May 06

Taking the First Step

Whether you’re in a 12 Step program or not the Steps originally provided in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous hold value.  They have been modified slightly in different fellowships for different conditions however the verbiage is nearly identical with one exception.  The word alcohol in the First Step has been replaced with the word narcotics, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, food, cigarettes, other people and many, many more.  This exception is especially important on this site, where we are exploring recovery from…insert your addiction, condition or situation here….

“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction — that our lives had become unmanageable.” ~ Step One

For the purposes of this discussion I have chosen the fairly common practice of replacing the word alcohol with the word addiction.  It makes sense to me that people seeking recovery are often addicted to something in some way, even if only to their own thought patterns.  Co-dependents as well as family and friends of alcoholics or addicts often replace the word alcohol with the word “others” or “my loved one.”  In some ways we have actually become obsessed with, or addicted to, another person or the desire to control their behavior.  For those who grieve or have been abused perhaps the pain has developed into an obsessive way of thinking that has become an addiction of sorts.  Replacing the word alcohol or addiction with the word grief, abuse, depression, etc. can be helpful.

The First Step starts with recognizing the need for change.  We look around and assess our current state of affairs in order to realize that our struggle to control our condition is now controlling us.  Simply put, we acknowledge that our behaviors and emotions are not serving us and that life in fact has become unmanageable.  This unmanageability can present itself in certain areas of our lives or in all of them.  In most cases there have been specific events or ongoing difficulties that stand out.  This is the part of recovery where taking a look at why we’re here and how we got here is necessary.  When we are honest with ourselves we are fully convinced of the need for change.

Noticing the areas of unmanageability in our lives brings us to the subject of powerlessness.  In the beginning some may resist the word powerless.  We have hung on so tightly for so long that the mere idea of letting go can be terrifying but pretending that things are okay turns into a burden.  Sucking it up and trying to be strong in the absence of healing leads to exhaustion and frustration.  The time for denying that there is a problem or believing that we have everything under control must come to an end before lasting change can occur.  In this step we begin to see, maybe for the first time, that admitting our powerlessness frees us.

Taking a hard look at our current circumstances and admitting our lack of power is not the same as throwing our hands in the air and giving up.  Realizing the futility of the fight for control allows us to detach and see things as they are more clearly.  Letting go of the lies we’ve been told, including the ones we’ve been telling ourselves allows us to begin the real work of recovery.  We admit that our efforts to manage the situation have failed and we take responsibility for ourselves in a new and healthy way by reaching the point of surrender.  To some that may seem like weakness at first but it is in this honest assessment of our condition that we find the strength to move forward into healing.

Working Step One: 

Consider starting a journal either in a notebook or on your computer to record your thoughts and feelings.  Writing is one of the best ways to express your feelings and track your progress. Here are some questions from a few of my favorite resources to get you started. It isn’t necessary to answer them all at once, write until you feel that it’s time to move on to the next question.  If it feels overwhelming then take it one or two sections at a time as daily journaling prompts over the next week or so.  The timing is up to you, but find the willingness to fully express your feelings on each topic.

  • Rewrite the first step at the beginning of your journal entry, replacing the word addiction if needed to help you connect with your primary purpose for recovery.  Then repeat the First Step slowly, either in your head or out loud and let it sink in for a moment.
  • In what ways have you been trying to control this negative behavior or thought process?  Have you been trying to exert power in areas where you may actually have none?  What does the word powerless mean to you?
  • Do you feel like your life has become unmanageable? In what ways?  Give some examples of the ways in which this behavior or thought process has made life difficult to manage effectively.
  • What brought you to the realization that you might need to make some changes?  Why now?  Was there a specific event or conversation that brought you to this point?
  • Take a look at the different areas of your life and evaluate where you stand today.  Consider your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual condition. How about your relationships, your career, finances, and home environment?  In what ways has this behavior or condition negatively affected each area of your life?  Has it affected your goals or your plans for the future?
  • What causes stress or anxiety in your life?  A person? A certain situation?  Is your own behavior or way of thinking causing you stress or do you feel that it comes from an outside source that you have no control over?  How could the practice of letting go make a difference in your stress level?
  • Do you feel guilty, resentful or victimized?  Does that feeling stem from a relationship with a specific person or situation?  Does it come from your own behaviors or thoughts?  Explore the primary source of those feelings.
  • Have you minimized, ignored or excused your behaviors or feelings?  Have you minimized, ignored or excused the behaviors or feelings of others?  What is the truth?  In what ways have you been in denial?  In what ways has denial contributed to the problem?
  • Spend some time thinking and writing about the First Step. Write down whatever comes to mind. What sort of feelings does it bring up for you? What do you think it means for you?

As you read through the posts to come this week see if you can apply them to the work you’re doing on the First Step. Plowing through your feelings can be draining, it can be frustrating and at times it just plain hurts.  Use what has been put into place on this site and in the posts in the way that it is intended, consider the holistic approach. Take the ideas presented and try them out. Put them into practice and allow them to soften and comfort the body, mind and spirit as we tackle the hard issues that must faced in the process of recovery.

Going through the steps takes time, so take all the time you need.  Write it out, think it through, discuss it with a friend or sponsor.  Be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for taking the First Step.  The Steps will be posted here weekly for the next twelve weeks but don’t feel rushed.  All posts can be reviewed in order at any time by going to the sidebar on the right and selecting the “The Steps” category.  Remember there are many books and websites on the 12 Steps that you may find useful.  Explore the pages of this site, scroll down for some recommendations or do your own research to find more resources and ideas on step work.  This is for you and no one else so do what feels right.

Finally, take a moment to consider the Promise that goes along with Step One.  There are many variations of the Promises in different fellowships and all of them are beautiful. They are presented here as they were first introduced in the Big Book.  Believe.  Be encouraged.  If we are painstaking about this phase of our development we will be amazed before we are halfway through.”  The promises really do come true.

“We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.”  ~ Promise One


Recommended Reading:

The AA Big Book and Guide for Working the Twelve Steps are recommended reading for anyone in recovery of any kind, not only because they were the first but also for their inspirational and direct content.  Two great resources for those working the Steps for codependency are also included here. More books on 12 Step Work from other fellowships and programs can be found in the “Steps” drop down list under “Programs and Literature.”

Featured image for this page taken from Hazelden 12 Step Pamphlet Collection – The Complete 12 Step Collection used by patients in recovery centers throughout the nation, these easy-to-read editions are a sure way to gain a basic, and yet thorough, understanding of the significance of each Step.  Pamphlets are available individually or in a money-saving full collection.

Recommended Links:

The questions above are fairly generalized in order to apply to a variety of conditions.  The basics are the same but if you are working the Steps specifically for drug/alcohol abuse or codependency the following links may help you to explore further. There are many other formats and workbooks available through a simple web search.

 AA First Step Worksheets

CoDA 12 Step Worksheets

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