Coronavirus has instigated changes throughout most aspects of daily living, but the 12 steps of A.A. offer a design for living which is applicable in all circumstances.Each week we will be sharing staff reflections upon one of our recovery steps, as it relates to a corresponding principle. This week, Hap H., Geoffrey K., Tesh P., and Chris G., have shared their reflections upon the 1st Step.
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
My life in recovery based on the principle of honesty has made the journey easier because it has aligned my actions with my gut feeling more often than not. In active addiction, I listened to what my mind was thinking at the moment – not knowing that alcoholism is what I have and my mind was infected with selfish and dishonest thoughts. Honesty allows me to be humble enough to admit that I have no clue to what I am doing in life. The only thing I know for sure is that I am an alcoholic and I just need to show up and ask for that help without the feeling of shame or guilt. I had to become honest with myself before I was able to surrender to this disease and allow my higher power to guide me on this journey they call life. I will share that I do struggle to show compassion and love while being honest – something I am able to recognize today in recovery due to the 12 Steps of AA. Admitting shortcomings or failure is a character defect I can admit openly today without thinking of it as a weakness.
Towards the end of my substance abuse it was clear to anyone still in my life (by this time it was only my immediate family and they were close to the end of their rope too) that drugs and alcohol controlled every thought and action that I had. Like most people it didn’t start that way, but at some point drugs and alcohol became my master. They would tell me where to go, when to go, and allow me do things that I would have never done before.
When I would have brief moments of clarity I would be face to face with the realization that I couldn’t go on living like this. Tragically I would concoct half baked ideas on how I was going to once again pull myself out of the mess I had put myself in. These ideas never worked. They would either immediately be stamped out by an uncontrollable urge to use again, or would work to a point where I once again thought I could use drugs and alcohol in moderation. This was the endless cycle my life was on up until I arrived at Discovery Place.
When I was reintroduced to step one at Discovery Place I was introduced to the spiritual principle of Honesty. I had to take an honest look at the fact (something that can be very hard for someone in the grips of alcoholism) that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol and that my life is unmanageable. This honest self appraisal also brought into light that all of my self induced ideas didn’t work. At this point I had years of proof showing that they didn’t work. Through step one and honesty I was finally at a place of surrender where I was willing to listen and take the suggestions of others. Like I mentioned, it had been clear to everyone else, but this self admission, and an honest look, truly started the path towards a new life of freedom for me.
My road to accepting the first step was a decade long ordeal. I first wandered into AA around the age of 18, that first time propelled by legal issues, and I absolutely could not admit that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol nor that my life was unmanageable. My struggles with addiction, and the consequences that came with it, only increased from then on. I returned to the rooms many times over the years. Sometimes due to pressure from family, sometimes due to the sheer emotional and mental pain that comes along with alcoholism, but I was never able to concede that I had no control over my drug and alcohol use.
I was unable to get honest with others, and more importantly myself, about my condition and therefore no real progress could be made toward recovery. I arrived broken and hopeless to Discovery Place, pressured by family. Through the guidance of staff, all of whom knew exactly how I was feeling and were able to relate to my experiences, I was able to slowly breakout of my state of denial. This was the first time I had viewed my internal condition from an honest place and from there the real recovery could begin.
The “We” of the First Step turned out the be the initial test of the level of honesty to which this alcoholic would be willing to go to “recover from a hopeless state of mind and body”. In 2008, “real alcoholics” only lived on Skid Row or off disability checks from the government.
So, when I walked into the rooms, after the suggestion from a friend who had recently picked up a three-year chip, I could not hear anything anyone had to say concerning alcohol, powerlessness, and most certainly not unmanageability.
Fast forward a decade and with the power off at the house for the preceding 4 months, mold growing from the carpet from where I had basically neglected my dog to death, and having been “allowed to resign” from my last three jobs over the course of four years, I was exactly where I decided I had been in that first room in 2008, completely alone, except for my bottles and my resentments. In 2018, the hand of A.A. was extended again and I reluctantly accepted.
The advice was that I, “Come all the way in, sit all the way down, and shut all the way up,” in order to listen for similarities rather than differences, to relate as opposed to differentiate. By the time A.A. showed up this time, I had run out of reasons to separate myself from the men in the rooms because if I did not give what they were saying a shot I would soon find myself homeless and living off the government. It took that for this alcoholic to begin to admit some things.
I began to admit, or “allow in”, the idea that I had spent a lifetime building taller and taller fences around myself for protection instead of longer and longer tables for those who loved and cared about me to sit down and live in community. Some of my sponsor’s first suggestions were to get at least one phone number from a different guy at each meeting and to call that man the next day just to check on him, another was to read the stories in the back of the book at my leisure and ask myself, “Did that happen to me?”; “Have I felt like that?”; and most importantly “Do I believe this program can work for me like it seems to have worked for these people?”
I now see that both of those suggestions were intended to drive me further into the “we” of A.A., to admit that “we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable”. The first hurdle, “we”. The day I came to see the “we” of A.A. was the day the door to recovery finally opened. I could be honest with these men because these men saw me, saw through me, and could see beyond the “me” I was at that time in order to offer the opportunity to become the “We” of which I find myself a part of today.
I was willing to admit I was powerless over alcohol long before I gave real recovery a chance. I tried to sustain sobriety “my way” for years before I was willing to apply the principle of honesty to my life: it didn’t work very well.
In active addiction, I constantly used dishonesty against others in an effort to protect myself because I equated seeming good with doing good. A longtime slave to shame, I certainly wasn’t going to trust anyone else with the actual facts of my past or my current emotional state. I clung to delusion because I was deeply afraid of what I would find if I took an honest appraisal of myself.
When I began my quest for sobriety, I stuck with the same dishonesty that had dominated my life as an addict. I was afraid to let it go. I’m not sure why I thought anyone could help me recover if I lied to them about my condition, but that’s just what I did.
I finally reaped enough pain and desperation—for myself and my family—to admit that deceit, pretense, and subterfuge had ruined me. On that terrifying day, I began to realize that my way—the only way I’d ever known—was utterly poisonous. On that painful day, I came to Dickson, Tennessee and I have been sober ever since. On that miraculous day, I finally began to experience a true surrender by working for authenticity (honesty with others), humility (honesty with myself), and integrity (honesty with my Higher Power).