12 Signs My Life is Unmanageable (Even If I’m Sober)

Step 1 states: “We admitted we were powerless over lust – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Am I powerless over lust?

What does “unmanageable” actually mean?

How do I know if my life has become, or is, unmanageable?

What if I’m sober – does that powerlessness still exist and is my life still unmanageable, or do I have things under control, figured out?

These are questions that have come to my mind from time to time.

How to Know if My Life is Unmanageable


This story from Step Into Action may help:

“At my first SA meeting I immediately related to people sharing about personal powerlessness over lust and sexual acting out…However, I did not understand their explanation about how their lives had become unmanageable…

“Three months later, I sat in a treatment center for sexual addiction. I told my counselor that I understood the powerlessness part of Step One, but that I just did not see my unmanageability. In her very quiet and calm voice she pointed out the obvious: ‘For one, you are sitting here in a psychiatric facility for a thirty-five day treatment that is going to cost you about $20,000. That seems a little unmanageable.’ I reluctantly had to agree, but I went on to say, ‘Well, other than that I don’t see any unmanageability.’ She replied, ‘Well, you are not working for these five weeks, you are eight hundred miles away from your wife…’ Her listing the facts helped break through my denial. I compiled a list of over thirty incidents in which sexaholism had made my life unmanageable. The full weight of the devastation of my disease was overwhelming.” (pp. 14-15)

But what if my life hasn’t become that unmanageable? Do these concepts still apply?

Our discussion today is going to be about the unmanageability of life.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences and how you’ve come to recognize that your life is unmanageable – that you need a Higher Power to help you.

Sober is Not Well

Just because I’m sober doesn’t mean I’m well. This statement has been part of a great discussion on whether or not recovery can come without sobriety.

Many of the comments made in that discussion are spot on – sobriety isn’t the end goal. I may be sober for 3 months, 6 months, a year, even longer, but if I’m still angry, defensive, procrastinating, blaming, shaming, etc. I’M. NOT. IN. RECOVERY.

For me, recovery is a day to day, even moment to moment practice.

I could be living in recovery this morning, but then let some negative emotions brew, in combination with not getting enough rest, and then BAM, I slip back into addictive behaviors: I’m mad at my kids, I’m angry at the appliance guy who I don’t even know, and I’m searching the scores on ESPN for the 3rd or 4th time just to make sure I read them correctly 10 minutes ago…

This is addict.

This is dangerous.

This is a life that is unmanageable.

The Models of Addiction

To help me see things even more clearly, page 11 of the new Step Into Action book states some of the things that show how unmanageable my life is.

Unfortunately, most of these statements have been or can be true for me if I’m not aware and practicing recovery one moment at a time

12 Signs My Life Is Unmanageable
(Even If I’m Sober)

1. I’m late for meetings or other commitments or don’t show up at all because I’m “too busy.”

2. I lash out in anger at loved ones (and even total strangers) without control or remorse.

3. I’ve lost a job or hate my job (or the people in my job) because of my behavior.

4. I remain distant from those around me because I’m constantly thinking about my next “fix” or why I’m such a victim.

5. I can’t have healthy intimacy with my wife because of the fantasies playing in my mind.

6. I’ve lost a marriage or limped along in the one I’m in.

7. I’m living in constant fear that my actions will be discovered, while at the same time getting high from the rush of acting out.

8. I can’t complete tasks or meet responsibilities because they conflict with my need to feed my addiction.

9. I have lost friends or have been unable to make friends.

10. I’ve avoided relationships and jobs because I was afraid.

11. I’ve wrecked my career, home and life.

12. I’ve been hospitalized for depression or attempted suicide because sexaholism is destroying my physical, emotional and spiritual being.

How many of these sound familiar to you?

Life driven by lust brings with it confusion, chaos, misery and disaster.

How often have I asked for God’s help while continuing the same sick behaviors and disregarding my conscience?


Getting and staying sober is the first step in the recovery process. I have to “stop and stay stopped.” But that is just the beginning.

Sober is not well.

Living in recovery from sexual addiction is a day to day, moment to moment practice for the rest of my life.

