Step One: Surrendering to Find Sobriety
There is a constant debate within the program and rooms of AA as to which step of the 12 steps is most important. Although there has yet to be any concrete agreement on the answer to this question, most members agree with the fact that one must do Step One correctly and surrender before any of the other steps can be worked.
I have heard many times in my 15 years in and out of the rooms of AA that the only step that must be worked perfectly is Step One. Without understanding the fact that I was powerless over my alcoholism and that my life had become completely unmanageable, I wouldn’t have needed to proceed in turning my life over and relying on a higher power for all my decisions and actions. I would have never found the willingness to do an inventory, write out a list of persons I had harmed, and then begin making those amends.
Also, why would I have ever taken another person through the steps, or used any of my time to do things I didn’t want to do in the name of service work.
Bottom line is, that I would have never found the willingness to do these things if I hadn’t had the desperation resulting from admitting powerlessness over alcohol and the unmanageability that comes along with it.
It is of the utmost importance to my survival that I do Step One correctly and surrender daily. Keep reading to find out more about this essential step now!
What is Step One of the 12 Steps?
As far as the question, ‘What is Step One of the 12 Steps’ there are a few ways to answer. According to the AA website, Step One reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.”
It is a seemingly contradictory step in the way that we, as alcoholics, must admit defeat in order to overcome our addiction to alcohol. Another way of answering is that it is a way to open the person up to be more willing to partake in the following 11 steps through the acknowledgment of surrender before proceeding with further step work.
Trying to dig deeper into the reasoning behind the question doesn’t serve anyone. The fact is that it works if you work it.
As I stated before, it is imperative to do Step One correctly and surrender to the program. As was explained to me by a sponsor, after doing Step One correctly and surrendering, the rest of the steps are the next indicated thing to do that make sense. Simply put, the steps indicated to me that ‘I can’t, a Higher Power can,’ and here is how we do it together.
What Does it Mean to Work the Steps?
A question arises every so often in regard to working the 12 steps. ‘What does it mean to work the steps?’ The answer, simply put, is that the meaning behind working the steps is to seek some sort of spiritual experience, one that is profound enough to bring about some kind of psychic change that enables an individual to recover from alcoholism.
The steps are a sort of prescription, a guide, to bringing on that spiritual experience. From what I remember, when asked that question personally, I answered that it meant I was trying to be a better person. It meant that I wanted relief from the bondage of self. It meant that as long as I do Step One correctly and surrender, and then work the next 11 to the best of my ability, I wouldn’t ever find the need to pick up a drink again. That’s the promise that was made to me, and it has remained true to this day.
Can I Work the Steps Alone?
There is much debate in the program regarding the question, ‘can I work the steps alone?’ The seemingly most agreed-upon answer is that although it is possible to work the steps alone, for the most part anyway, it does not carry the same meaning, or produce the same results as does working it with a sponsor.
Also, two of the steps, in particular, numbers five and twelve, require work with another human being.
Step Five, reads, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” As you can read, ‘another human being’ would require another person, and this role is usually fulfilled by a sponsor.
Also, according to the AA website itself, Step 12 reads, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Again, according to the language in the step, other alcoholics are required to work this step correctly. Most have come to agree that this is in reference to sponsorship, however this time it is talking about working with sponsees.
Almost everyone with whom I have spoken to from the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous agrees that working with a sponsor is an invaluable part of working the 12 steps. I have never seen a successful case of a person working the steps alone. There is an adage within the rooms that goes as follows: you can’t fix a broken tool with a broken tool.
How Can I Surrender and Do Step One Correctly?
It is important to practice Step One correctly and surrender, so many people new to the program desperately ask ‘how to surrender and do Step One correctly’. I have seen many different strategies applied by sponsors in order to get their sponsees to recognize how to surrender and do Step One correctly.
For me, it was important to write down exactly the events that prove to me that I was powerless over alcohol. The events truly pointed to the fact that my life was unmanageable. Once I had all of these things plainly in front of me, in black and white, how to surrender and do Step One correctly became easy for me to see. I began to understand the ways in which admitting defeat would benefit my ability to defeat my alcoholism with the help of a Higher Power.
According to the Doctor’s Opinion, which is a section from the Big Book that many find useful when working Step One, there are two main components to alcoholism. These components are an allergy of the body and obsession of the mind. The allergy to alcohol means that as soon as I take that first drink, an allergic reaction occurs in which I will continue drinking beyond my control. As soon as I run out of alcohol, an obsession of the mind takes over in which I cannot think clearly, or act right until I get my hands on more alcohol. It consumes me and becomes my only driving force.
Once the allergy of the body and obsession of the mind are understood, how to surrender and do Step One correctly becomes much easier to find an answer.
What Are Some Questions Brought Up in Step One?
In doing my Step One work, it becomes overly apparent that when I do the Step correctly and surrender, many questions do arise. These questions include: what does it mean to be powerless over my alcoholism? What does unmanageability mean to me? What are some of the consequences I have faced because of my addiction to alcohol? Can I fix my problems through my own self-will?
The reality is that although it is good to understand the step fully, without a doubt, it is better to keep things as simple as possible. For me, it was easy to come to the conclusion that I was powerless and my life was unmanageable because I had countless examples of both unmanageability and of powerlessness.
It seems that the further along in the addiction or alcoholism somebody is, the easier it becomes to work Step One. I have heard in the rooms many times that we work Step One out in active addiction. Or in other words, the proof of both unmanageability and powerlessness comes from my experience using and drinking. This sentiment seems to ring the truest.
