“We perceive that only through utter defeat are we able to take our first steps towards liberation and strength. Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.” ~ Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book On any journey, the first step is always the most important, because you can’t get where you’re going if you never start. This is especially true about the journey of recovery from addiction or alcoholism. Before a person to ever takes the First of the 12 Steps, their life was undoubtedly marked by the dishonesty, deflection, and denial commonly espoused by every substance abuser. Does any of this sound familiar?
- “I don’t have a problem.”
- “So what if I drink? I’ve got it under control.”
- “I can quit anytime I want.”
- “I’ll never drink (use drugs) again, I promise.” This statement is always made right after a particularly bad binge. The promise is never kept.
While all this self-delusion is going on, the addicted person’s life spirals out of control, with their health, finances, relationships, career, and mental well-being all suffering as a result. Read the words of the First Step – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (drugs) – that our lives had become unmanageable.” The very act of admitting that a problem exists – powerlessness over alcohol – is naked honesty to a degree that hasn’t been seen since active addiction began. There IS a problem, it’s NOT under control, and the person CAN’T quit anytime they want. The abused substance, whether alcohol or drugs, has all the power at this point. The second part of that admission – that life had become unmanageable – does more than acknowledge that a person can’t control the addiction. It states plainly that the addiction is ruining the person’s life. By admitting these two related problems, the addict or alcoholic can no longer hide behind all of the excuses and minimizing and blaming others. It is evident that they need help. It has been said that Step One is the only one of the Twelve that absolutely must be worked completely.
If the person does not accept that they are an alcoholic/addict, with all that entails, they will not be able to benefit from the other Steps. As long as they feel that “other people” are the real abusers and users, they will think that the rules of recovery don’t apply to them. Take “powerless”, for example. To fully work Step One, the person has to fully accept that they are no match for the alcohol/drug and that they will never again be able to drink or use in the same social or recreational manner that other people do. If they are ambivalent – if they somehow hold onto the idea that at some point in the future they will be able to imbibe or partake normally “when they have it under control” – they only set themselves up for a future relapse.
For many people, it is harder to admit that their life has become unmanageable than it was for them to admit their powerlessness. People are proud, and no one wants to admit that they are failing in dealing with their own life and their own affairs. This is why so many people say that an addict/alcoholic has to hit “rock bottom” before they admit there is a problem and ask for help. Ego will make a person try to use the same coping strategies that they have used in the past to deal with their addiction/alcoholism. Obviously, up to this point, those strategies have failed. In 12 Step parlance, a person might make an acknowledgment of this fact by saying, “My best thinking got me drunk.” On the other hand, it takes humility to fully realize that one’s own efforts at sobriety are to no avail and that help is needed. The person needs to be willing to surrender their habitual ineffective coping mechanisms and ready to take a different approach. Feelings of powerlessness and unmanageability need to be the rock-bottom impetuses that motivate the individual to make radical changes in their life.
Surrender to Succeed
The biggest of these radical changes may be to accept the idea of surrendering in the battle against alcohol and drugs. Surrendering does not give the person an excuse to use drugs or drink every time they have a compulsion. On the contrary, it gives a person the freedom from addiction’s control. Surrender means ending all of the lies and delusions to embrace a new way of living. Surrender means gaining a feeling of peace because they no longer feel as if their life is one long, never-ending battle with alcohol. Surrender means saying goodbye guilt and self-hatred. Most of all, surrender means being granted a second chance in life. The addict or alcoholic who has fully worked Step One will more easily be able to live a purposeful, satisfying life one day at a time, from this point forward, because they stopped focusing solely on their addiction and instead focus on their own well-being.