One thing I’ve realized about my own recovery process is that, after a bit of sobriety or what I may think is recovery, I think all is well. I get comfortable. I get complacent. I think I have it all figured out.

And then, just like that, the addictive behaviors start coming back.

I’m quickly angered at the kids.

I get defensive if my wife questions how I’m doing in my step work.

I put off doing step work for other “more important” things.

I make up excuses on why I don’t need to go to meetings this week.

Calling my sponsor or others in the group takes up too much time, they are probably busy anyway.

And the list of excuses goes on and on and on…

A statement from one of the members of SA really hit me today:

“Now, with a little bit of recovery under my belt, I’m coming to realize that the thought that I am competent on my own, that I can rely only on my own resources to manage my life is a lie. I need God’s help and I need the advice and support of my recovery fellowship to navigate the twists and turns that life present to me. It was pride that caused me to believe that I could manage my own life without assistance. I now consider it a sign of strength when I have the courage to ask for help.” (Step Into Action p. 16)

How can this be a good reminder to us all that recovery is a lifelong pursuit?

I look forward to your experiences.

37 thoughts on “12 Signs My Life is Unmanageable (Even If I’m Sober)”

  1. I have been working recovery for two and a half years now and I am beginning to get enough distance from my addict behavior that I have some perspective. I agree with what this article has to say, and I also have to admit that I could not see myself accurately when I was in the depths of my addiction. Recently in my life I have dealt with several large events that would normally have sparked major negative emotions. While I did not manage them perfectly, I had a sense of peace and serenity because I worked step 10 in addition to surrendering my will and sought to do only the will of God as I served others. Navigating life from a position of active recovery and not just sobriety makes a world of difference.

    1. Thanks AJ. For me, the addictive behaviors of control, anger, impatience, and all that come and go. Luckily, like you said, I have a bit more perspective now and can see a bit more clearly.

      When in the depths of acting out and all that, I was so blind that I couldn’t see anything except my own selfish wants.

      I’m grateful for the guys in recovery that I can reach out to: reaching out is a hard thing for me to do, but when I am willing to do it and listen to the experiences of my friends, I’m able to see things more clearly.

      Thanks for your experiences. Active recovery is, for me, a secret to success.

  2. I think that being complacent is definitely where I have been for the last several months. I feel that my life will always be a bit unmanageable at least in that aspect and probably several others. Working the steps and going to meetings, even though I go, has been challenging at times. Despite being difficult, I do know that I have to keep going because when I miss a couple of meetings i feel something is missing in my life and I see myself start to revert back to old habits (more angry, impatient, not as connected with family or friends). That keeps me going when the going is tough. This addiction has been a part of my life for over 20 years, I figure I will need at least double that amount of time working recovery to try to correct all of the damage it has caused. By then I hope that going to meetings and working recovery is such a big part of my everyday life that I will continue to go until I die.

    1. Thanks Rory. Consistency and momentum and progress in recovery – all these things can be tough for me too.

      I’ve tried to associate recovery with brushing my teeth: if I don’t do it I’m going to feel really off and eventually my choices will affect my relationships with others in negative ways. But if I can make recovery a simple part of my day to day, all feels better and I’m more aware of how I feel and how those feelings affect my interactions with others.

      Wish I had it figured out and was “perfect” at it, but awareness is at least a step in the right direction I think. “Progress, not perfection.”

      Thanks for your perspective.

  3. I can relate to so many of these signs. One day I’m surprised by how well I handled a situation and the next I’m wondering why everyone is out to get me. One of the biggest signs that something isn’t right in my recovery is when I’m finding fault with others. As soon as I notice that I have two choices, continue finding fault and being miserable causing pain in my relationships or except that I need help and then ask for the help. I’ve used both of these methods and one brings me closer to my loved ones and the other drives me further away. Admitting that I’m powerless over lust is key to my eventual recovery.

    1. Yeah, it’s even moment to moment for me. I can be having a good day and feel really centered. Then, something happens that triggers fear and I have to choose, in that moment, what I’m going to do with the fear.

