Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol –
that our lives had become unmanageable.”
This is where addiction took me…
For many years my life was unconsciously unmanageable
as I displayed the classic forms of denial: I rationalized,
minimized and projected the cause of all my
problems onto other people until…
One day, after a four-day binge of cocaine and alcohol
I came face to face with myself in the mirror. As I
stared into my eyes I started screaming obscenities and
calling myself every vulgar word that came to mind. My
screams turned into tears and I saw myself exactly as
I was: a sniveling, pathetic crack-head who was totally
addicted to booze and cocaine. I had turned my life’s
extraordinary blessings into a deep-seated hatred for
myself and for God. No matter what promises I had
made to others and myself, I could not stop drinking or
using cocaine. As the tears subsided I wondered how
I could end my life and make it look like an accident.
Little did I know I had not yet hit my bottom.
Sickness and death are the physical expressions of the
fear of awakening. By experiencing the 12 steps, we receive
the gift of a spiritual awakening. This gift releases
us from the fear, chaos and drama associated with our
previous existence. With this gift we are reborn into a
new life in which we finally experience reality. Miracles,
awakenings, and reality come to us – we do not go to
them. They are blessings we receive by simply aligning
our wills with God’s will.
Admitting powerlessness instills the acceptance of our
situation. As we unearth the willingness to surrender,
we open the door to change. Seeking courage and
surrender once appeared to be contradicting concepts,
but in recovery, they go hand in hand and start with
the first step. Our healing begins with a divine awareness
that we are not alone on this worldly journey.
Transforming from a state of unconscious unmanageability
(level 1) to conscious unmanageability (level 2)
brings a suffering addict to the proverbial fork in the
road. We have finally awakened from our self-induced
stupor of ignorance to the acknowledgement that
something is terribly wrong with the way we are living.
Our life is still unmanageable but now we are aware of
For most people suffering from addiction, this is the
first time they have objectively looked at themselves.
The pain and disgust they see has finally overridden
denial and blind arrogance. Admitting unmanageability
and surrendering to powerlessness over our lives is
truly the first step to transformation. The first of many
decisions in recovery starts right here, right now. Sadly
for some, admitting without surrendering is a far as
they ever get. They appear to be permanently stuck in
a state of conscious incompetence. Some may visualize
a new life, but without taking any action, visualization
is just another form of hallucination. Surrendering is a
spiritual lesson that must be learned in recovery.
Step 1 suggests we are powerless over something:
alcohol, drugs, sex, overeating, gambling or shopping.
While we had the power to choose the object or objects
of our powerlessness, we have become powerless
over life itself. The problem does not lie with the drugs,
alcohol or food – it lies with us. We are guilty of merely
existing in a far too human world as opposed to living
as the divinely spiritual beings that we were created
to be. We may suffer from guilt when we acknowledge
our past indiscretions, but we can readily forgive
ourselves of human mistakes. Simply asking for forgiveness
initiates the healing process of guilt. Shame,
however, is far more toxic than guilt because it makes
us believe something is inherently wrong with us and
that we are not worthy of forgiveness.
I have found that most alcoholics and addicts believe
they never measured up to the expectations that families,
religions and society wrongly placed upon them.
To numb the pain of feeling inadequate, they sought
and found refuge in booze and drugs. People with
codependency find refuge in overindulging in different
types of self-sabotaging behaviors. They numb their
personal pain by directing their attention to the person
or people in their lives that, in their minds, are less
functional them themselves. Codependents focus on
the past that, in turn, destroys the present. They use
the past to project the future while ignoring their own
need for happiness.
Others may focus on work or strongly held,
closed-minded beliefs. These obsessions can result in
the same character defects as addiction. Codependency
and addiction go hand in hand. Renowned psychiatrist
Doctor Pursch M.D. has many times reminded me,
“If you scratch an alcoholic, underneath you will find a
Unmanageability results from certain defects of character
that addiction and obsessive thinking create
and demand. Defects common in nearly all addicted
people include dishonesty, self-centeredness, selfishness,
guilt, shame, denial, procrastination and a lack of
awareness of reality. Many of these defects of character
are our brain’s defense mechanisms that protect us
from the truth about ourselves. Recovery starts when
we stop separating our thoughts from reality.
Our twisted perception that we are unique must be
smashed, along with the beliefs that our addiction to
drugs, obsessions and the negative thoughts can be
eliminated without help. The first word in the first step
– “we” – was placed there intentionally. The initial draft
of the 12 steps started with the word “admitted”. But
the alcoholics working with Bill W. writing the steps
wanted it clearly understood that no one “trudges the
road to happy destiny”3 alone.
In the beginning, the seemingly impossible task of
grasping reality appears overwhelming because we
have allowed our perception to become so extremely
distorted. Chemicals have hijacked our brain and
our thoughts. These deceptive and self-destructive
thoughts are so pervasive and ingrained that they
slowly became our reality. This familiar, false reality
then creates a sense of comfort, at least, until that moment
of clarity, that profound instant that we know we
are going to die unless we change.
Step 1 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions4
states, “We perceive that only through utter defeat
are we able to take our first step toward liberation and
strength. Our admissions of personal powerlessness
finally turn out to be firm bedrocks upon which happy
and purposeful lives can be built.”
The 12 steps act as the road map to living life in a world
that appears to have no direction and make no sense.
But we eventually discover that the world need not
make sense once we recover from the hopeless mindstate
that we experienced as the result of addiction and
codependency. The goal of the 12 steps is to deliver a
spiritual awakening, a new life that is a miracle based
on truth. Step 1 is the beginning of the transformation
from a broken belief system to a life filled with mean
ing and purpose.
We find purpose by redefining our values. But these
value shifts take place gradually in recovery and they
tend to differ between men and women. While both
men and women find more purpose through spirituality,
men who had placed their focus on power, money
and pleasure, now find purpose in family and personal
peace. Women who tended to place their focus on
independence, family, career and fitting in will now
find purpose in personal growth and authentic self-esteem.
While these are general observations, the point is
that people in recovery, just as people who experience
near-death events, will look to find meaning and purpose
through repairing their belief systems.
Recovery is not a small heading correction, there is a
deadly storm ahead that requires completely reinventing
how to experience life from the moment we wake
up until we place our head on the pillow each evening.
While this seems like an overwhelmingly large task in
truth, the seemingly small choices we make in our daily
routines determines rather we plow through the storm
or we avoid the storm entirely.
We must allow recovery to flow through us and share
what we learn when we learn it. As we find fragments
of peace on the path of transformation, we must capture
that peace and make a home for it in our hearts
This peace comes through internalizing God’s omnipotence
and omnipresence, and by completely surrendering
our will to God’s will. We should constantly remind
ourselves that God’s will is for us to be happy, joyous
and free in this world so we can claim eternal happiness
in the next. We have free will during our brief time
on earth, but in eternity, God’s will is all there is.
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot
courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to
know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a
accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender
to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.