My 12 Steps of AA :: Step 1

I'll be writing a 12-part series about my Step work in AA.
Anonymity is the foundation of AA + I respect that.
However, I choose to recover out loud in order to be of service

to other people still suffering.
If you think you have a problem with alcohol + need assistance, please click here.

My journal is filled with doodles that I draw during AA meetings.  It calms my anxiety down + helps me to listen to what's being shared.

My journal is filled with doodles that I draw during AA meetings.  It calms my anxiety down + helps me to listen to what's being shared.

I think one of the biggest mysteries to me about AA was the 12 Steps.  I'd heard references to them plenty during my lifetime through pop culture - books, television and films, but I wasn't really sure what they were all about.  And, to be quite honest, I didn't really want to know what they were all about when I started going to AA meetings.  I was operating under the "exploratory-only" umbrella at meetings and not sure if AA was going to be my path.

When it came time for me to get a Sponsor and start working the Steps, I felt a flood of emotions - fear, dread, nervousness and, surprisingly, a healthy dose of relief.  The feeling of relief was founded in the fact that someone was going to walk me through this process and guide me when I started to get off course.  That felt reassuring and lessened my anxiety about the suggested 12 Steps for recovery from alcoholism.

I didn't pick my own Sponsor.  I just so happened to be sitting next to this nice woman a little taqueria after a women's meeting last November.  I had been attending meetings for almost three months at this point and I was still incredibly nervous to talk to other women in AA.  I was quietly eating my tacos and listening intently to those around me like I was channeling Lindsay Wagner from The Bionic Woman (hair tucked behind one ear + everything!).  All of these women appeared so confident in their sobriety.  They were laughing.  They looked and acted healthy and strong.  They seemed "normal" - whatever that is.

Nice Lady A: Do you have a Sponsor?  

Me: Um, no.

Nice Lady A: Oh, that's great!  Hey, I'd like you to meet Nice Lady B.  Hey, Nice Lady B, do you have any Sponsees right now?

Nice Lady B:  No.

Nice Lady A:  Oh, great.  You two can work together!

And that was how Nice Lady B became my Sponsor.  It felt a little like a spontaneous blind date.  Usually, you pick your Sponsor based on seeing them and their sobriety as something you want to emulate or aspire to.  I didn't know anything about Nice Lady B, so we did all the things you do on a first date and shared basic information.  She shared her length of continuous sobriety (28 years) and that she was married and also a mother.  (In an effort to respect her anonymity, this is as much as I'll share about my Nice Lady B - aka My Sponsor).  

Anyhow, now I had a Sponsor and it was time to get to work.  We would meet weekly at her house and read from The Big Book and the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, both books being approved literature of Alcoholics Anonymous.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
— Step One, The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (pp. 21-24)

I struggled with Step One, as I think anyone newcomer would.  It was hard for me to admit that I was powerless over alcohol.  I actually felt quite the opposite as I approached working on Step One.  To be quite honest, I felt really fucking powerful now that I had stopped drinking.  I felt in control of my life for the first time in a long time and didn't like the way this first Step was worded.  I resisted this Step and spoke up at meetings about how powerful I felt now that I was sober.  I spoke my truth and hoped I could just skip Step One, but that's not how it works.

Many in the AA sharing circle heard my shares and would come up to me after the meetings to thank me for sharing or give me some words of encouragement or advice about how to look at things from a new perspective.  I could feel these people genuinely understood my current struggle and I hung on their every word.  

Powerless (adjective): without ability, influence or power. See also, derivative: noun powerlessness.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

And then one day it just clicked for me after hearing a woman share in a meeting about a loved one passing away and how there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.  Her loved one was dead.  Period.  Nothing would bring him/her back.  And she was powerless over the situation.  

Others in the meeting shared and riffed on the theme powerlessness, citing examples of being powerless over a rogue ocean wave; fluctuations in the stock market; the weather - rains, winds, flooding, drought; a medical diagnosis.  We are powerless over so much that goes on around us.  Why was I fighting admitting this?  Was it my need to remain living in the illusion that I controlled the Universe?  If I know me, and I do, I know that control had a lot to do with it.

It was only then that I could finally admit that I was powerless over alcohol because I knew for a fact that I was powerless over so many other things in my life - the cancer diagnosis of my best friend; what my father thinks about me; and my sister's multiple sclerosis diagnosis.  Once I take that first sip of alcohol, I always want more and in that moment, as much as I don't want to admit it, I am powerless over alcohol.

Unmanageable (adjective): difficult or impossible to manage, or control.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I also didn't think my life had become unmanageable, so there was a bit of work to do around this second part of Step One for me, too.  I came around pretty quickly on this part of the Step, realizing that I did a lot of shuffling of my time and commitments as they related to my drinking.  Not committing to anything early in the mornings on the weekends guaranteed me the time and space I needed to get up to speed, so to speak, once I woke up and nursed my hangover.  I took every opportunity I had to host dinner parties in my home and that gave me the perfect opportunity to stock the bar.  One of my lowest points near the end of my drinking was buying liquor at CVS and feeling sheepish when I would pay at the register because the saleswoman recognized me or commented on the last time I'd been in the store (which was, like, yesterday).  My marriage was hanging on by a thread.  My health was rapidly declining.  Anxiety attacks were happening more and more frequently.  I couldn't get a grip on any of this stuff and as I quietly and honestly catalogued these kinds of examples, I had no other choice than to admit that my life had become unmanageable.  

My Sponsor had me do some writing around these two words - powerless and unmanageable.  I looked up the definitions, wrote pages and pages about my thoughts on these two subjects and finally surrendered to the fact that I was both - powerless over alcohol (because I had no off button once I started) and that my life had become unmanageable.  As hard as that was to admit, it was true.  And there was sweet relief in finally being able to admit this - to myself, to another person and to a power greater than me that was of my own making.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
— Step One, The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (pp. 21-24)

And that, my friends, is how I completed Step One.  I read it out loud with my Sponsor and we moved on from there to Step 2.