A 12-step program is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems. I will share my experiences with each step as a resource for newcomers to the program. It is HIGHLY ADVISABLE that you work through the steps with a sponsor! Step 1 reads:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
Finding the 12 Steps
Drinking was something that I just had to do, like eating or sleeping. It was an addiction. It was necessary to keep my addiction a secret, or else someone might pressure me to quit. Therefore, I very carefully and discretely fit it into my daily schedule. I tried very hard to manage my drinking but I did not succeed. My life had become unmanageable and it took me a long time to accept it. Eventually I admitted to myself and my family that I needed help.
The First Meeting
The actual first step of my recovery was to go to a 12 step meeting. A local district representative met with me at a coffee shop, then escorted me to what has become my “home group” meeting. It felt like I had found my people. The whole experience seemed like part of a great, inexplicable plan. I felt very uncomfortable but these folks gave me a warm welcome. At the conclusion of my first meeting, I was introduced to a man who became my sponsor. He asked me to immediately start reading some literature.
This 12 step group was scary at first, but it wasn’t as dreary or theological as I had imagined. After 5 or so meetings, I started asking my sponsor about the 12 steps. He told me that I had essentially taken the first step, whether I realized it or not. He said that by going to meetings and by getting a sponsor, I had already admitted that I had a problem with alcohol. Life had become unmanageable, or else I wouldn’t be there. This may have been true, but I decided that I would not take that first step without a thorough and honest examination of its meaning. There are two key words in Step 1: powerless and unmanageable.
My previous attempts to quit were done in vain. Every time I stopped drinking, I began wondering why I stopped in the first place. This happened several times throughout the years. Attempts at quitting were always done in secret without encouragement from anyone. Deep down, I knew that these attempts at abstinence wouldn’t last. Every time I started drinking again, it became an enthusiastic binge.
Alcohol was a gigantic presence in my life. It was my coping mechanism. Every day I woke up with the goal of reaching that happiest hour when I could drink again. I had begun to feel very resentful about people in my life. I justified my drinking by telling myself that I deserved this one thing. If nothing else, I had alcohol. It was a reward for putting up with everything and everyone else. My existence was selfish and almost entirely joyless. Alcohol and the culture of drinking had me in its grip. The only real happiness that I would experience was when I was drinking again. Everything was done in such a way as to accommodate my need to drink.
It has become clear to me that all of these things are manifestations of a weakness and powerlessness to alcohol. This concept is tough for some people to accept. It doesn’t mean that you are a powerless person. All alcoholics exhibit some control or else they are not able to continue living. In my experience, I found myself always going back to drinking. It was like I was a chess piece, or a puppet, and alcohol was the master.
Shame had become my most common emotion. It informed me that I had become weak, dishonorable, and inadequate. When I drank, I was able to temporarily forget the shame, but it never left me. The need for relief by using alcohol had become deeply problematic. It was a twisted existence. Hiding alcohol and lying about drinking was not sustainable. This behavior fostered emotional immaturity and unhealthy relationships. I didn’t realize just how tired I had become until I stopped drinking. I have discovered that there is more to life than this vicious cycle of drink, relief and suffering. My contentedness with misery is baffling to me now. My life had become unmanageable and unsustainable because I had lost control of it.
The first step is a step towards freedom, serenity and purpose. It is a declaration of willingness and acceptance and the beginning of a path towards wellness. It is a simple admission of two things:
- That you are powerless over alcohol
- That your life has become unmanageable
Many people are unwilling to take this first step unless they have reached the depths of hopelessness. The decision for me was a clear one. I could not control how much I drank. It became obvious that I was part of a fatal progression and my health was declining. Moderation may have been my virtue, but the reality was obsession. The bottom line is that I didn’t enjoy drinking as I once had. I became a very tired person – practically lifeless.
The first step is an admission. You must admit that you alone cannot control your drinking. It is a challenge for many of us to accept this lack of control. We wish to hold on to our pride, our ego and our confidence. The first step is humbling. It is with humility that we find strength and confidence and get back in the driver’s seat.