      I can let it lead to anger, defensiveness, or isolation, or I can reach out to God and others, talk about how I feel, why I feel that way, and what I can do next. I can write stuff out too.

      Each choice comes with consequences that I can’t control.

      Even writing this out seems to help me feel like it’s possible, I just need to slow down and remember in the moment.

      Thanks for your comment Devin.

  4. I’ve had a few thoughts along these same lines very recently, which have been punctuated as I’ve seen others that I am friends with and attend various groups with struggle with various degrees of victimhood. While not all of the items listed in this article are directly related to a victim mentality, more than a few of them are. The “too busy” excuse, or not keeping commitments (among others), are symptoms of addict behavior because they show a willingness to defer reality and personal accountability onto someone or something else. The thing that I am beginning to realize in myself is that “addict mode” as related to sex addiction was just one of the many indicators that I had slipped into a victim mentality. Addict behaviors are just symptoms of what I’m unwilling to recognize in myself and the world around me: accepting life as it is, seeing reality for what it is, and surrendering to the fact that the only thing I can control is my own choices, values, and responses to life (and even that is a process of recognizing where I can and can’t control anything … aka Serenity Prayer).

    1. Amen JR. It’s like the story of the train: I can continue to park my car on the tracks and think maybe this time I can beat that train (lust), but it’s never going to happen. I’m powerless. And my choices come with consequences, some of them severe.

      As an addict I have always wanted to pass my problems onto someone else or just focus on their problems so I don’t have to even look at mine.


  5. There are days when I feel the unmanageability life occurring. I have changed my thinking to say this current situation has become unmanageable. Life in general, since starting solid recovery has become so much better managed. However, with real recovery work I lead with my weakness and don’t become to cocky. I can also say yes to 12/12 of the factors. I have never been hospitalized for my addiction but have seen doctors because of my actions.

    1. Yeah, leading with my weaknesses is important for me too – helps keep me grounded. I’ve learned from my wife that one way I can practice humility, or maybe better said, develop humility, is to recognize that I could be wrong in all situations.

      Just because I think there is a “right” way to do something doesn’t mean that’s the “only” way to do it. Thanks for the comment Mark!

  6. I think this is a great topic. For me sober is not cured. Recovery is not cured. I believe I will be on this journey with God for the rest of my life. When I started recovery 15 years ago I really struggled with the difference between powerlessness and unmanageability. I still struggle but for me the differences are the consequences. powerlessness in and of itself affects me, unmanageability has greater consequences. One of the tools I use to help with both is the Patrick Carnes Personal Craziness Index. I used it several months ago and noticed that over 12 weeks my numbers got worse not better. I stopped using it because 12 weeks was over and I was still “ok”. I have restated the PCI and am using it again. I find this a very useful tool as more of a leading indicator than a lagging indicator as to how I am doing. I also find that the more honest I am with myself on the 7 indicators and the real behavior the more I can move forward.

    1. Thanks T. I read something yesterday from Step Into Action that is right along with what you’re saying:

      “The White Book suggested that getting sober was one thing, but our real goal is recovery. For that, I needed a program of daily work…” (p. 17)

      Recovery, for me, is a marathon, not a sprint to some non-existent destination where I arrive.

      I like your explanation of the difference between powerlessness and unmanageability too.

      I’m curious about the Patrick Carnes Personal Craziness Index. Where do I find that?

      Talk soon.

  7. I recently relapsed after nearly 3 years of sobriety. I think the great lie that I had begun to live was that God and my recovery work/group had fixed me and that my life was no longer as “unmanageable” as it once was. Believing this mindset is what caused me to rely less and less on God and consequently my recovery tools began to dull. Sure enough, several months later, I began to experience a rough patch of anxiety, depression, and work/family life stress. Add in lust triggers to that, and it was a nasty combination that I wasn’t prepared to face. My recovery tools (or help from my higher power and the fellowship) weren’t available to me because I consistently began to distance myself from them. In other words, my previous “sharp recovery tools” had become dull by relying on my own efforts and distancing myself from the help my higher power could provide. I’ve heard someone in group say once “never let a good relapse go to waste” – well this is what I’ve learned from this relapse. Even when i feel that the day to day challenges of lust have diminished and the feelings of compulsion have left, my constant dedication to living a life of recovery and relying on God to do so is a life long commitment that I have to keep. I just feel like the minute that I decide I can do it all on my own, the adversary (the master psychologist) will throw something new at me that he knows only my Higher Power could help me with at that time.

