What Exactly does the First Step Mean?

Friday, September 27, 2019 | By admin

There is only one step that you need to do perfectly every day, and that is the first step.

Have you met someone in the rooms that still aren’t convinced they are powerless over their addiction? Have you been that person at some point? 

Powerless. It’s not a word that many people, especially addicts and alcoholics, embrace calling themselves. At face value, the word feels belittling, demeaning, and weak.  

However, any recovering addict or alcoholic who left inpatient treatment and has begun to work the steps and has practiced surrendering a problem, defect, or situation over to their higher power can attest to just how empowering being powerless can be. 

So, what is the first step, how do you work it, and what happens if you forget? 

The Meaning

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable”

There are a few keywords here:

  • Admitted
  • Powerless
  • Unmanageable 

In regards to the first step, it can be helpful to think of the words admit and accept as interchangeable. When we admit, we are admitting to ourselves, to our higher power (whether we are aware of it or not), and the people around us. We are accepting the fact that we have hit the end of the road and all of our plotting, manipulating, and plans to use successfully have failed. 

Little do we know, our acceptance is what will pave the way for the rest of the process. 

When we say powerless, what we mean is, we accept that we have no control over our using. We have no control over the thoughts that dictate when, where, how much, and how bad we will get once we DO use. We admit that despite all of our best efforts to control and use safely, we will always need more. 

What we learn later, is that we use because we are powerless over everyone and everything that is outside of ourselves, and for us, this is the REAL reason we drink and use. 

Unmanageability comes, of course, from the chaos we put ourselves through when we are drunk and high. A little bit more subtle, but just as serious, is the unmanageability that arises when we STOP drinking and using. Without our crutch, we become raw nerves, either constantly fearing relapse, or constantly planning one.

Again, we learn later that the emotional and mental unmanageability is a byproduct of being powerless over the world around us. 

To sum it up, we accept and admit that we have a problem, we accept and admit that our problem is way more than a problem, we accept and admit that we have no idea what to do about it.

How to Work Step One

If you have walked into the doors of a 12 step fellowship for an answer to your drinking or using – you have worked the first step. At this point, you are completely unaware that step one works you. 

Once you find yourself a sponsor, you will be given directions, based on how they worked the steps, to “work step one”. This could look like:

  • Reading and relating to the first three chapters
  • Journaling
  • Retelling your story
  • Writing out specific events in your using that you remember as feeling powerless and unmanageable

first step

It can look different with every sponsor, but the important thing to remember is that if you walked through these doors on your own accord, you have already worked the first step. 

The MAIN POINT of the first step is to realize that we will never be able to live a happy, free, or even normal life if we are also trying to get drunk and high. 

Other people can drink normally, we have learned through trial and error, that we cannot. 

If you only do heroin or coke or meth or anything else, let’s call a spade a spade and admit that you will never “get high” like normal people, because normal people don’t get high like that. 

So step one is all about being honest. Honest with ourselves, honest with our fellows, and honest with whatever universe, energy, or higher power we pray to when the cops have us pulled over. 

The Importance of the First Step

The quote at the beginning of this blog points out the value of step one. It is, in fact, THE ONLY step that needs to be done perfectly every day. This is not to say the other 11 can be ignored, because that is where the work is done. What it says, is that if we forget step one, or stop believing our own admission, we become prey to relapse. 

When we no longer believe that we are powerless, when we forget the depths of insanity and unmanageability we experienced, the slope gets very slippery. We forget how bad it was, we forget how lonely and dark it got. We start to romanticize the act. Eventually, we get drunk or high. 

This is only when we forget to continue working the first step. As addicts an alcoholics, we are ALWAYS going to experience thoughts of weakness… 

“Well I have all of this time sober, I’m sure I would handle myself better”

“I work hard, I wonder what it would be like to just smoke a joint/have a glass of wine before bed”

“I don’t need to go to meetings, I’m too busy and it’s the same old people”

When we begin to experience thoughts like these, as we ALL WILL at some point or another in our recovery, it is vital to remember the first step, to recall the horrors, the depths, the lonliness, and the depression we felt when using. Our brains are wired to want to drink/use in times of happiness, anger, sadness, joy, celebration, despair. The purpose of step one is to remind us that there is a better option. 

This is when we forget to remember that without the other 11 steps, the fellowship, and our higher power, we would be lost. 

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