Last week we talked about step 12, so this week it only makes sense to start over, and begin with step 1.
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.
I cannot begin to count the number of times I relapsed because I simply could not get step 1 right initially.
First, I couldn’t admit I was powerless over alcohol. I tried to control my drinking on my own in every possible way. I tried total abstinence, I tried only drinking on weekends, I tried eliminating liquor and switching to wine, I tried drinking measured amounts (literally breaking out measuring cups), everything. I went to outpatient rehab in 2007, and was drunk within 24 hours of graduating from the program. I went to countless meetings over the years, I got sponsors, I got fired by sponsors (which isn’t even supposed to be a thing, but I was so hellbent on doing everything my own way, I was impossible to work with). I joined 12 step programs, I joined non-12 step programs, I went to therapy, I switched therapists, I quit therapy. I even went to church for a while, which, if you know me, you know how radical this was. For me, anyway.
I’d get up every morning, swearing I would not drink that day… only to be drunk by 6 PM, wondering what the hell happened.
Second, I couldn’t admit my life had become unmanageable, and when I finally could admit it was unmanageable, I refused to acknowledge alcohol had anything to do with it. I had been divorced twice, was almost in financial ruin (even as I had a great job, with excellent benefits, and a way higher-than-average salary), had just been put on probation at work, barely knew my kids anymore, and I had terrible health issues. My liver enzymes were elevated to dangerous levels, and in my late 30s I was getting weird ailments like shingles, unexplained high fevers that left me hospitalized for days on end, and mysterious infections that almost left me septic.
Worse, my soul was in ruins. I was dishonest. I was a hermit. I avoided life, love, companionship or anything else fun. I had no joy.
No one in my life was using the word “alcohol” to describe the reasons these things were happening (mostly because I was lying to them about its existence), so I was fine to stay in denial too, and pretend my drinking had nothing to do with any of it.
I just figured, you know, God or the Universe or whatever hated me. None of it had anything to do with me, my bad decisions, my bad behavior, and definitely nothing to do with the 5th of vodka I was drinking every single day.
Finally, I hit my rock bottom. A series of events occurred, and I knew I was finished. I was going to get honest, get help, or die. It was as simple as that. I stopped drinking, and I crawled to a meeting.
By that point, surveying the absolute colossal mess my life was in the moment, I had no problem admitting it was unmanageable. What I still had trouble admitting was that I was powerless over alcohol. I reasoned that only I could stop the drinking- who else was going to do it for me, after all?
What I learned is that in order to stop drinking, I have to admit complete and total defeat. If I’m a boxer and alcohol is my opponent in the ring, I’m going to get my ass kicked – TOTAL KNOCK-OUT – Every. Single. Time.
I am powerless over alcohol, and I will always be powerless over alcohol.
My life has become unmanageable.
It is because of my need to control everything – my drinking, my life, other people, other places, other things, that I was in this mess.
Finally, it was time to let go.
I am powerless, and knowing that has become the most freeing thing in the world.
Step 1 is what got me stopped drinking. Later, working step 4, doing an inventory of all the messes I’d made of my life over the years while I insisted on being in control of everything, is what helps to keep me stopped. It helps me understand that my life was always unmanageable, at least for as long as I insisted on trying to be in control, as long as I insisted on being in the driver’s seat.
It will always be that way. I now know that I need to stay out of my own way, and stay out of the driver’s seat. I let my Higher Power drive, while I’m happy controlling the dials on my side of the car, in the passenger seat. I can control my own actions, and nothing else, ever – and even then, I am only in control of myself as long as alcohol is not part of the equation.
Step 1 is the beginning of a new life- but we have to do the work every single day. It’s the only step we have to get 100% right, 100% of the time.
Our lives depend on it.