Step 1: Admission, Surrender, and Acceptance

Step 1: Admission, Surrender, and Acceptance

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Originally posted at Recovery Place, January 2015

The journey of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and many other recovery programs starts with Step One. In this step we admit we are powerless over alcohol or other forms of addiction and that our lives are unmanageable. What does this really mean?

We have come to realize that what we have been doing with our lives simply isn’t working and that our addictive behavior is the direct cause of a lot of our problems. We admit we are defeated and that we have to find a better way.

All of the steps require that we strive to move toward change to the best of our ability. It all starts with Step One.

The Gift of Desperation 

Nobody wants to admit that they have a problem with addiction. Whether we have been abusing alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs, food, gambling or sex, we have to come to the realization that the chemical or behavior that used to make us feel good is now making us feel very bad. It’s on course to destroy us.

We want to believe we can control how much we drink or drug. Up to now we may have tried many different approaches to controlling our behavior. We may have given up hard liquor and replaced it with beer or we may have replaced street drugs with prescription drugs or alcohol. We may have tried to drink or drug only at certain times or on certain days. We promised ourselves each time it would be different, but it just kept getting worse.

We have tried to break our addiction with willpower but have learned over and over that willpower alone won’t work and that we can’t break our addiction on our own. The disease of addiction is much bigger than that. It’s only when we realize we are completely defeated that we can start over. This is called the gift of desperation, and it really is a gift to have reached the point of defeat. From a place of defeat and desperation, we can start to get well.

Admitting Powerlessness

We are powerless over alcohol, drugs and any other substance or behavior that we have become addicted to. Without help, we are unable to stop our addiction even though we see it wreaking havoc in our lives.

At first we may resist the idea that we are powerless. We want to believe that we can beat it on our own, but we have had many humiliating experiences that have shown us we can’t.

We are truly powerless.

Those who are reluctant to admit powerlessness continue to struggle to stay sober. If we can’t admit there is a problem that is much bigger than we are, we won’t have the willingness to do what we have to do to get well. We won’t be able to move forward without clinging to the past and hanging onto the fantasy that someday we’ll be able to drink in moderation or behave like other people. Admitting powerlessness is the foundation of recovery. Without admitting or accepting our inability to change on our own, there is little hope of overcoming addiction. 

Recognizing an Unmanageable Life 

Our lives have become unmanageable. We have watched everything start to unravel and have been unable to stop it. Loved ones may have left. Some of us have been repeatedly arrested. Some of us have developed illnesses or physical problems. When we have been able to go to work, most of us aren’t really functional. We have been revolving our lives around when and where we can get high. We have been destroying ourselves and we are unable to stop.

We have truly lost control over our own lives.

Being able to take charge of our own lives again requires that we admit we have a problem, a much bigger problem than we can solve alone.

Once we admit the depth of our powerlessness, we have the opportunity to start to get well. Step One is the foundation of our new lives.

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