“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (and all other mind altering substances) and that our lives had become unmanageable” Alcoholics Anonymous
Christmas Day 2001 was the day I last knowingly consumed alchohol. Possibly, since then, I have had alcohol in food but it was accidental and not repeated. Although it was the last drink, I continued to take other substances until February 10th 2002 when I finally threw in the towel and admitted to personal powerlessness.
Twenty years clean and sober sounds impressive; it always impressed me when I was new in the programme and had struggled to stay clean for any time at all, and it seemed like the amount of time was the important thing, but when viewed in the context of how many years I fought against the idea of powerlessness it seems positively miraculous.
Step One is rightly the foundation stone of the eleven steps above because to paraphrase the literature of some fellowship or other, who would bother with the others while still drinking (or using)? The answer is that while blocking out reality with drugs the problem is hidden so why look for a solution. Obviously, the source of everyone’s problems is everyone else so, short of mass extinction, there is no solution QED. However, once personal powerlessness is admitted to and the threshold of honesty has been raised, certain facts become painfully clear.
When it came time for me to reach this stage, when I had been brought to my knees by the vicissitudes of life and my own actions, I was sent to a rehabilitation centre near Blackpool. Although it claimed to be a 12 Step rehab, what they practiced there was not the miraculous 12 Step programme that I know and love. What they used was a commercial version that had been developed in rehabs in America, and bears almost no relation to the real thing, hence the level of relapse among the alumni; possibly because repeat business is a good thing in that sector where a real solution would ruin the business model. Probably following the model of modern health care, where ensuring a steady supply of sick people by administering poisons in the form of vaccines starts at birth. Forgive the digression. Their way of demonstrating that a patient was powerless was to subject them to interrogation by their peers. Sitting in front of the house members and being asked questions about how using drugs had impacted on loved ones, was supposed to make the subject understand that they would put their drug use over anything else in the world, thus showing that they were powerless.
It does nothing of the kind.
Personal powerlessness means that on their own a person will follow the same patterns they always have. It really is as simple as that. Addiction follows drearily boring patterns. Having watched over the years people relating how something ‘just happened’, they didn’t want to drink, the stuff just appeared in their hand and they drank. This invariably happens to people who fail in the basic practices of combating powerlessness. Active addicts are ‘self will run riot’. never subjecting their thought processes to rigourous examination they choose to rely on their own reasoning. They believe that a few days without a drink or drug means something deeper than that they have been carried to that point, they become cocky and choose not to listen to those around them who warn about being alone with their thoughts. Another aphorism ‘an addict alone is stuck with their own worst enemy’.
The twelve step programme is a miraculous thing, and in time those who practice it can start to trust themselves a bit more, but everyone, not just addicts, need to check in with someone regularly. A solid foundation stone, that is what Step One is, and with the recognition of powerlessness a structure can be built which can be relied upon for life. Avoiding isolation, seeking fellowship, this is the tool that is required to build the foundation, and this step is inextricably linked to the one above, and that to the one above. Steps 1, 2,and 3 are a set, and cannot be separated, like the winders on a staircase they are routed into the newel post and form a structure which, without any of the individual parts, would be weak and pointless.
Newcomers to the programme arrive battered and beaten, the ones who haven’t received the right level of chastening will have the lesson repeated. This isn’t my wisdom, it is just the pattern that is always followed and can be predicted with certainty.
When I first attended an AA meeting I left thinking they were all wrong, it took another fifteen years of battering before I had been taught the lesson and went to another one. Ironically, I was correct, they WERE wrong, but so was I. My objection was to the minutiae of their personal opinions, and not to the basis of the AA programme, because all I was capable of doing at that time was seeing how much more right I was than the next person. Still a character trait of mine, somewhat tempered but still there despite a twenty-year anniversary! In those days I was not able to hear the similarities in the stories that describe the patterns of drinking and using behaviour which exist even in the absence of the substance. All I could hear was that these freaks were properly weird and I could justify never going back with that judgement. Anyway, I wasn’t there because I had a drink problem I was there because the girl I was attached to at the time was going and I wanted to see if she had a secret boyfriend there.
The joke was on me because after those torrid fifteen years and after traveling 12,000 miles across the ‘globe’ I was finally delighted to discover that I was a freak too. With that realisation, and after being beaten into reasonablness I managed to stay clean for a day, and after that, one day at a time, I managed to stay clean and sober for twenty years (looking ahead to February 11th 2022). Stating in a meeting that I appeared to show all the behavioural traits of a true addict, was the first step, upon which my recovery has been built.
Although I am happy to say that I love the twelve step programme, and that I consider it to be a miraculous thing which shows immanence in its conception, I am not a true believer in the fellowship of AA. It contains so many flaws that I cannot live there, but it provided me with a haven without which I do not know how these twenty years would have come about.
Honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness are the spiritual principles contained in the first three inextricably linked steps. Trying to show step one alone is difficult, just as showing a ‘clean’ addict alone is difficult. The first three must exist together, and without those ones in place getting to the following nine steps would be as difficult as landing on the moon… utterly impossible in other words.