For alcoholics and addicts, a 1st Step allows us to understand intellectually and to feel deep within that we have lost power over drugs and alcohol, both physically and mentally. If there is one thing in this world we simply cannot control, it is mood-altering substances of any kind. We cannot stop once we start, and we cannot stay stopped once we stop. I remember being in treatment on the second or third night still thinking that if I really wanted to, I could stop using alcohol and drugs. I truly believed I could conjure the willpower to recover all on my own because I was so talented and smart and strong. Then someone reminded me that I was in rehab, and generally speaking, you don’t wind up at a locked detox/psych ward and then get hauled off to an inpatient treatment center if you drink or use normally.
My new friend also mentioned that if I still thought I had power, I had successfully wasted my first few days at this amazing place, days someone else was paying for. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and in that moment I realized that for all of the things I could do, the one thing I couldn’t was to stay sober. Drugs and alcohol owned me.
Here’s the thing, though. You don’t have to have an alcohol or drug problem to lose power over something. People can become powerless over fear, anger, anxiety or depression… over food, sex, money or some toxic relationship… over beliefs, notions, attitudes, judgments or opinions… over self-image, vanity, intelligence or stupidity… or perhaps over someone else’s addiction. The truth is that we can lose power over just about anything, whether it is some internal part of ourselves, or something external. I’ll leave it to you to fill in the blank.
It should come as no surprise that at times certain aspects of life could easily have us whipped. We all have negative internal skews that can rear their ugly heads. Sometimes we give our power away to these maladaptive behaviors or energies, whether consciously or unconsciously, and then one day they suddenly control us, we don’t control them. One day they are making decisions for us as opposed to us making decisions for ourselves. When some darker and more destructive part within suddenly rules us, we have lost power.
But with the loss of power also comes the responsibility to regain it. When we lose control of something, we no longer have the right to ignore it, as it will inevitably effect others and create a harmful ripple effect that we may be slow to understand, or perhaps altogether blind to. Furthermore, we often cannot get power back on our own. Sometimes it is only by something Greater than ourselves that we can regain power, and this is precisely what the rest of the Steps are for.
Finally, many people see the 1st Step written on a page or a poster and think, ‘Cool, no problem. I can understand that intellectually. Done with that one!’ but it is not sufficient to simply study the 1st Step. We must actually feel and experience this sense of defeat deep in our guts, and the humility that accompanies such an understanding should effectively knock us off of our pedestal and fundamentally change the way we feel. If we have a palpable 1st Step experience, it should cause us to stop and take pause. We may feel quiet inside and not want to talk or interact for a while. It may even bring us to our knees in tears, but don’t worry because that is actually quite healthy and emotionally productive. We are cleansing ourselves by shedding layers of emotional skin, which cracks open a door that may have been shut for a while. It is this sense of humility that propels us to move forward in earnest, and oddly enough, it can serve to lift some of the weight and burden of being powerless. It may even signify that we have now begun this spiritual journey and are finally on our way to regaining strength and willpower, and best of all, serenity.
Regardless of what happens to us individually, it is a cathartic experience to feel powerless. For the first time in our lives, we realize that we don’t have control over something we once did or thought we still did. The illusion of power and autonomy, driven by ego and intellectual stubbornness, dissolves right before us, and though this is usually perceived as a tremendous loss, it is not. The truth is that this newfound realization will help us to grow in spades. So try not to get caught up in the negative connotations increasingly given to this crucial 1st Step of admitting powerlessness. Try not to get caught up in words such as defeat. There are many ways to define or conceptualize certain terms, and we must look deeper to see the wisdom of this Step…