    1. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve only got a few months but I’m already starting to feel some of the complacency as the day-to-day compulsion starts to go away.

    2. Amen Jon.

      “Fixed,” “Overcome,” even “Repented” or “Recovered,” all of these words can be triggering because, to me, they mean I’m done, I’m good. I know it’s just semantics and these phrases aren’t necessarily “bad” words, but they don’t apply to living in recovery for me.

      I’ve learned from hard experience that there is no arrival…there is just progress one way or the other.

      Your comment reminds me of the Addict Cycle shared in the book “Rowboats and Marbles:”

      A -> B and B -> C

      A is negative emotions.
      B is lust.
      C is acting out.

      If I think I’m good, that I got this figured out, and I stop working recovery one day and one moment at a time, the negative emotions will pile up and turn into resentments.

      When that happens, the lust triggers and temptations seem to become stronger and stronger.

      Then, unfortunately, the acting out is only a matter of time.

      But if/when I’m working recovery, it helps me work through the A’s, be aware of them, and surrender them to God and others. Working recovery keeps me grounded and reliant on real connection to work through the day to day hardships.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. I agree completely with this article. I know sobriety is not recovery because I still have not addressed the underlining issues that I use as excuses to act out. Complacency is one of my biggest character weaknesses. One moment I reach out to The Lord because I admit my powerlessness and then the next day I think to myself “I got this.” Page 158 of The Whitebook says,”Meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings . . .” That’s what they told me. “Just keep bringing the body.” “Work the Steps, work the Steps, work the Steps, work the Steps, work the Steps.” Going to meetings and working the Steps; that’s how I did it. That’s how I learned to let “the grace of God enter to expel the obsession.” Consistency is key to avoid complacency.

  9. Sometimes I get stuck in the rut of whining about the fact that I have an addiction and thus have to live different than everyone else. It sucks. But, then I read the scriptures, and keep getting reminded that many of the things I am experiencing are “common to man.” In reality, life for every person on earth is unmanageable, and every person on earth is powerless. That’s what it means to be human. We all, not just addicts, have to live each day relying on God. I’ve spent too long thinking the gospel doesn’t apply to me, and that I am somehow unique, but that is a lie. I’m not unique, I’m human. Life is difficult. Satan wants to get me. God wants to help me. I have to depend on him each day. The thing that is maybe unique about me, and perhaps other addicts, as compared to those who aren’t addicts, is the immediate consequences of not relying on God are much more significant for me/us. In short, if I don’t do it, my life will be destroyed. If other people don’t do it, they may be able to salvage some kind of life. Either way, all of us need to rely on God daily to be perfected and saved. Thus, if life is in reality unmanagable for everyone on earth, then for sure it is unmanagable for me and always will be. It isn’t something that will change, it is a fact of life. If I ever feel it is changing (i.e., I am beginning to manage it), I know I’m in big trouble, because I’m now in fantasy world. The real world by definition for humans means unmanagability. Unmanagabiliy is a constant for everyone.

    1. Thanks Sam.

      I’ve realized that doing what I’ve always done and thinking that this time I’ll get a different result is insane, even if I think I’m trying to connect with Him or be a “good guy.”

      My connection with Him looks different today. It has to.

      The “seminary answers” have had to be removed from my vocabulary.

      Although those things are still helpful, I have to work on them differently if I’m going to expect a different result.

      Thanks for being part of the discussion.

  10. Looking back this year while I was acting out and pretending I was in recovery I’ve felt a lot of anxiety. I remember watching a TV show and the main point in the show was someone lied to their wife. I immediately became uncomfortable and I had to turn the show off. My addiction had made my life unmanageable that I couldn’t even watch a decent show. While reading this article I realized that even though I’m sober this addiction has caused so much of my life to be unmanageable. Recognizing the unmanageablity in my own life takes the power away from the addiction.

