You’re Always On Step One

I attend AA weekly on Sunday nights. I feel that this gives me a good jumping off point for the week. It sets the right tone, and I can tackle my busy life with the right mindset. This week’s meeting was powerful for me, and has stuck with me. At the suggestion of one member, we discussed Step One of the AA’s 12 Steps:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

We specifically discussed the importance of repeating this step every day, rather than ignoring it because we have “already done that one.”

Many people in the group expressed the belief that the first step is really the only step that matters. Once you admit that you are powerless over alcohol, then you can begin the real work of recovery. Before you make that decision, you can’t truly heal. Afterward, you can not only heal, but you can begin your work on the other steps, if you choose, and you can make your life even better than it was before your addiction took hold.

One member of the group said that they had noticed that the first step is the only step to actually mention alcohol. None of the other steps are specific to alcohol, and could be applied to almost any aspect of ourselves that we are trying to improve. But the first step says quite specifically that we must acknowledge that we cannot manage our lives under the influence of alcohol. I found this realization to be quite prophetic. Our only job, truly, as addicts is to admit we are addicts, and to always be aware of the presence of addiction as part of our being. Once we have mastered that, we can accomplish anything.

Still others brought up the concept of “going back out there.” Or, getting caught in the trap of thinking we’ve been “healed” or “reset.” Many alcoholics, after a certain amount of time has passed, will begin to think that it’s ok for them to drink again. They will assume that they’ve been “fixed”, or that in the amount of time that has passed, they have matured to the point that they could handle using alcohol again without allowing addiction to take over. But, as one person mentioned, “those people are wrong 100% of the time.” An addiction is an addiction, and no amount of time separating you from your substance of choice will ever make the addiction go away. In some cases it only intensifies over time, and the experience will be even worse than it was the first time around.

Some people are uncomfortable admitting powerlessness over alcohol, fearing that it makes them seem weak or that they have a character flaw. Some will only introduce themselves by name at a meeting, and will not also say, “I’m an alcoholic,” as per the AA tradition. I too felt uncomfortable with Step One at first. At rehab I was urged to say to myself that I am powerful over alcohol because I was able to make the choice to get sober. But, I have learned over time that while I am powerful for seeking help and getting sober, I am also still powerless should I ever take a drink. While under the influence of alcohol, I would still be powerless. It doesn’t make me any less powerful now to admit that to myself.

Another member at the meeting said that, “Each of us is always still on Step One, every single day.” And they are right. No matter how much work we do on the other 11 steps, and no matter how much progress we make on those steps, we must take a moment each day to remind ourselves of Step One, and what it means. We must remember how important it is to stay away from alcohol to avoid losing control of our lives again. And we must remain humble enough to admit that we can never, and would never want to, go back to our lives as participating alcoholics.

In recovery we are often reminded that each new day is a gift, and should be treated as such. And if every new day is a gift, we must begin that day with a reminder that we are powerless over our addiction and therefore will take every step to ensure we remain powerfully sober.

Meetings

My counselor asked me to write about meetings and how helpful I have found them to be, for people who may be thinking of attending 12-step or other meetings, and are wondering what they are like. This week’s safe coping strategy:

Go to a meeting. Feet first; just get there and let the rest happen.

I think what the wording here is trying to say is just go. Even if you’re doubting the process and are nervous and aren’t sure if it’s for you, just try it at least once.

I went to my first AA meeting about a year ago, when I was first attempting to get sober, on my own. My husband urged me to join AA, and found meetings near us that were convenient for me to attend. He drove me to my first meeting, and waited outside for me while I was there. I was so nervous, I was visibly shaking and I felt dizzy. I didn’t know what to expect. My hugest fear was that I’d be forced to speak. And I didn’t know what kind of crowd awaited me.

When I walked in, I was only the third person to arrive. The secretary was there, setting up, and there was also an older gentleman there, dressed nicely, wearing a fedora. When he saw me, he said to me in an East Coast Italian accent, “Well, you don’t look like a drunk.” It made me laugh, and he introduced himself, and I felt a little more at ease.

When the meeting started, we all went around the room and said the line you know from TV and movies, “Hello, my name is … and I’m an alcoholic.” Other than that, I was not expected to speak at all. And I didn’t, not for my first two or three meetings.

It got easier, and I always found the meetings helpful. The topics of discussion were always relevant to me and there was a sort of kinship, being in a room full of people that are in the same boat as you–just trying to recover and feel better.

I went to meetings off and on for the next few months. After attending rehab and other recovery meetings, I have found that while AA is incredibly supportive and helpful, it’s not my favorite group. Mainly, they say in their literature that the only requirement for membership is “a desire to stop drinking.” We all have the desire, but not necessarily the action. I have been to many a meeting where an attendee is obviously under the influence of something. And I myself went to some meetings having had a drink before I went. This seemed counterproductive, to allow this to happen.

I have gone to what are called SMART recovery meetings. SMART stands for Self Management and Recovery Training. They help with the recovery from anything, from prescription drugs to behavioral addictions, such as gambling and sex. There, they do not allow you to attend if they can tell you’ve been using. People are not allowed to wear attire that advertises drugs or alcohol. And they do exercises, similar to the worksheets I did in rehab. This kind of environment was much better for my recovery and I found a higher level of success.

There are far fewer SMART meetings to attend than AA meetings, which is one of the downsides. And one of the reasons I keep going to AA, even though it’s not my “favorite.” AA is still useful, and much more readily available. It’s a good starting off point, if you are in early recovery.

Your first meeting will be scary. You will be nervous. But rest assured you won’t have to talk any more than you want to. And the people will be friendly. And you will belong. It will make you feel good to have attended a meeting, and that you have made progress in your recovery. And they call them meetings. So, if someone asks you where you’re going or why you’re busy, you just say, “I have a meeting.” Who can argue with or judge that?

I urge you to find a meeting close to you, and go. Even if just the once. It’s a great tool to have in your arsenal, and it will make you feel good. I know this, because even when I truly did not want to go, and I dragged my feet all the way in, I always left feeling good about the experience.

I once broke down and cried listening to another AA member share at a meeting I attended while in rehab. His story touched me to the bone, and I just couldn’t help but let it out. Afterward, several people approached me to find out if I was ok. They were truly concerned by my reaction and wanted to help in any way they could.

Meetings are the most supportive thing you can do for yourself. It will open you up to a whole community of people in recovery. People who have been where you are. People who are where you were before, that you can help with your experience. It’s amazing what human interaction can do for your sanity and your recovery.