No journey in life can begin without first making a first step. It is this that puts things into motion. In the case of addiction recovery the first step is always going to be admitting that there is a problem. This is because it is denial of the situation that keeps people trapped indefinitely. Even those individuals who do not subscribe to the Alcoholics Anonymous philosophy will still need to take this important first step. While people are trapped in denial they will not be able to develop the motivation to stop their behavior.
This first step of admitting that there is a problem is only the beginning for alcoholics. It is not enough alone to ensure that the individual will escape their misery. It could actually make things much worse because the individual sees the desperation of their situation but feels unable (or unwilling) to do anything about it. There are plenty of alcoholics who admit that their alcohol intake is out of control but feel unable to stop. The individual has to also become willing to make some changes to their life if they are to escape.
The first step in Alcoholics Anonymous involves more than just admitting that there is a problem. It means breaking through the denial that has kept the person locked in their misery. The individual has to accept that they have been beaten by their addiction. The exact wording of this step is:
We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
This is considered the most vital step in Alcoholics Anonymous, and it is also the only step that members must work completely. If the individual does not accept this first step it will not be possible for them to benefit from the rest of the program. This is because it is only the feelings of powerlessness and unmanageability that motivates members to make radical changes to their life. The importance of step 1 in Alcoholics Anonymous is emphasized by the fact that the first quarter of the Big Book is focused on this first action.
By admitting that they are powerless over alcohol the individual is saying that they are unable to control their intake. This means that they now accept that they have lost their battle against alcohol and no longer believe that they will ever be able to drink safely. If the individual continues to hold onto the idea that they may be able to drink again normally at a later date it means they have not fully accepted their powerlessness. They may be able to stop drinking, but their ambivalent attitude is likely to leave them susceptible to relapse. It is only by fully accepting powerlessness that the individual can move forward effectively.
For many people admitting powerlessness is easier than accepting that their lives have become unmanageable. Nobody wants to believe that their way of dealing with life is wrong. Humans tend to be proud of their ability to manage their own affairs – particular in the modern world. It takes a degree of humility for anyone to accept that they have messed up and they need help. The problem is that if the individual continues to use their existing coping strategies for dealing with their alcoholism they may not get very far in recovery. In order to follow the 12 Steps the individual must to be willing to give up their old ineffective coping strategies and develop new more effective ones. In AA meetings members will frequently acknowledge this fact by saying my best thinking got me drunk.
It usually takes a great deal of suffering before an alcoholic is willing to accept step 1. The willingness to accept the first step usually arises because:
* The individual has spent some time trying to control their alcohol intake but keeps on failing. They may be able to drink within their limits for a few days but eventually they slip back into destructive habits.
* They have tried to give up alcohol without help but keep on failing.
* The individual has hit rock bottom and can now see how much their drinking is destroying their life.
* Once they start drinking they feel unable to stop. For example, they go out with the intention of only drinking a couple of beers, but end up getting drunk.
* The individual has acted so appallingly while drunk that they are forced to face their problems. An example of this would be domestic violence or a car crash while under the influence.
* Some people are able to accept their powerlessness just by hearing recovering alcoholics talking about their own experiences with addiction. The individual who is still trapped in their alcoholism can recognize that they are experiencing many of the same things.
In order to take the first step in recovery it is necessary for the individual to be humble enough to admit that they need help. Some people view humility as a type of weakness, but this could not be further from the truth. It just means that the individual owns up to the reality that they do not have all the answers. Humility also means that the individual becomes willing to accept help for their problem. The benefits of adopting this type of attitude is not only necessary for the first step but for all the steps. The advantages of a humble attitude in recovery include:
* It makes it easier for people to pick up new information. Those who already feel they have all the answers have no desire to listen to anyone.
* Humility means that people are not afraid to ask questions. When people are arrogant they don’t like to ask questions in case it makes them appear stupid.
* A humble attitude means that the individual with not become overconfident in their recovery. This is important because it is usually when people become complacent that they are most likely to relapse.
* Humility is a vital component of any type of spiritual path – not only the 12 Steps.
* It is easier for people who are humble to make new friends. Arrogance is an unattractive personality trait that repels other people.
* Humility means that people experience less stress in their life. They do not put pressure on themselves to have all the answers and have no fear about asking for help when they need it.
Step 1 is often described as a type of surrender. In order to accept the need for change the individual needs to first concede that they are beaten. People can view this type of surrender as a show of weakness, but it is actually going to empower them to escape their addiction. It was the fact that they continued to fight their alcohol problem that was causing them so many problems. For the alcoholic surrender means:
* No longer trying to limit the amount they drink.
* An end to the misery of dry days where the individual stops temporarily in order to prove they have some control.
* No more need to make drinking rules that later get broken – for example, promising not to drink until after 6pm.
* An end to self disgust and disappointed because of breaking a drinking rule.
* No longer needing to use willpower to stop drinking when the individual just wants to keep on going.
* No more waiting for the good days of drinking to return. The individual is never going to recapture those fun early days of drinking.
* Surrender means giving up on a life of delusion and lies and embracing a new way of living.
* It means getting a second change in life. No matter how much of a mess the individual has made of their life it will usually be possible for them to recovery once they surrender.
* The stressful feeling of having to fight alcoholism disappears. Once the individual becomes settled in their sobriety they will not feel like their life is one constant battle between them and alcohol.
*No more having to say sorry for things they did while drunk.
* Surrender means living a life that has real purpose and feels satisfying.
* It means an end to self-hate and guilt.
* It means being able to look other people straight in the eye and not feeling less than them.
* Surrender means that the individual is not only able to escape their misery, but they can also benefit from their experience. Addiction is a cruel teacher, but if people can learn from these lessons it will greatly benefit their life going forward.
* It means walking in the footsteps of many other people who found success in life once they gave up an addiction.