This is the first post in a series that I’m working on about the 12 Steps and what they mean to me in my recovery.
Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.
By the time I finally made it into the rooms, I really didn’t care what this step meant. I was defeated and I was ready to surrender. I’d performed the mental masturbation that many of us perform about the exact meaning of the words of this step so many times in the two years that lead up to me entering the room of that 6:00 AM meeting on September 23, 2015 and I’d finally decided that really, it just didn’t matter. The pain was too much to bear any longer. I would figure it out later. Or I wouldn’t. I had no idea. I just knew that I needed help and that I couldn’t do it on my own.
I’d been hung up on two words in this step for years. powerless and unmanageable.
I’d reasoned over and over again that I couldn’t be powerless over alcohol because there were times when I could have just one drink. In my mind powerlessness had to mean that I had absolutely no control. That I couldn’t go a day without drinking. That I had to be drinking in the morning, dawn to dusk. I saw it in a very black and white way. It never occurred to me that having one drink at lunch, waiting a few hours, and then drinking half a fifth, wasn’t exactly the portrait of self control.
And unmanageable. My life was not unmanageable. I had never had a DUI. I’d never missed a day of work. I’d never stolen. I’d never had a bar fight. I’d never done anything or suffered any significant consequences as a result of my drinking.
It never occurred to me that the pain I had in my right side under my ribs, might be considered unmanageable, even if I knew that it was surely a sign of my liver being inflamed. The bruised tailbone that resulted when I slipped on the ice while drinking around the bonfire in the neighbors driveway during a snow storm couldn’t possibly be a sign of unmanageability. Temporarily losing my hearing in my left ear might have been, in point of fact, be a sign that my life was going off the rails — but I sure didn’t register it as such. Nor did it seem odd to me that I carried a pack of wet-ones in my briefcase because my bowl movements were either horrendously loose or incredibly sticky and I had trouble cleaning my rear.
I had solutions to these trivial problems. I was managing fine.
I may not have suffered dire consequences, but I suffered. I suffered from shame and guilt. I have said to people that while I never lost any possessions, any privileges, my wife or my family, I lost something that every alcoholic loses at some point.
I lost my self respect.
Oh, the delusions of addiction.
With time, I learned that Step 1 was a 100% accurate depiction of my drinking. I may have never felt powerless over alcohol, but alcohol certainly held a power over me. And my life, while I was barely holding it together was not manageable.
Today, I think of Step 1 a bit differently. Instead of dissecting the words of the original step, I think about what it means to me. And what it means to me is that I can’t drink normally and when I do drink it doesn’t improve my life. I know for a fact that if I have a single drink, all bets are off. I know that I am powerless over alcohol after that first drink.
I also know that if I were drinking, it wouldn’t improve my life in any way. In fact it would negatively impact my life. All of those mysterious ailments I mentioned earlier — from the pain under my ribs to the shit sticking to my butt — they are all gone. And those aren’t the only ways drinking impacted my life negatively. I’ve been able to do things that I could have never dreamed of doing when drinking. From simple things like going to the store after 7:00 PM without risking a DUI, to being an adult leader in my son’s Cub Scout Pack and a Committee member in his current BSA Troop.
So today, when I think of Step 1, I think of it as follows:
I admitted that I couldn’t control my drinking and it was negatively affecting my life.
Prior to entering the rooms, I spent a lot of time trying to answer the question, “Am I an alcoholic?” I googled it. I took the tests (dishonestly). I asked my wife (who told me that I was the only one who could answer that, as Al-Anon had taught here). I asked my friends (who had no idea what the full picture was). I questioned the meaning of the words powerless and unmanageable.
I was asking the wrong questions. The only question that needs to be asked is: “Does my drinking negatively impacting my life?”
If you ask yourself this question and your honest answer is yes, and you’d like to change it, then you’re ready to take Step 1.