcohol on occasion. And even today, as I write about coping, I can feel the throbbing cuts on my shin – a result of my inability to resist my destructive urges this afternoon.

I guess the ambition in this step is for me to become empowered. For my life to somehow start feeling manageable. I know there is such a vast amount of work to be done for me to get to that place. A lot of the time it feels impossible. But sometimes I can see it waiting for me. On a good day, I can see that glimmer in the distance and that’s what I have to hold onto. That tiny bit of hope that there will come a time when struggling isn’t my normal anymore.

Photo: R’lyeh Imaging, Creative Commons.


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