Getting Sober / Staying Sober


How Do You Let Go of The Need to Control …..

The need to feel that you are in control of other people, and their actions, can be one of the most debilitating and draining processes in your life.

Often people have no conscious since that they are trying to control what is going on around them, but the underlying need is often the most central one in their lives.

Let Go and let God

This is one of the many phrases that abound in AA and 12th recovery, and in one sense at least gives the message about trying to let go of the need to control life.

Unfortunately, many people often also read into it an implication that God is in control.

This, really, is just a form of transference, of saying I will give up my belief that I am in control of what is going on around me, if something or someone else will take charge of it.

This idea may seem familiar to some people, mainly because it is an idea that normally is rooted in childhood,

Children have a basic need for security and safety, a basic need to feel that someone is in charge of their life.

The Illusion of Control

People can often realise that they do not have control around a lot of what is going on in the life, but this does not necessarily stop them trying to exert such control.

In fact, in many cases, it leads to try even harder to force their life to work.

Perhaps the first step in terms of letting go of the need to control, is a recognition that most people the sense of being in control of what is going on around them is an illusion.

That can be a hard lesson to learn, not because of the truth of it, but because of the implications of it.

Forcing Solutions

The Al-Anon Preamble has a phrase in it to the effect that ‘our thinking became distorted by trying to force solutions’.

This really goes to the heart of the issue, and contains both the problem and solution within its simple sentence.

People often have quite a strong felt sense that they are trying to push their life uphill, that they are somehow trying to force their life to work.

This is normally a feeling that has been with them for a large part of their life.

At its core, wherever it comes from, is an issue about an inverted sense of control, a paradox that is in many people’s lives.

It is often most clearly seen in the lives of families and friends of alcoholics, who are either trying to get them to stop drinking, or still feel the need to try and control the life once sober.

Adult Children of Alcoholics

Whilst there are many numerous and varied effects of growing up in an alcoholic home, one of the most common ones is the sense a child will have a feeling overly responsible, if not totally responsible, for the well-being or even the very life itself of one or both of their parents or caregivers.

Taking on this type of responsibility at any age is a heavy duty demand, for children of any age it is almost an impossible burden for many to bear.

The practical reality is that anyone in this type of situation normally focuses then tar spirit and energy  on the belief that they are holding the other person together.

This is really at the heart of feeling you’re in control of someone else, not necessarily as a control freak, but as a sense of feeling you have the power to determine someone else’s mental state, or even their very life itself.


For many children in alcoholic homes, there is very little if any safety, either internally or externally.

What the majority of children/adults do is to create a sense of feeling safe by feeling they are in control of what is going on around them.

This is an illusion of control, as mentioned above, but for children in this environment it is the only solution they have.

What tends to happen is that a child faced with no safety cannot emotionally afford to own that reality.

They will invent a sense of feeling safe, based on the belief that they have this power or control over the adult or adults in their lives, in the sense of being able to affect or change control them lose or emotional stability.

As the child/children grow older, this belief or need to feel in control of what is going on around them normally deepens, and for many people becomes the dominant emotional drive in their life.

It is also probably the most destructive source of emotional turmoil in their lives because it totally reverses the very nature of our psychological make-up as human beings.

People believe that they have control over things that they do not have control over, and do not believe they have any control or power over the thing that they can control, which is predominantly their own lives and emotional make up.

Step Three in Alcoholics Anonymous

When most people talk about Step Three, they enter a world of debate about God, turning over ones will and what it means.

What many people often don’t talk about, is that the majority of the passage on Step Three in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is actually about control.

It uses the analogy of an actor on the stage, trying to control the environment around him, and the calamitous effects that it has.

It goes on to ask people to realise that this is really the source of the problem, that emotionally and often practically, their lives are totally out of control because they are trying to control life around them.

What Step Three really does is to identify the problem, in terms of control, and without offering a simplistic solution, offers people a way out through working the rest of the 12 step program.

The Serenity Prayer – Problem and Solution

Whilst any prayer can have a number of different meanings, the serenity prayer does tend to bring together both the solution and the problem in terms of the nature of control.

It identifies a sense of knowing what you cannot change, i.e. things that you have no control over, and things that you can change, mainly yourself and your inner world.

In essence, people normally feel a need to try and control what is going on around them, because they feel out of control themselves internally.

This normally results from childhood trauma, but not always as there may be other causes as well.

The solution, albeit a long-term one, is to take back a sense of control internally, and as you do so the need to try and control what is going on around you will drop off.

This is because it is about safety, and the need to feel safe.

The internal sense of safety, that is primarily about your inner world and your inner sense of God, will diminish.

In the end it should pretty much eradicate this need to feel in control of other people as a way of keeping yourself together, and giving yourself some internal sense of stability.

This is the ultimate freedom that Alcoholics Anonymous and all 12 Step Programs can really offer.


What is Manipulative Behaviour ?

There are in fact two questions really, what is manipulative behaviour and why is it so damaging.

Manipulation is often thought of as being something that most people do in  varying degrees in order to get their own way, and quite often more of a game rather than something that actually harms people.

There are also people who would argue that manipulation of other people is a legitimate way to further their own careers, and that self-interest is a valid reason or excuse for pursuing it.


