At first I was loath to even say it out loud. I didn't want to face the full implications of it. A foundation of my self-image and my entire worldview had been shown to be false. I felt a deep fear at the change it would require in me.
It happened during my first ayahuasca workshop, probably after the 2nd or 3rd ceremony. I realized that for over a dozen years I had built my whole life around a lie - the lie of powerlessness.
Perhaps "lie" isn't even the right word. Perhaps "half-truth" would be better.
A lot of people who come to Alcoholics Anonymous desperately resist the notion of powerlessness. They are too proud, too arrogant, too ensconced in their egos to even entertain the notion that they might not be all-powerful. Some of these people die. Others finally are "beaten into a state of reasonableness" after numerous relapses.
Not me. When I showed up at my first AA meeting, I heard them read the steps and I looked at the wall and I felt tremendous relief at the idea that I could finally admit defeat and impotence. It let me off the hook for having tried, and failed, for so many years to control my drinking. It was a necessary 1st Step.
"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable."
At that point in my life this was absolutely true. I was powerless in the face of alcohol. And, as 12-step communities told me countless times in meetings and in the literature I read, I was powerless over virtually every other aspect of my life as well - money, relationships, sex, career, you name it. The fabric of my existence assumed the form of an endless litany of things over which I could never hope to exert any influence.
For me at least, that became pretty disempowering.
Powerlessness is ultimately false, but it's often necessary as an intermediate step to demolish the addict self and its illusions of control. The problem is that what starts out as a useful, necessary 1st step in recovery from addiction and despair becomes a prison. It certainly did for me.
Do I really want to make powerlessness and brokenness the cornerstones of my spiritual life? What if I grow tired of describing myself as an alcoholic? Of identifying with the problem? What if I instead choose to describe myself as a perfect and holy child of God? What if I am not separate from God? If that's true then I am, in fact, infinitely powerful. That's kind of scary. That's a lot of responsibility to assume.
Powerlessness is a great way to stay small and not have to take responsibility for my own talents, abilities, decisions, life. Shitty as it is, that's the payoff that I got from clinging to powerlessness for so many years.
My first encounters with the shamanic world tore a gaping hole in my belief in my own limitation, in my own smallness. I got to experience a visceral sense of my own strength during ceremony. At times my body seemed to pulse with energy and vigor and resilience. I felt like an oak tree, planted in the ground, channeling all of the divine terrestrial power that is my birthright as a man and as a living creature on Planet Earth.
I got some perspective on the horrific experiences I'd had as a kid. I started to quit thinking "This terrible thing happened to me" and I started to begin understanding "I was strong enough to make it through this. Intact."
My friend and facilitator revealed to me that the medicine showed him the red-tailed hawk is my spirit animal - a pretty powerful creature for a guy who'd gotten so used to thinking he didn't have any. The funny thing is that I'd always known it - he just mirrored it back to me. He wasn't afraid of my power.
When I flew to Peru, I really had no sense of how 12-step programs would fit into my life when I returned. I certainly had no plan to completely remove them from my life - to "graduate". For so many years I had heard that word thrown about sarcastically, contemptuously even, to describe people who left the rooms for one reason or another - "Oh, I guess he graduated."
But that's exactly what happened. I graduated from 12-step programs. Similarly to the way I graduated from high school. Why would I not? I have found a healing technology that completely supersedes them. It renders them obsolete in my life.
The fact that so many people in AA are still so sick after so many years spent working the steps is sad, but it's not surprising. They refuse to acknowledge that, precisely as with grade school, 12 step programs must be graduated from in order to attain higher spiritual levels.
A beloved friend down in Peru, the co-facilitator of my workshop, remarked that "It's tough for a therapist to keep up with a divine trans-dimensional being." I would submit that it's also tough for a bunch of self-described alcoholics in a shabby, smoke-stained church basement.
I went to handful of meetings when I came back. I was repelled. Was it the tired words I heard spoken in them? Yes, in part. Was it the dingy surroundings? Yes, in part.
But more than anything, it was the energy I felt in them. It was a much, much lower vibration than I had experienced among my fellow explorers in the Amazon. It was a much lower vibration than I felt in myself. It depressed the living shit out of me.
I realized that, frightening as it was to me, I was moving beyond powerlessness. Somewhere deep down I knew that I could never again have anything in common with people who clung to it like a life vest.
I was finally stepping into my power. I continue to do so every day. Sometimes it's exhilarating and sometimes it's terrifying, but one thing is undeniable: there's no going back.
To quote countless AA shares I heard over the years, for that I am truly grateful.
God bless you, whoever you are.