    1. Thanks Matthew.

      One thing that helps me break the addictive cycle is to think about the last time I acted out and try to assess what I was doing before the actual acting out took place. How did I feel? What had caused those feelings? What numbing processes did I choose to take which led to acting out?

      If I can address THESE things, the acting out can lose it’s power.

      Unfortunately, it is a day to day, moment to moment practice and it’s not easy. It’s unmanageable.

  11. I love these comments guys, truly, sitting here at work thinking and contemplating where i’m at in my own recovery, i cant help but think i need to be humble enough to realize my life or situation is become unmanageable, i need to loose this mentality of, i got this, i can do it on my own. “let go let god” this has been very hard lately, i’ve been so angry at everything, everybody, and has caused a lost connection with my higher power, thanks for the article and comments, thank you thank you. 3 1/2 years of being sober isn’t recovery, still learning that my character weaknesses are keeping me from finding that real peace and joy. i will keep working more reaching out more true surrender. love you guys

    1. Thanks Tim. I’m seeing my character defects come out more and more. I used to think this pornography/masturbation thing was my only real problem – that I had everything else pretty much in control. How blind I was.

  12. “Sober is not well”, I definitely agree. Recently I have had this brought to my attention again. One of the ways I recognize that I am stuck in addict behaviors is how I view the world. If I view everything through the lense of selfishness, or only how things affect me, I am in addict mode. When I am stuck in this mindset, I tend to have a more selfish attitude. This leads to getting upset over minute things, going to victim, or having a complete lack of empathy for others. When I am working my recovery, I tend to be able to be objective, not make everything about me, and see the world through a much wider lense. This leads to empathy, being vulnerable, and connection. So when I’ve gone inside myself, it’s a sure sign, (for me at least), that I’m not in a good place. But when I’m able to get outside of myself, and connect, I am in a much better one.

    1. Yeah, addict behaviors can come back to me all the time, especially in dealing with those closest to me. Fear, anger, control, impatience, resentment – these things are the core of my addiction to lust and then acting out.

      If I don’t recognize them and work on turning these negative emotions over to God, it’s only a matter of time before I become as the dog going back to his vomit.

      Thanks for your comment Danny.

      1. So many great comments. Guys are really working the Steps. Definitely can sense when I’m moving into unmanageability-I grow fear bound and anxious. I really need to stay in the steps, make my calls, and journal. At the moment, I’m working on making amends to my wife; which is tough, because I’m so empathy incompetent I can’t relate to the pain I’ve inflicted on her. I’m going to be really honest and admit the fact that I just don’t get it yet, and pray that sometime soon I will.

        1. I didn’t see a date here to see when this was originally written? so I might be a while out of date? but my opinion would be the same regardless.
          If I was the OP I would be ditching my therapist if she told me that was the reason for my unmanageable life. It is pretty obvious she knows nothing about addiction. Save your $20,000 and go and find somebody who knows what they are talking about. Those actions are the result of being human, even people who have no addictions will meet that criteria.
          That is NOT the definition of an unmanageable life. It might be a good idea to revisit the definitions in the 12 step programme to find out what they class as an unmanageable life.
          I also read some comments of “working” on their defects. The first line of the 3rd step is “Being convinced we were at step three” so what were we to be convinced of? We had to be convinced that our ideas didn’t work but the God idea did. In other words, why would we try to “work” on our defects, when experience has proventhat we failed at almost everything we tried. “”We are relying on a power greater than ourselves”. The only thing we can do is recognise them and ask our Higher Power to remove them (Step 6&7). It frightens me nowadays how many people do NOT carry the 12 step message. They carry their own opinions or someone else’s opinion of the 12 steps instead of what is written down in the 12 steps.

  13. ive learned so much with these omments thank you to all who shared with your experience strength and hope I’m new to this recovery and I’m so grateful

    1. Please look into our SAL 12-step meetings for sexual addiction recovery at sal12step.org. There you will find tools for recovery and a community of men who understand your struggle. Please reach out if you have additional questions.

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