These arguments tend to be rationalisations, really, for an excuse to use other people to get what you want. That by any standard is a form of abuse, the very definition of abuse being the use of another human being to further your own ends in some way or other.

When someone manipulates you, what they are really doing is either making a decision on your behalf, or tricking you into believing that you are making the decision yourself, when in fact they have coerced you into the position they want you to be in.

The reason manipulative behaviour is so damaging is twofold. Firstly the person being manipulated feels  tricked by the other person involved, and yet they often do not realise it. They are left in a sense of limbo that they have made a decision, but, actually, the decision-making process was not  theirs.


The freedom to choose is probably the greatest freedom that any human being has. It represents a freedom within us to decide for ourselves what are actions or thoughts will be. It goes to the core of our humanity, and is a real sense of an expression of our inner world, our spirit.

When someone manipulates you it is a form of abuse. It not only takes away your freedom to make your own choices and decisions, but tricks you into believing that you have actually made them for yourself, when in fact you have not.

In alcoholism and 12 step recovery, manipulation and other forms of emotional abuse can be rife.

12 Step Recovery

People often like to look at examples of this in terms of active alcoholism or addiction, but the reality is that this type of abuse can occur just as much in people who are sober,  as in people who are still drinking. This is a truth that people often feel uncomfortable with.

The idea of manipulating people is often linked to a rationalisation that it is for their own good. This is rarely true. This is not to say that the motives of the person doing  the manipulation are inherently bad, they may not be. People’s motives for trying to coerce or manipulate other people often stem from a sense of feeling a need to be in control.


This need to be in control of someone else’s thought process is ultimately what  manipulation is really about, and normally stems from an individual’s sense that they are out of control of their own life themselves.

There is a basic psychological premise that most people who try and control other people, in terms of thought control, do so because they feel out of control themselves internally.

This belief that they are in control of someone else, which is really an illusion, gives them a sense of internal stability and safety.

This internal sense of stability can only be sustained by a permanent and determined increase in trying to control other people. This is why it is so damaging.

Normally any attempt to highlight this to someone results in a really defensive attitude, and often has the opposite effect of that which is intended. However, in 12 step recovery, there is a strong emphasis on awareness, and taking one’s own inventory.

This can ultimately be a space where someone can recognise these traits around control, and through a process of long-term change can achieve a level of internal stability and peace that is based on their own identity, not that of controlling another individual and their mind.


Why Tough Love isn’t Really About Love

Tough love is one of those expressions that has crept into the vocabulary of mental health and 12 step recovery in recent years.

It sort of implies that an action or directive is being given or taken which may on the surface seem a bit tough, but is being done from a place of love, for the benefit of the individual concerned even if they are unable to see it.

A couple of examples.


A family intervention to get someone into rehab is often talked about as being an act of tough love. In recovery, a sponsor will  sack a sponsor  and tell them it is for their own benefit.

In truth it is normally because they are not doing something the sponsor explained to get them to do.

Both the above examples have actually very little to do with love.

In many ways they are simply about an act of bullying, using the guise  of people’s vulnerability as a way of exploiting that in ability to fight back.

Trying to define what love is  obviously a very difficult if not impossible thing to do.

It is easier in a way to show what love is not. Any type of loving and individual must at its core have a sense of respect for the integrity and life of the other person. When people are in any way exploited, such respect is non-existent.

Last Resort

Looking at the case of an intervention in more detail, an intervention is often talked about as being something that is used as a last resort and is often done because people say ” that things simply cannot go on the way they are”.

Looking at it logically,  an intervention is a getting together of people who care about the individual, who try to shut that individual into agreeing to go into rehab seeking treatment in order to deal with  their alcoholism or addiction.

The mindset behind an intervention is often that the sense of pressure from the family will make the individual see sense and do what he should have done some time ago.

What it fails to take into account is the mindset of the person who is the alcoholic or addict.

Although there is a slight risk of generalising, it is probably fair to say that an alcoholic will turn to alcohol at some point in their drinking as being one and only thing that is holding them together.


What an intervention does is  pressure them into a situation that they possibly cannot handle, it presents them with a false choice about their future.

Whilst many will go into rehab following an intervention,  some may get sober, some may not.

What people never really see is the emotional damage that may be done to an alcoholic by way of the intervention making them feel trapped, and forced to do something against their will.

The reason this matter so much is because an alcoholic will see his relationship with alcohol differently to people who are not an alcoholic.

The external chaos is real for everyone to see. But other people cannot see inside the mind of the alcoholic.

An alcoholic needs to drink until they get to a place where they are willing to let go of it. That willingness has to come from within, and is a fairly complicated process.

Tough but not Love

In the context of tough love, an intervention as understood in 12 step recovery is not really an act of love at all.

Normally a much better act of love would be to advise the family to go to  Al-Anon and begin their own recovery in the context of the other person’s drinking.

Tough love is a phrase that seems quite active because it can provide a degree of certainty and harshness, under the  impression that it is actually the  loving thing that has been done.

Great care should be taken when anyone talks about tough love, as it normally relates to an action that actually is not particularly loving, even if the motives of the person doing it are coming from the right place.