The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

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

Until you’re ready to make an honest attempt at recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous’ first step seems trivial. I didn’t take it all that seriously the first, or second, or tenth time I’d heard it said at a meeting.

Why are you even asking me, I thought. Of course I’m powerless over alcohol. I’m here, aren’t I? Of course my life’s become unmanageable, isn’t it clear that someone like me would only be in a meeting like this if that were the case? I’ll admit it all day! Or at least until I’m not legally required to be here anymore! In which case, I’m sure both my life and its manageability will no longer be in question or of concern.

Deep down, I thought I was different. I knew I was different. I think most people feel this way.

I would tell myself that it was a momentary lapse of control that forced my introduction to the AA program. A misunderstanding. Someone else was to blame, if not for everything, then at least for some of the mess I found myself in. I wasn’t addicted to drinking or anything else, it wasn’t a problem. I could stop whenever and for however long, if I really felt like it. I just never felt like it.

And so I’d go on to half-work a hollow recovery program I wasn’t really committed to, working the steps to appease the people I ran into in meetings (but primarily to satisfy my probation officer).

Step one isn’t just about admitting something — it’s about believing it as well.

Some people simply don’t catch on to this program the first time around. Sometimes not even the second. When I really needed help, though, and I was serious about it, I knew exactly where to go. I was ready to work a step I thought I’d worked before, but this time it seemed like a lot more work.

I couldn’t just say it. I had to take a long, hard look at myself, at the mess that had become of my life and relationships and career and everything else, and finally admit it: my drinking was responsible. Everything was falling apart, including me, and the common thread running through each failure, setback, argument, and anxiety was that alcohol, somehow, was involved.

It was a hard lesson to learn; humility was never my strong suit. Not in any honest way, at least. Like most alcoholics, I was a fairly talented liar, and if I found myself backed into a corner my brain was happy to activate it’s defenses and to fire up the BS torpedoes.

But I did learn my lesson eventually. I wish I’d learned it sooner, but it is what it is.

I now realize that step one isn’t just a declaration of surrender. It’s a genuine belief that drinking, for me, will result in ruin. I work step one every day of my recovery, spending time to remember that for so, so long, I did everything I could to avoid it because it was true.

I can’t really forget about step one when I’m on step three, eight or twelve. The steps are in a certain order for a reason, of course, and it wouldn’t be the first step if it wasn’t the first thing you needed to do to get sober, but it’s worth revisiting from time to time. Each step supports the next. And all of the others.

Those of us determined to recover didn’t just say it, we finally, actually meant it. Alcohol was something that got us into a position we couldn’t get out.

We needed each other. We needed help. We couldn’t do it alone.

Admitting this allowed us to honestly work the subsequent steps: if alcohol is truly a power greater than ourselves, and we truly do believe that, then it’s easier to conceive of other, higher powers. From there, each next step is just a sensible progression.

It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been in recovery, it’s always a good idea to go back and remember that we, alone, were powerless over alcohol. We, together, are not, so long as we follow a few simple steps and traditions.

I suppose it’s human nature that I’ve got to remind myself, daily, that I’m powerless over alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous’ first step still doesn’t seem to come naturally. There is still a part of me that wants to believe that my life wasn’t truly unmanageable, but that’s just my ego talking. I still have a lot of work to do in this program. I think that’s safe to say for everyone who works it, no matter how long they’ve been at it, there’s always going to be much more to learn. We will all, forever, have a lot to do if we want to remain sober.

I am powerless over alcohol. But we are not. If we work together — if we accept each other, use all of the available tools, lean on our friends, and learn from our mentors, we can do this together. And we will.

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