Step 1 of AA

You have probably heard the saying “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” It’s particularly relevant when discussing the first step of a 12 step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. It doesn’t matter how difficult, lengthy, or time consuming an undertaking is, the very first step is the one that counts the most. Without it, nothing else happens.

The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous states:

“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Without this step none of the others can be taken, which is part of the reason that this step is the only one that has to be worked completely. You can take other steps in stages, moving forward as you grow more comfortable with the process and are more able to embrace the step. Step one, however, doesn’t give you that option.

The following should help you to better understand step one of AA and the ways that it can be applied in your day to day life. To learn more about the support services available to alcoholics, call 800-839-1686Who Answers?. You will be connected with a phone counselor who can match you with resources and connect you with treatment programs.

What Does It Mean to Be Powerless Over Your Addiction?

Step 1 of AA

You must admit your powerlessness in order to move forward with the next 11 steps.

In order to take step one, you have to be able to admit you are powerless. This is why many people think of this by the single word “surrender.” In order to get help, you have to acknowledge that you have been defeated by alcohol addiction.

This step requires you to concede that you have lost your battle with alcoholism and can no longer control your drinking. This also means accepting the idea that you will never be able to drink with any level of safety or control. You aren’t alone. In 2012, roughly 7.2 percent of all people age 18 and older in America had an alcohol use disorder.

If you think in the back of your mind that you can start drinking in moderation when you get through the steps, you aren’t fully accepting your powerlessness and you aren’t working the step completely. According to Alcoholics Anonymous, “Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.”

Any ambivalence about your relationship with alcohol will impede your progress in future steps and may lead to inability to complete the program, leading to relapse. You need to construct a foundation of surrender or you don’t have anything to build the rest of your recovery on.

What Does It Mean for Life to Be Unmanageable?

A lot of people have an easier time owning up to a powerlessness in the face of alcoholism than they do admitting they can no longer manage their life. Most people take pride in managing the tasks placed upon them at work, socially, and in the home. It is difficult to admit that you stopped being able to juggle all of these sometime ago and that you are no longer dealing with your life.

However, if you continue using your present coping strategies to get through the day, even if you cut out alcohol, you won’t get through the next steps. You have embrace humility and recognize that your management of your life is out of control. You need to reorganize your resources and relearn the skills necessary to run your life safely and responsibly.

What are the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions?

What Activities Will Help Me with Step One?

This is a great time to form some lists or inventories. For step one, compile a consequences inventory, as well as a powerlessness and unmanageability one.

When making a consequences inventory, you are forced to dismantle the shell of denial you have been protecting yourself with and to confront the many consequences of drinking that you have come to accept as normal. Include emotional, physical, and spiritual consequences. How has your alcohol addiction impacted your family and partnerships? Your career and education? List all of them.

Next, get at least a dozen examples of your powerlessness. Find concrete moments when you were unable to control your drinking even though you risked negative consequences. For example, did you drive drunk? Did you continue to drink while enrolled in legal diversion?

Your final inventory will be one listing examples of ways that your life is now unmanageable. What sort of chaos has addiction created in your life? Start with early examples and move toward the present time. Have you developed a pattern of absenteeism at work? Have you stopped washing dishes entirely? Have you had utilities shut-off because you aren’t able to pay for them?

Take these lists to a meeting or to therapy or to meet with a sponsor and share them. Own what they reveal. Letting go of this will help you to move forward without the burden of your compartmentalized secrets.

To learn more about working the steps, call 800-839-1686Who Answers?. Our caring counselors can also link you to treatment options and help you find a community that can enable you to make progress in your recovery.

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