My story of powerlessness began at 15. The first time I experienced alcohol poisoning was the night I became a Christian. Lying naked on the floor, shivering yet sweating with my head in the toilet I handed my life to Christ, knowing I could no longer live this empty life. With an intoxicated, delirious promise to God, I made a commitment to never drink again—it was short-lived. For “I fail to carry out the very things I want to do and find myself doing the very things I hate.” (Romans 7: 15) The following years were a cycle of firm resolutions to stop drinking preceded by alcohol saturating my life.
The first time I experienced alcohol poisoning was the night I became a Christian.
Such is the struggle of the alcoholic. But the experience of powerlessness in the face of addiction is universal, whether it be phone, pornography, masturbation, alcohol, drugs, or simply powerlessness over our fleshly nature, we all experience powerlessness in our lives. Our fleshly nature, as Paul calls it, is powerful, cunning, and baffling—an inheritance of original sin.
There is, however, also a hope born from that inheritance—a hope that comes with complete surrender to God the Father, utter reliance upon Jesus, and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
For the alcoholic, accepting powerlessness is the first step in recovery. It’s an admission that the first drink sets off an allergic reaction; igniting a craving; generating an insane compulsion to consume more at whatever cost. More times than I care to admit have I begun a night with the promise of having only one drink.
But it is this first drink that does the damage—not the second nor the twelfth. For once I start, I cannot stop. Or the alternative, once I stop, I cannot stay stopped. The inability to stop is part of what defines the alcoholic.
I have broken many promises to God. They shattered as I myself shattered my spirit with alcohol and drugs. At 18 I was drinking daily. At 19 drinking started the moment I awoke. Soon I was starting the day with harder drugs.
What was God’s response? Did he forsake me? No. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
This is what I hold onto as I am currently in rehab; writing to God and asking for his forgiveness; knowing that Jesus died for me in this addiction; believing that he too must have faced the temptation of alcohol:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrew 4: 15).
This is what I hold onto as I am currently in rehab; writing to God and asking for his forgiveness; knowing that Jesus died for me in this addiction.
Jesus, although he was never enslaved by addiction, can empathise with alcoholics—with those of us who can’t stop drinking once we start. He empathises with the powerless.
In each of us there is a God-shaped hole. It is what, according to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), makes us restless, irritable, and gives us a deep sense of being discontent. I myself have been attempting to fill this hole with drugs and alcohol.
But filling the hole like that only enlarges it. It needs more than the fleeting gratification of a moment’s peace and numbness—though I have been chasing that numbness for years.
Why does my faith in Christ not satisfy me? Why do I continue to seek such gratification from the world when it only leaves me emptier?
I don’t know. I wish I could do as the writer of Ecclesiastes advises: “drink your wine with a joyful heart.” (Ecc 9: 7) But for alcoholics like me, alcohol is a death sentence. It is “cunning, baffling and powerful!” Alcohol takes over our senses with a palpable craving that no human power can relieve. We are powerless.
God can help us if we seek him, however. Although the Holy Spirit does not seem interested in making it possible for us to drink in moderation in this life, he will help us stay away from alcohol today. Jesus’ command captures the idea:
For do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself (Matthew 6:34).
Simply don’t pick up a drink today. Pray for sobriety one day at a time. That is how you stay sober.
Bill W, co-founder of AA, offered a profound picture of God’s saving grace for the alcoholic. Each of us needs to commit ourselves to God before recovery can begin. We need to acknowledge that we are powerless by ourselves; turn our addiction over to God. Only our good and gracious God can keep us from drinking.
There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch. I have not had a drink since.
There is no cure for alcoholism this side of eternity, but there is a promise of healing now. For we are all deserving of wrath, but by the grace of God we have been redeemed, despite our constant gratification of the flesh; despite my alcoholism.
So I hold tightly to the promise that,
… he will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
And when the new creation comes to be, my alcoholism will be gone.
 Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, “How it Works”, General Service Board of AA; second edition (2015) p. 10
 Ibid., p. 10
 Ibid., “Bill’s Story” p. 13