Archive for the 1st Step Category
When I was newly sober, I heard the cliche that “alcoholism has very little to do with alcohol” many times. As I have stayed sober longer, I have found this statement to be extremely true. Alcoholism comes in a person, not in a bottle.
The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous has two distinct parts. The first part states that we are powerless over alcohol (and drugs), and the second part states that our lives had become unmanageable. When I first saw this, I read it as “our alcohol abuse had become unmanageable.” The truth is that our lives are unmanageable without alcohol as well. In my experience and opinion, my life became even more unmanageable without alcohol than it was with alcohol.
Alcohol was the solution. It worked. It helped me manage. Getting sober and admitting I was powerless over alcohol, I no longer had my chief form of comfort. Alcohol allowed me to not feel, and I wasn’t sober frequently enough to fully experience the path of my unpleasant emotions. Suddenly I found myself in a world where I had no buffer between me and my emotions.
This unmanageability to me means that I cannot healthily and safely manage my life sober or drunk. My mind does not by default know how to appropriately respond to life. Alcoholism carries on just as well without the alcohol. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, we have a physical allergy, mental craving, and spiritual malady. When I stop drinking, the physical allergy is no longer an issue. The mental craving is caused by my spiritual malady. It is for this reason that the focus of eleven of the Twelve Steps is on this spiritual malady.
As I work on my spiritual malady and get in conscious contact with my Higher Power, the mental cravings begin to dissipate. However, if I am not working on my spiritual malady, the mental cravings overpower me. The unmanageability is a direct result of my lack of a contact with a power greater than myself.
In this way, my alcoholism continues even without alcohol. I was completely without any way to cope with life on life’s terms. Life is unmanageable, meaning that we are unable to manage it. However, when we find a power greater than ourselves, whatever this means to the individual, we are able to allow this power to manage our lives. Our alcoholic tendencies and unhealthy reactions diminish, and we are able to meet life head on without running.
In recovery, we go through the steps with our sponsor. However, the steps also must be worked in our daily lives. As the Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests, we must practice these principles in all our affairs.
In everyday life, powerlessness is constantly affecting us. Specifically, we must always remember our powerlessness over our addiction. Keeping close the memory of what happens when we indulge helps drive us every day to work the steps. Remembering what our addiction looks like is a great motivator.
After working the steps and gaining insight, we discover that we are powerless over much more than our addiction. Essentially, we are powerless over everyone and everything except ourselves. We must stop trying to control outside events.
Dr. Paul O. said, “When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation- some fact of my life- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment… When I complain about me or about you, I am complaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God.”
Unmanageability affects our daily lives as well. With the powerlessness over other people comes the unmanageability. Other people, external events, and anything else outside of ourselves is certainly unmanageable. When we don’t recognize our powerlessness over these things, unmanageability grows even stronger. Trying to exert power over external phenomena creates distress and anxiety. Recognizing our powerlessness, we must see that everything is unmanageable to us.
In regard to ourselves, unmanageability is quite relevant. Even with our own actions, thoughts, and emotions, we encounter unmanageability. In everyday life, we experience thoughts and feelings that we are powerless over. We sometimes act in ways that we don’t intend to, often as a result of living without being mindful. Our thoughts, actions, and feelings are unmanageable because we are trying to manage every aspect of our lives. As the steps go on, we must turn our will and our lives over to a Higher Power. Recognizing the unmanageability of our own lives, we see that we must rely on a greater power to direct us. At first, this may be the Twelve Steps, the advice of a fellow, or a mentor. Regardless of what this power is, it helps us manage our lives.
In our daily lives, we can practice both these principles by putting into practice the Serenity Prayer. We must accept that which we cannot change (everything external and some things internal even), change the things we can (internal things and our relationship with our Higher Power), and recognize the difference.
The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, ”We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” The principle behind this first step is honesty. Step One also is closely related to Right View in Buddhism.
The first step is a simple (not easy) declaration of our complete defeat. Looking out our addiction, we see that our behavior has centered around our addiction. The first part of Step One, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol,” is a look at the nature of our using. Powerless is a strong word, and frightens many of us. However, when we look at the way we use, powerless is indeed a fitting word. When we drink and use, we lose all control and power. Taking the first drink, pill, hit, etc., we immediately succumb to our own powerlessness, and give in to the power of the substance.
We also experience powerlessness with the mental obsession we have. Even before we take the first drink, we are in constant thought of alcohol. Our lives are centered around alcohol. When we are not drinking, we are looking for the first drink. We are preoccupied with alcohol, not only losing power of action but also power of thought over it.
When we work this first part of Step One, we are practicing rigorous self-honesty. In order to see the nature of our powerlessness, we must be willing to set down the ego and be genuinely honest. This honesty helps us see that true extent of our powerlessness. As we honestly look at places we drank when we should not have, times we drank when it was inappropriate, and amounts we drank that we should not have, we recognize our powerlessness.
The second half of the First Step is “that our lives had become unmanageable.” Many people read this the first time and misinterpret it. What this is saying is not that our drinking had become unmanageable, but our lives. Yes, our drinking is obviously unmanageable, but the point is that our entire life is unmanageable by ourselves. When we look honestly at our lives, we see how unmanageable it has become. Our entire lives are out of our own control. With honesty, we are able to concede to our innermost selves that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable by our own control.
Step One and Right View
Right View and Step One are very closely related. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they truly are. The principle of honesty goes very well with Right View. In Right View, we begin to see things as they really are. When we are drinking and using, our perception is certainly disturbed. We are not seeing things as they really are, although it seems real to us.
