Step One: What Powerlessness Means to Me

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

For those of us who used the 12 Steps on our quest to recovery – step one can be a lot to take in. For me personally, this first step was a tough one. Step one encompasses the total and utter powerlessness found in the depths of the disease of addiction. As crazy as it sounds, I was completely powerless over my addiction but I was also completely ignorant of how far down the scale I had fallen. I was living in a delusion in which I truly believed I could control my drinking and drugging. After all, I still had a job, a home, and money in my pocket between my next drunks, so I was able to convince myself that everything was fine.

For me, I initially got sober and began comparing my addiction to the addictions of those around me. For example, “I am not like them because I was never homeless and I never sold my body for drugs.” My mind was subject to the very warnings that many of the sober women told me about – always relate, never compare. Being the stubborn person that I am, I didn’t listen. The word powerless was thrown around so often in meetings, I found myself uneasy every time I heard their nonchalant proverbial quotes regarding the subject matter. Little did I know that my comparisons would hinder me from fully grasping step one: powerlessness.

It wasn’t long before I convinced myself I could just drink and smoke a little weed because I wasn’t like all of the other addicts and alcoholics around me. I am unique. The truth is, not one alcoholic or addict is unique. We all suffer from the same powerlessness over mood and mind-altering substances, people, places, and things. After enough pain, it did not take long before I had opiates back in my hand and absolutely no idea where it all went wrong.

I remember one of the old-timers at a meeting discussing that relapse is almost always a direct result of not accepting step one. Taking a second look back over the unmanageability – okay I could agree with that, but then came the part about being powerless. Diving deeper, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states that we are essentially powerless over all circumstances, environments, situations, people, places, and things. Essentially, over anything other than myself. My ego was rebelling against the idea of this suggested admission, but my heart and my spirit were so broken that I was open to believing that whatever worked for the people around me could work for me, too.

I had tried every method out there – a new relationship, change of location, and medicinal remedy to cure this gaping emptiness and hopelessness I was feeling – to no avail. My life was unmanageable and I was powerless. There I was, starting from scratch and admitting defeat over the delusion that I had any sort of control over these things, but now what?  I admitted I am powerless over drugs, alcohol, people, places, and things – now what?

My victimizing mentality wanted me to run with the idea that I was doomed. However, I am not unique in the sense of powerlessness. The many other alcoholics that went before me and particularly those who wrote the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous outlined a solution for living, so long as I could admit that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol. They, too, had to admit that they were powerless over alcohol before they could take the next steps toward recovery. It’s human nature to feel the need to be in control, but my warped perceptions taught me that control = safety. Again, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Accepting my powerlessness did not mean I was accepting a life of defeat but rather claiming my victory over the things I cannot control. After all, awareness is the first step to implementing any sort of change. It gave me an opportunity to acknowledge the insanity of my obsessive-compulsive nature when it came to my addiction. Furthermore, it gave me the opportunity to wake up to the reality of the disease of addiction.

Admitting powerlessness meant that no amount of trying or practicing or self-control was going to change the way that drugs and alcohol affect my brain. This concept is about accepting what is and what is not. Step one was a gateway to freedom and a proclamation of progress. I began moving from a lack of awareness into a new awareness and into the possibility of change. This cultivated the first glimmer of hope I felt in my sobriety – the idea that I was capable of living life in a different way. A new way of living, void of pain, and the awareness to recognize when I am powerless in a situation.

Powerless does not mean helpless. Powerlessness defined the problem: if I put drugs or alcohol into my body – I am powerless. The second part of this step describes the evidence that the problem had over my life – that my powerlessness over substance use makes my life completely unmanageable, both for myself and for the people around me. By accepting step one, I was able to realize that I could not manage the many details of my life and I became more accepting of the world around me and life began to open up in the most beautiful way. Now, I can take life as it comes, day by day, and focus on dealing with what’s right in front of me – because that’s the only thing I have power over.


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