Step One of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable”
This week I have been working on the first step as I am going back through the 12 steps with my sponsor. We decided that, at almost 16 months sober, it was a good time for me to rework the steps. I made my way through all of the steps early last year, after getting out of treatment in December 2012, but a lot has changed since then; not so much with my exterior life, but internally, for sure. Those changes, my growth in recovery, and yes, some old issues that are still hanging on, are the reasons that we decided to work through the steps again. I have heard that some sponsors have their sponsees go through the steps every year. I like that idea. It keeps everything fresh and doesn’t allow for complacency and back-sliding. But I also know plenty of people in recovery that went through the steps one time, and after that continued to practice the maintenance steps (10, 11, and 12) throughout their recovery, and they have had healthy, sustained sobriety for years. I guess different things work for different people, and each person should do what works for them. I think that I need the reminders though. I don’t ever want to get to the point where I think, “I’ve got this.” That gets me into trouble.
I did my reading on the first step in the big book and in the 12 and 12 before I started my writing. I can remember doing the same reading before I did my first ever first step. At the time, admitting powerlessness and unmanageability really bothered me. It all seemed a little bit drastic. I knew that I had a drinking problem, and that I always drank more than I intended, but my life hadn’t yet become unmanageable – or at least, I didn’t think it had. Just because I was sitting in rehab, it didn’t mean life was unmanageable…the DUI I had gotten three years before, a DV assault charge a few months earlier, a very short stay in a psychiatric hospital, and my wrecked car sitting at home also didn’t seem to mean that life had become unmanangeable. I’m not sure if anything short of me living in a wash with no shoes and a bottle of Mad Dog in a brown paper bag, could’ve convinced me that my life was unmanageable. Clearly, as I approached the steps the first time, I wasn’t ready to admit those things. I wanted help, but I wasn’t ready to completely surrender to the first step.
I’ve heard it said in meetings, that the only step you have to get 100% right is the first step. I have to agree with that. The others you can continue to go back to and work as issues come up. And you can stay sober doing that. But I honestly believe that if you don’t get the first step, I mean really get it, you can’t stay sober. I say that with the voice of experience. I tried to get sober time and time again, but it didn’t ever work until I really understood that where I was was my rock bottom. I had to surrender to the fact that I was absolutely, undeniably, 100% powerless over alcohol. I couldn’t safely drink alcohol again, ever. If I took the first drink of alcohol, then the alcohol would take me. It would take me to places that I never would go sober, it would take me to jail or to psych wards, it would take me away from everything I loved, and ultimately, it would take me away from my life.
As I did my first step this time, answering all of the questions my sponsor asked me to, and remembering all of the times that I was completely out of control when I was drinking, I was at peace knowing that I have surrendered to the fact that I am, without a doubt, an alcoholic. I do not have the ability to drink like a normal person, and I never will. When I take the first drink, I am powerless over what happens next and my life, almost immediately, becomes unmanageable. That unmanageable place is a truly horrible, soul-sucking reality to live in. I am so grateful and so blessed that I don’t have to live there anymore. And it’s thanks to being able to accept and surrender to the first step that I don’t have to go back there.