Step One

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The First Step In The Program Of Recovery

1. We Admitted We Were Powerless Over All Mind-Altering Substances — That Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable

In my first year and a half of recovery, my understanding of the first step was quite different from what it is today. Then, it was a generic idea of being powerless to my drinking and using. I thought my abnormal physical reaction to drugs and alcohol, or phenomenon of craving, made me powerless, and my mental obsession for more no matter what made my life unmanageable. With this logic, once the mental obsession was removed I would no longer put alcohol and drugs in my body, thus no abnormal reaction, and my life would become manageable. All went well for 18 months but then something began to transpire — I became disconnected from my first step.

I began to feel a great deal of uneasiness. I was easily annoyed by individuals and circumstances and had this overwhelming notion that I would never be satisfied. I became bored with recovery and life. Ironically, I was sponsoring many men, attending at least 5 meetings per week and holding a service position at my home group — but something was missing. Today, I call that something the missing piece — an experiential understanding of my spiritual malady, current unmanageability, or conscious separation from God. The pain and suffering I experienced during this time drove me to seek out a man with a different understanding of the first step — a three dimensional perspective, not two dimensional. Page 64 of The Big Book states, “We have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” Clearly, the authors of the book stress a three-part problem.

I was presented with the consideration that I am powerless because I have a physical craving coupled with a mental obsession and spiritual malady. This can make my life unmanageable from an internal state first, and has the potential to manifest itself in my external life situations second. This spiritual malady, a conscious separation from God, shows up in the unmanageability of my life — stressed personal relationships, judgment of others, fear, misery, depression, feeling useless, not being able to make a living, not enjoying what I do to make a living, inability to be of real help to others, inability to control my emotional natures, and unhappiness. This internal condition is the breeding ground for the mental obsession. After making this realization, I gained a new degree of willingness and urgency to grow along spiritual lines because in an unfit spiritual condition my old master, crack cocaine, lurks in the shadows waiting for me to fall asleep. Today, he wears a new mask and dresses himself as the spiritual malady — my current unmanageability.

Consequently, I find it imperative to investigate my current unmanageability on an annual basis because it is only by illuminating the darkness that we are able to embrace the shadows and move forward. As part of this analysis, I revisit my powerlessness around cocaine and alcohol and become reacquainted with my first step experience on all three levels: Physical, mental, and spiritual. This new experience thrusts me into the remaining steps, which launch me into the spiritual dimensions of steps 10, 11, and 12. The first step is the major foundation stone in personal recovery. With rock solid first steps, we can build happy and purposeful lives walking hand in hand in the light and the darkness, without falling prey to the delusion that the darkness is not there. Darkness can be a massive spiritual tool used by God to refine our character but we must understand and experience the first step on all three levels to move through this type of evolution.

When I put alcohol and drugs in my body, I lose power, choice, and control over how much. When I sobered up, and I always did, I could not stay away from the first one no matter how great the necessity or the wish to do so — this is my physical and mental powerlessness. They are symptoms that erupt out of a broken, unmanageable internal condition brought on by my spiritual malady. The program and our personal relationship with God treat the internal condition and arrest the mental and physical components of the illness. This is how I concede to my innermost self that I am alcoholic and addict. I must relinquish grudgingly the idea that somehow, someday I will control and enjoy my using and drinking, and the notion that I will ever be like non-addict and non-alcoholic people — physically, mentally, or spiritually. This is the first step in the program of recovery.