The First Step Towards Addiction Recovery
Few things are as perplexing, irritating, and ultimately terrifying as realising that a substance or behaviour has control over us. The fear that comes with powerlessness is difficult to describe unless one has experienced it firsthand. Many of us are hopeless, fearful, and emotionally paralysed as we realise we may not know how to take the first step into what we will eventually refer to as our recovery because we have broken promises to ourselves and others about never using again, cutting back on a behaviour, or simply trying to apply “better judgement” to a situation long ago hijacked by addiction.
Making the First Move
It all starts with step one, as outlined by the 12-step recovery model many decades ago: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or substances, or sex, or food, etc.), and our lives had become unmanageable.”
That simple sentence appears to be a very simple first step towards freedom; however, it implies far more than acknowledging an inconvenient habit. This first step of admission requires us to admit that we are not in control, that we have lost some voice in our own lives to a substance or a behaviour, and that we may not be as well-adjusted as the persona we’ve learned to live behind suggests. While this first step appears extremely simple and is frequently overlooked during the recovery process, we must recognise what we are saying by admitting this first requirement.
The first step is a request for confession. Many of us associate confession with religious practice, but recovery quickly teaches us that this is not the case. At the same time, it could be rooted in a religious tradition that is more of a universal spiritual principle that allows us to free ourselves of untold stories, secrets, and resentments that have kept us sick for far longer than we may want to admit. So, if admitting powerlessness is the first step towards freedom, to whom will we admit this?
Speaking with a Friend or Sponsor
Many would argue that we must first admit it to ourselves, but we require assistance in confronting the reality of the less-than-flattering aspects of ourselves and our circumstances. The first step is often a gradual process carried out by a trusted friend, sponsor or therapist. A friend in recovery would be ideal, but we also require the company of a nonjudgmental set of ears to hold space with us as we explore what is true about our lives and our relationships with others. Hearing ourselves admit things to another human being for the first time can start the healing we all seek. Sharing space with a trusted friend can often result in us sharing more of our truth than we intended but also experiencing more freedom than we imagined we could.
Recognising That We Have a Problem
We frequently tell our clients that we don’t know the truth to others until we can admit the truth to ourselves. Many of us who have a dependency have rationalised our behaviour by convincing ourselves of a less serious scenario unfolding in our lives. A conversation built around an honest confession with a trusted companion is frequently a process in our realisation that we are in worse shape than we dared to believe. By admitting the truth to ourselves and our friends one-on-one, we allow ourselves to immediately experience the freedom of truth-telling. Sobriety is an ongoing exercise in honesty and vulnerability, but it begins with a willingness to be vulnerable with ourselves.
What Is the Meaning of Powerlessness?
We have lost our ability to choose whether or not to engage in substance-related behaviour when we are powerless. We are no longer able to control our behaviour, whether it is due to physical addiction or emotional dependency.
Admitting that we have lost control of something as a prerequisite for healing may appear counterintuitive. Our natural reaction to admitting “weakness” is to bolster a large dose of “I can do it myself” and embark on yet another mission to slay the dragon alone. The realisation that we have no control over a substance is also an admission that my illusion of control over my own life is failing. Sobriety embraces the loss of the illusion of control, the illusion of certainty, the surrender of my need to be right in all situations, and the belief that I can somehow fix or shape others to fit my agendas. To truly embrace the first step towards healing, we must acknowledge that our relationship with a substance or unwanted behaviour is merely a symptom and, in many cases, a microcosm of the rest of our lives.
If you’re thinking that your relationship with alcohol or another substance or behaviour needs to be evaluated, sit down and ask yourself a couple of questions as honestly as you can. Consider what unfavourable outcomes you are now experiencing due to your behaviour. Do you remember more than a year ago? Are you ignoring the consequences of the damaging outcomes to continue engaging in the behaviour? Do you lie about how frequently or how much you use? Do you look for reasons to isolate to engage in the behaviour? How much is shame preventing you from discussing your behaviour with a trusted friend?
Nothing is more valuable than the ears of a trusted friend or therapist as we begin to take the first step towards admitting our need for help.
Once we have told ourselves the truth, we are free to share it with others and muster the courage to take the next step in sharing it with those who will walk with us into freedom.
If you or your loved one is struggling with an addiction, call Freephone at 0800 140 4044