12 Step Recovery: Step 1, Part 1- Admission, Surrender & Acceptance

AA’s first step is neatly sliced in two distinct yet intrinsically related pieces.  “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol” and “our lives had become unmanageable”. In order to completely extinguish the appetite for destructive drinking and drug abuse, both pieces of this pie must be swallowed in their entirety.

Step 1, Part 1: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.”

It’s no accident the word “admit” rather than the word “accept” is the opening action item of the 12 step process of recovery. Acceptance normally follows admission. Why? Acceptance requires an agreeable admission.

In the opening salvo of his book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill Wilson notes that few of us wanted to “admit that glass in hand we had warped our minds” into an obsession for destructive drinking. Acceptance of a “warped mind” and the admission of alcoholic or addictive insanity doesn’t come easy for most.

In fact for most of us, it takes time to first admit, then grasp and finally accept our untreated alcoholism or drug addiction is a “devastating weakness” with enormous, unavoidable, life-threatening consequences.  During this transition from admittance to acceptance as Bill Wilson again points out, our “sobriety - if any- will be precarious”.

Unfortunately for those who fail to fully surrender to the chronic, progressive, incurable disease of alcohol or drug addiction, a state of precarious sobriety better known as dry drunk syndrome can last for months or even years. In sobriety, these unfortunate souls are restless, irritable and discontent or as members of Alcoholics Anonymous say, “they are stark raving sober”.

The Fourth and Fifth Steps of Recovery Inform the First Step

According to the third tradition, membership in Alcoholics Anonymous requires “the desire to stop drinking”, or put another way, the acceptance of our own alcoholic condition. But for many of us the desire to stop drinking or using drugs, rather than the desire to avoid the consequences of drinking or using drugs, does not occur until after we have completed our fourth and fifth steps.

It is only then that we come to pause and reflect before embarking upon the sixth step. During this pause many of us realize that, even after we have come to believe in a Higher Power and made the decision to turn our will and our lives over to that Higher Power, the honest desire to be abstinent, simply for the virtue of being abstinent, isn’t quite there yet.

After the internal spiritual cleanse of the fourth and fifth step, many newcomers continue to experience difficulty accepting alcoholism or drug addiction, but they begin to realize the real root cause of destructive drinking and drug abuse rests deeper than surface thinking. Newcomers start to understand the persistent compulsion to booze and abuse is symptomatic of warped character and mind. How else could someone explain substance abuse in spite of a history of horrendous consequences?

Even if we honestly believe that both Higher Power and nature abhor suicide and that for us “to drink is to die,” for many of us, it is not until this concept manifests from heart, rather than mind, that the desire to end substance abuse is made manifest. Once a profound surrender to an inability to abuse substances transpires, newcomers tend to feel incredible relief. The desire to drink evaporates.

So why, then, do some who continue to stay sober still suffer the persistent desire to drink or use drugs? Why do some sober and seemingly dedicated AA’s remain miserably restless, irritable and discontent? The answer lies in the second distinct, yet intrinsically related, part of step 1; acceptance of the unmanageability of the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction.

Joe and Charlie on Steps 1 and 2

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