How to Simplify and Interpret Step One

Then apply it

Do you find Step 1 of the Twelve Steps difficult? You’re not alone; almost everyone finds Step 1 challenging while starting sobriety. When people first encounter Step 1, they may pause at the idea of being “powerless”, while others may pause at the phrase “life has become unmanageable,” as the wording can be unclear or dated.

The exact wording of Step 1 is: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

It’s normal to push back against those claims because they come off as rigid and arrogant: “How am I powerless? And thanks for asking. Life is going very well”. Almost every newcomer to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has similar thoughts about Step 1 in some way, and almost everyone needs the First Step to be explained in more explicit and flexible terms.

We’ll go into more detail and use more straightforward language to explain the language. We’ll also learn how to apply the Step and what it is meant to teach us with the assistance of renowned recovery author Jeff Jay.

Step 1 states the following as a reminder: We acknowledged that we had no control over alcohol and that our lives had gotten out of control.

The term “powerless” should be defined in this context as soon as possible because it is the one most people find to be upsetting and confusing. It can potentially drive some people permanently away from Twelve Step recovery.

What Does It Mean to Have No Control Over Drugs and Alcohol?

People frequently laugh at the notion that they have no control. A single mother of four wonderful kids might be the person who is just beginning her sobriety journey. They might have a doctorate in a specialised field of study and be professors in renowned universities. It could be anyone of them because addiction knows no boundaries. More than that, every person on earth has the power to transform, fall in love, mature, try something new, and reinvent themselves.

No one is helpless in the broadest sense of the word, but alcohol or other drugs can render a person helpless. And that’s what the First Step is saying—once a drug user or alcoholic has their first drink or hit of their preferred substance, they will only want more. Their need to use will take precedence over everything else in their lives, no matter the consequences.

The first part of the Step One in AA and Al-Anon reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.” It doesn’t mean we can’t make our own decisions, live our own lives, or deal with others. It claims that we have no control over alcohol, and that restrictive statement, that narrow focus on the drug, is crucial.

We must acknowledge that we cannot control what our addiction does to us if we are to overcome it. There is no point in denying that it affects our brain, body, and spirit. We have no control over how the chemicals or behaviour affect us. We won’t become better at drinking or using drugs, and we won’t become more logical about it. We won’t become more adept at exercising control. We’ve already tried it a hundred times. 

The Meaning of Unmanageability

Additionally, the term “unmanageability” needs to be defined more precisely because someone with a wonderful job, a supportive spouse, or a nice home might claim, “My life feels pretty manageable.” As long as everything is going well, they may not believe that life is no longer manageable. And that is just and proper. But when addiction reaches its final stages, everything is stripped away, and those who don’t want to get better are frequently left with nothing.

Unmanageability can be understood more simply as problems that drinking or drug use is causing in a person’s life. Even if a person’s life isn’t entirely out of control yet, their addiction may have caused them to lose friends or romantic partners, get in trouble with the law, or lose their job. The red flags are up, and while it may not be out of control right now, it soon will be.

What Exactly Is the First Step Requesting?

Accepting that one does have the disease of addiction is the critical requirement for a successful First Step. When people acknowledge their helplessness and the fact that they aren’t ready to address their addiction just yet, they shouldn’t judge themselves as weak-willed or incapable. Simply recognising that one has an addiction and that it makes life more difficult is all that is required of a person in Step One.

With that you have finished the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous. You have formally started your recovery if you can admit and accept that you have an addiction and that it is causing issues.

Alcohol is replaced with our addiction for drugs or other addictive activities in Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-Step programmes, but everything else stays the same.

Note: We much prefer the person-first terminology, which emphasises a person’s identity before their illness and steers clear of terms like “addict” or “alcoholic.” However, we have chosen to keep the words “addict” and “alcoholic” to describe people with substance use disorders in keeping with the history of AA and NA, their founding texts, and the language still used within the fellowships.

Our goal is to embody the fellowships’ culture and speak to people about how they typically think about the disease of addiction. 

AddictionsUK recovery program offers effective treatment from home detox to continued online therapy, which include psychological techniques and 12 Steps support.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, call Freephone 0800 140 4044

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