Practicing the First Step and Right View, we open our minds to seeing the world from a different perspective. We look at our drinking and using, and we recognize the truth. We see more clearly the nature of our addiction. Rather than blaming everything on external issues, we recognize it is our own powerlessness that is the root of our suffering.
We also recognize how unmanageable our life has become. This is not to say we recognize the need for a Higher Power in our lives; rather, we come to terms with the reality of our lives being out of control. Often for some time, we have not been able to manage our lives. Where we previously believed we were in complete control, our convictions change.
Right View is essential to the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous because we must begin to see things more clearly. We recognize the cause of our suffering is the addiction, powerlessness, and unmanageability.
An amazing speaker in Alcoholics Anonymous often says, “People come into the rooms for one of two reasons: for relief or for recovery.” I agree with his statement completely, and think that some may come in with a combination of the two, whether or not they are aware of it. When someone comes in to the rooms looking for recovery, they are looking for a new way of life, they are sick of the way they behave, and they are hoping to find an answer. When people come into the rooms looking for relief, it usually is in relation to a judge, a job, a family member, or a loved one. Many people find Twelve Step meetings because of these reasons, as I myself did.
Neither relief nor recovery is a better reason to come into the rooms. My personal experience and my experience observing my fellows is that the desire for relief can only carry us for so long. Eventually, we must have a craving for recovery if we are to maintain long-term sobriety, and a good quality of life. It is a tough decision to make, but we must if we are to stay sober.
For me, I came into the rooms after being arrested with three violent felonies. My attempt to get sober was a preemptive strike against the prosecuting attorney. I thought if I could go to court and show I was an active part of a 12 Step group, the judge would be more lenient.
When I first was getting sober, I told my sponsor all about my legal issues, and how I was SOOOO unique from everyone else. He told me that I needed to put all my problems on a shelf, work the Twelve Steps, focus on myself, and we could go back to that shelf when we were done and take my issues down one by one. I had a hard time swallowing this idea, but I followed instruction. By the time we got back to the shelf, most of my problems were gone.
In the 90 days it took me to go through the steps with my sponsor, I slowly grew to want recovery for myself. Although my intention at first was to get the court off my back, I began to want recovery for myself. I noticed my life turning around, and the thinking beginning to improve. Of course, I still had ups and downs, and the downs were hard to deal with. However, I soon had a deep conviction that I and my life were better off sober.
Relief Doesn’t Last
From what I have experienced trying to get sober before, as well as seeing my fellows struggle, relief will not keep us sober forever. Working at a sober living, I see the majority of clients struggle with being sober in order to gain relief from someone else. Many of the young men are sober for their parents, a few for the courts, and a couple for their wives/children.
One thing I try to always tell my sponsees and the clients here is that if my life was not hands down better today now that I am sober, I would still be using. When I realized that early in my sobriety, my attitude completely changed. The reality is that although the need for relief is one hell of a motivator getting us INTO the rooms, it is the need for personal recovery that makes us STAY in the rooms.
We must want this for ourselves. Yes, I hurt others in my addiction; physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. I knew I did not want to cause that level of pain any longer. But I truly believe that I am only sober today because I was able to make that distinction that I wanted to be sober for myself. It’s not easy, but we must take each step carefully, and remember our goal: to spiritually progress.
“There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet. We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed.”
Great post! Thanks for the heads up that this was here; I am glad I read it! I really like the focus on the word “powerless”, as you discussed in the post a little while ago. I think that powerlessness is an interesting word. I do not necessarily agree with its true meaning, but do understand the idea behind it.
When I first entered the twelve-step community, I learned I was powerless over drugs and alcohol. As it was the first step I took, I learned it quickly. Looking back on my using career, I saw the powerlessness in every aspect of my life. My work suffered, I dropped out of school, I burnt bridges with family and friends, and blamed my problems on everything and everyone except myself and my using.
Over time, twelve-step programs and Buddhism both have helped me see that I am powerless over much more than alcohol and drugs. I wish sometimes that other people would act in a certain way or that situations would go as I want. In reality, I am powerless over everyone and everything but myself. I even am not able to fully control my own thoughts and emotions consistently yet.
When I find myself upset with any situation, person, or thing in my life, it is generally because I wish or expected it to be different. As is commonly said in meetings, expectations lead to resentment. When I am able to realize that I am not in control and come to terms with it, my attitude immediately changes.
I see that the cause of my suffering was an attachment to my perception of what it should have been. Even once something has occurred, I often spend time fantasizing about how it could have gone differently, or what I should have done differently. The cause of my suffering in these times is both an attachment to my preference, and not embracing how things happened. I am continually learning more and more to see how my dis-ease is caused by myself.
The solution to the discomfort comes in several forms. One thing that really helps is working the Third and Fourth Noble Truth. When I realize that my suffering is my own creation, my next realization is that my salvation is also my own creation. I am powerless over so much, that I must keep power over what I can: myself. I see the cessation to my suffering, and then the path to cessation. I work the first of the Eightfold Path: Right View. I practice seeing it for what it is, and that alone often clears my discontent.
Also, I work the second and third steps of the program. I practice accepting that the Universe has a plan for me, and I turn it over. This is one of the times when Buddhism and twelve-step programs work very well together. When I see that things occur exactly how they are supposed to, I come into acceptance and can see things more clearly, with Right View. I am a true believer that everything happens for a reason, and I can learn from everything that happens in my life. When I work steps two and three, it helps me come to this conclusion. My powerlessness over everyone and everything are a fact of reality, and when I am able to accept that, I come far closer to living with true serenity.