In answering ‘what are some questions brought up in Step One?’ the most important of these seems to be extracted directly from the language of the step itself. How is my life unmanageable? How am I powerless over alcohol? When answering both of these questions honestly, it becomes overly apparent my need to continue working Steps 2 through 12.
Responsibility and Acceptance in Step One
When it comes to responsibility and acceptance in Step One, the main idea is that of admitting powerlessness and unmanageability. In actuality, there is no action needed when working on Step One, as a decision to admit these things requires little to no action in itself.
Of course, there is some responsibility and acceptance in Step One, but these are things that come naturally when one has had any significant consequences as a result of their drinking or using. In order to do Step One correctly and surrender, all one has to do is look at their drinking history. I know that if it is anything like mine or the dozens of examples written in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it will not take long for a person to admit their powerlessness and that their lives have become unmanageable.
Acceptance is a huge part of Step One. As humans, we are programmed to avoid admitting defeat, and that is exactly what Step One is asking us to do. That gift of desperation, the one that got us into the meetings of AA in the first place, will guide us into having the necessary acceptance to work Step One correctly and surrender.
The Different Definitions of Unmanageability
The different definitions of unmanageability can oftentimes confuse a person who is new to the program of Alcoholic Anonymous. It is for this reason precisely that the AA saying ‘keep it simple stupid’ exists. There is an attitude of simplicity in regards to working the 12 steps, and muddying up the waters with definitions is not the way to work the first step correctly and surrender.
In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, the agreed-upon definition of unmanageability is alcoholics cannot manage the decision to stay stopped. It is with this specific definition that a person working on the Steps must keep their mind when working their Step One.
In case you are still wondering, the different definitions of unmanageability according to the Cambridge dictionary are, “difficult or impossible to control, use, or manipulate.” Synonyms according to the same dictionary include, “chaotic, hysterical, uncontrollable, awkward, berserk, crazy, disobedient, disorderly, lawless, madcap, nuts, out of control, outrageous, riotous, rowdy, turbulent, unbridled, uncontrolled, undisciplined, ungovernable.”
Because the Big Book is always up for interpretation, it is helpful to get an understanding of all the different ways in which the authors, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, may have intended the verbiage to be applied. There is always dissenting opinion, and you and your sponsor can determine what works best in your case. As long as you work Step One correctly and surrender, the definitions are not as important.
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What are the Ways to Take Action in Step One?
In regards to ways to take action in the first Step, there are many different directions I have seen sponsors give to their sponsees. One that was invaluable to my recovery was writing down the consequences of my using so that I could see, in black and white, all the ways in which my addiction had not only made my life unmanageable but also pointed to my powerlessness. This made it easy to work Step One correctly and surrender.
Other ways to take action in Step One that I have seen include writing a sort of autobiography in order to see both the unmanageability and powerlessness as it has manifested in a person’s life. Once a person can see exactly all the ways both unmanageability and powerlessness have played parts in their lives it becomes second nature to admit both of these things without reserve.
Step One and the Doctor’s Opinion
Finally, another important way to take action in Step One is to read the Doctor’s Opinion in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Doctor’s Opinion includes a letter from Dr. Silkworth to the writers of the Big Book, Bill, and Bob. Dr. Silkworth was an expert in treating alcoholics at the time the Big Book was being written in the 1930s. According to the book, Dr. Silkworth had treated more than 40,000 alcoholics which he had described as the ‘hopeless variety’.
The reason he labeled them as such is that up to that point no one had ever been able to stop drinking once they had gotten to that point. It is for this reason Alcoholics Anonymous became such a huge movement, as it was the first-ever consistently successful treatment for alcoholism.
Reading the Doctors Opinion for the first time back in 2008, I felt an immense connection with the way he described alcoholics. It was as if he was describing my life, my attitudes, my affliction, and I am not the only person who has felt this way. I urge anyone looking for ways to take action in Step One to read Dr. Silkworth’s assessment in the Doctor’s Opinion. Highlight what you relate to, and gain a better understanding of how to work Step One correctly and surrender.
Regaining Power as Part of the Recovery Process
One of the paradoxical aspects of working Step One is when one regains power as part of the recovery process by admitting powerlessness and unmanageability. The ability to win by admitting defeat is an example of regaining power as part of the recovery process.
The regaining power as part of the recovery process usually does not take place until further down the road of working the steps. To work Step 1 correctly and surrender is only the beginning, albeit a major part of this process. It is only once a person has completely surrendered that recovery through Steps 2-12 becomes a viable option.
For me, the ability to see my powerlessness and the ways my life had become unmanageable was as clear as anything I had ever experienced. I was glad I had gone through the trials and tribulations I had gone through to gain all the ammunition needed in order to admit that yes, I was powerless, and yes, my life had become unmanageable.
I was able to use these experiences to work Step One correctly and surrender, and it made for a smooth transition into working the following 11 steps. For me, the momentum came during my stay at rehab, but many others have their own occasions of surrender, and it can happen whenever you let the walls down and effectively surrender.
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In conclusion, I would like to make it clear that each individual experience with the steps can be vastly different and I am only speaking from my personal experience. Hopefully, this article can be some sort of guiding force, an example of what to expect as you face the decision of working the 12 steps or going down a different route.
God knows that I tried every possible route, as I was resistant to the 12 steps at first. None of these worked. It wasn’t until I made the decision to surrender to the program that I began to recover, and I hope you come to the same conclusion I did. The life the program has afforded me is better than anything I could have imagined, and I only wish the same for you.
Author Bio for Garrett A: I grew up in beautiful southern California and I find my spirituality in nature and love the outdoors. I also enjoy surfing and snowboarding. My recovery is extremely important to me, and I cherish every day I get to spend on this earth sober.