“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Building a strong foundation is imperative to the recovery process. Like building a house, the time and attention devoted to the foundation will have an impact on everything else you do. It supports the weight of the structure and keeps it steady. But it’s not sexy or something many people pay attention to once it’s constructed. When a house is constructed, only about 6″ of the foundation usually shows and most of that is covered up by shrubs and gardens. What we see instead is the house exterior: the gables, the roof, the arched windows, the brick or wood siding.
The life cycle of alcoholism and addiction is often that way. While the foundation is cracking and becoming unstable, the façade is holding up and is what most people see. For a while, you are not able to clearly see the struggles, pain and dishonesty that are taking over. Then the cracks in the wall start to show and the façade becomes damaged. You can’t hide the pain and your addiction becomes more visible to all in your circle. The foundation is failing and eventually everything supported by it will come crashing in if help is not sought.
The twelve steps are a way of life and a way to build a new, solid foundation. When we pay attention to these directions, following the blueprint for recovery, our chance of having a strong and sturdy foundation is assured. But skipping over steps or working them haphazardly will only lead to problems later on-a shaky foundation in need of repair.
Powerlessness leads to empowerment: Many people struggle with the concept of powerlessness and especially admitting that they are powerless. It is, however, the first step in recovery. Step One doesn’t soft peddle the issue. In order to move forward, it asks us to make a rather harsh admission. It is direct, specific and to the point. It does not suggest you are powerless over anything else, but it asks you to recognize that you are powerless over alcohol and other drugs.
One value in this admission is that for maybe the first time you are no longer fighting the reality of alcoholism and addiction. Instead, there is actual relief in this admission and acknowledgement that your drug of choice has had the upper hand, the power and the control. People who are obstinate, stubborn or unable to accept this will have a more difficult time. (That could include most alcoholics.) But it is precisely those same individuals who are most capable of embracing the steps, internalizing them and applying them in their daily lives.
The first step doesn’t ask, “How powerless are you?” but it does include the qualifying, all-inclusive statement, “that our lives had become unmanageable.” The beauty of the first step is that it doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Sure, some have to reach a lower bottom than others and, some are not quite ready to stop, but some degree of unmanageability is universal. The results of powerlessness include unmanageability in other affairs, often reaching into all aspects of one’s life: health, work, relationships, finance, legal matters and spiritual connection. Spirituality is usually the first thing to suffer or disappear entirely.
Unmanageability may not be equal in its impact in terms of consequence, loss or degree of difficulty: it doesn’t have to be! There is no rating system. I tend to think the ones who stop drinking or using sooner are the luckier ones. “No matter how far down the scale we have gone we will see how our experience can benefit others.” It cuts both ways.
The first step is about recognition and realization, acknowledgement and acceptance: this is happening to me. Before most of us are willing to explore changing a behavior, we have to experience or suffer some form of loss or consequences. For the alcoholic and addict, there is generally a series of losses that take place before a movement towards change (Step Two) can be initiated. Admitting powerlessness allows the alcoholic and addict to open the door to interventions outside of self, and eventually inside of self. It clears the way for a new kind of power to be pursued, developed and to emerge, a power of spiritual dimension and proportion.