When many of us come to the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous, we seem ready and eager to accept it without too much thought. Of course I’m ready to quit, I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. Unmanageable…my life is so out of control I don’t even know where to start. So we accept it and move on without another thought, some of us defeated before we even get started.
When I first got sober in July of 2007 at 20 years old, I had no problems with this step. It was clear to me that I had a problem, and my life wasn’t going to get any better until I quit drinking. But I didn’t grasp the step at its core. I was fine with or at least accepted the fact that I couldn’t drink. I thought of this alcoholism thing as some external force that I was battling and all I had to do was make sure I didn’t take a drink. The problem was I didn’t want a new me. I wanted the old me, just a sober one.
Things started off fine. I had a gut full of motivation to kick this habit and move on with me life. But soon problems started showing up. I was living the same life as I was before, hanging around with the same people, and going to the same places. Before long the motivation wore off and was replaced with self-pity, anger, and loathing. As you can guess, it wasn’t long before I felt like I deserved a drink and was beaten down once again.
When I got back into recovery in late October of 2007, I had a new perspective on things. I didn’t like embracing sobriety anymore than I did the first time, but I respected it. Once you challenge the same person over and over and get defeated time and time again, you finally accept your enemy’s power. Admitting that you are powerless, doesn’t mean you have a hard time resisting an urge. YOU ARE POWERLESS OVER IT. You will fail time and time again because you are not capable of resisting it. Until you grasp this concept, it is going to be hard to remain sober.
Powerlessness goes beyond just the temptation of alcohol. Powerlessness is embracing the fact that you are an alcoholic, addict, etc. Part of that is admitting that most of the time you can’t trust your own impulses, even if they seem harmless. I believe that it is necessary for us to leave our old lives behind and completely start over. That doesn’t mean that your personality or things about you don’t remain, but you must tear down your old self and build it back up again. If your house was in a bad fire, the builders would completely bulldoze the house and build it from scratch. Imagine just repairing walls and floors that are burnt and a roof that looks like it could cave in at any moment. That would be stupid right? Then why do so many of us not have a problem with trying to rebuild our lives living in the same environments, thinking the same thoughts, and hanging out with the same people that burnt “our house” down to begin with?
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt 7:24) Regardless of whether he is your higher power or not, I think you can grasp the power of his words. Recovery and your old life are masters. You can’t serve both of them at the same time. You may be able to for a period of months or even years, but at some point one has to go. Anyone who’s tried to live both knows the frustration and anger that it causes. I’m not going to put myself in that situation because I know there’s a good chance I’m going to choose the wrong master. Part of being alcoholic is knowing we don’t have the ability to chose and that is ok. You don’t have to like it, but putting yourself in the same places to make the same bad choices time and time again is insane.
Step 1 is not just an admission that you have a problem with something in your life. A problem is something that can be fixed like a hole in the wall or a door that sticks. Powerlessness means that the whole house needs to come down because it’s not safe to salvage. Step 1 is an invitation to rebuild that house and until you stop trying to pick through the ashes of your past, it’s only a matter of time before your house collapses in on you.