Saturday, January 29, 2011

“Step One: Honesty”

(This blog is first in a multi-part series, “Thoughts On The Steps”. This series is not a guide on how to work steps; steps can only be worked under the guidance of a sponsor. The twelve-step program is a spiritual program; it teaches us how to live a spiritual life. Working each of the steps gives us the chance to practice a spiritual principle. Whatever your particular fellowship, the Steps are the same, as are the spiritual principles behind them. These are my thoughts on the steps and on those principles.)

Step 1: We admitted that we were powerless--that our lives had become unmanageable.

I have deliberately omitted the word ‘alcohol’ or ‘addiction’ from this step to show something very powerful: except for that one word (and it is different in fellowships other than AA and NA), this step is EXACTLY the same, no matter what fellowship you attend. It is also the only step that contains that ‘one word’, whatever the word is. To me, the point isn’t the word I’ve left out here, it’s all the other words that I’ve left in.

Those of us with the Disease of addiction (or alcoholism, for you old-school folks out there) are control freaks. Anybody who says different is fooling themselves. We try to control ourselves, our thoughts, our emotions. We try to control other people--make them do what we want, think and act the way we think they should. We try to control circumstances, events. On and on and on. Why is this? Because we are unable to accept things as they really are. It’s called denial.

This is the beginning of the spiritual program: learning to accept what is. We practice living in the real, instead of in whatever fantasy we have created in our minds about the way things are supposed to be. We stop focusing on how things should be, the way people ought to act, how we wished we felt. We start focusing instead on how things really are. How do we really feel? What is actually happening? In order to do this, we must practice Honesty.

It is our attempts to control that lead us to create unmanageability in our lives. All our attempts to manipulate other people, situations, circumstances and events--that is what is meant by ‘unmanageable’. It’s all the lengths we go to in order to try and force reality to conform to our ideas about how things are supposed to be. Those of us in Recovery from addiction can find plenty of examples in our lives of this; all we have to do is look at the crazy lengths we went to to get loaded, to cover up that we were loaded, or to try and not get loaded.

The larger point here, though, is that we are powerless over much more than our own addictions. We are powerless over other people, places and things. As a wise man once said, “you want to know what you DO have power over? Just look in the mirror, pal. ‘Cause that’s IT.”

We have power over ourselves. We have power over the actions we take, the words we choose to speak. We have power over our own choices. Not to use a blatantly obvious example, here, but we can choose to accept our Disease, choose to ask for help, and choose to begin living differently. Or we can choose to go on the same old way until we die.

When we work the first step--especially for the first time--we admit to ourselves that we are powerless over our addiction, whether that be alcohol and/or drugs. We practice the principle of Honesty by admitting to ourselves a very harsh truth. Once we have done that, we are free to continue moving forward.

This practice of honest admission, of acceptance, becomes a tool for us in our daily lives. It helps us to deal with ourselves and the world around us. We can continue trying to control the things we can’t, leading to insane unmanageability, or we can let go, accept what is, and change the thing we can--ourselves. It’s why the Serenity prayer is such a big deal to 12-step folks.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Acceptance of what is--that’s how we begin to change our lives. We stop trying to change the things we can’t, stop driving ourselves crazy trying to do an impossible task, and start changing the things we can. Honesty, the spiritual principle behind the first step, is the tool we use to accomplish this task.

Trying to make reality resemble our own designs? That's the Disease. We aren't masters of the universe. We don't get to decide what should or shouldn't be. The spiritual path is one of acceptance, of seeing the world as it really is and not as we would have it be.


  1. Interesting and powerful stuff.

    I like the serenity prayer, my Mum used to have that on a wall at home.

    I agree that accepting and admitting the problem is vital.

    Personally I can't quite go with the idea of surrendering to an omnipotent being (although I'd like to believe it could be that way) I think I have to try and change the things I can.

    I understand and respect your point.


  2. Thanks for the comment, RG. Keep reading!