Posted by: Seth David | July 12, 2009

Step I Overview


Step I

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


What does it mean to admit complete defeat? The paradox of this step is that by admitting defeat – that I am powerless I actually get to tap into a power. We’ll cover that more in step 2. For now it is important to understand that as a human being I am not inclined to want to admit that I am powerless over anything. This leads to an inability to ask for help. I also learn that my mind is warped. This means my thinking is off. So I want to look for warped thinking. For years in AA I struggled to find out what specific steps I can take in the day I’m in. I am beginning to learn this. Here’s an example. I get up in the morning and my mind is blank. Usually I am awakened by my dogs. Somewhere in the first 10 minutes of being awake a thought enters my head. Something that happened or something someone said to me the previous day bothered me and now I am thinking about it. The thought festers and grows and within a few more minutes all the rage comes back as if the event took place all over again. This is warped thinking. I am reliving a bad experience. I’ve learned now that when I catch myself doing this I need to stop and ask God to remove the thought from me. The next thing I have learned to do is bring myself right back into the moment by looking around myself. Where am I? I’m in the shower (let’s say). I start thinking about the fact that I am in the shower. This takes me into the moment. Then I start thinking about the things I have to be grateful for and often times in order to help with this process I offer a very simple and beautiful prayer. God thank you for all that you have given me, thank you for everything you have taken away, and thank you for everything you have left behind. This helps me get perspective, especially because I am not just being grateful for what I have, but also for the things I am glad I don’t have. Then I can follow that up with a 3rd & 7th step prayer. If you are reading this and don’t know what those prayers are, not to worry I’ll get to that.

This disease of my thinking is compared to a bankruptcy – a rapacious (inordinately greedy) creditor. In other words this disease will suck the life out of me. 10 years later it’s not the drugs and alcohol that gets me, it’s my thinking. I have an illness that exists below the level of my consciousness and it will suck the life out of me if I am not properly aware of it and how it affects me. I have to accept this, and when I do my bankruptcy is complete. It sounds like I am saying that it’s over, right? This is the whole point. Every time I speak I share this – that I wasn’t ready to change until I became convinced that my situation was hopeless. That is the place I needed to be in mentally in order to be ready to start wanting a new way of life. It’s one thing to not want a life that isn’t going well. It’s an entirely different thing to want a whole new life and also be willing to accept that I have no idea what that new life holds in store. I had to be in the most desperate possible position in order to be ready. At the time it did not look good the way I am making it sound now because I was not aware that this was where I needed to be. I was only aware that my situation was hopeless. If I had any idea at the time that this was the place that I needed to be in, in order to be on my way t an incredibly successful life then I would not have been ready.

Step 1 says I will not find any happiness until I am humbled in the manner described above. The converse of this is that if I find a deep sense of humility then I will find happiness. This is not presented as a suggestion – it says “Proved beyond a doubt by an immense experience, this is one of the facts of AA Life”.

P. 21 last sentence. The paragraph finishes at the top of 22 with “The principal that we shall find no enduring strength until we first admit complete defeat is the main taproot from which from which our whole society has sprung and flowered.”

We talk about self confidence. This is a dangerous thing for us because it is too easy to get confused about this and lose sight of our humility. Step 1 explains that self confidence is no good. We’ll find out in step 3 that we need to become dependent which means we will need help. This defies self confidence. I think in this context we are thinking of self confidence as self sufficiency. We have to realize that the days of self sufficiency are over. True humility involves the recognition that I will need the help and guidance of others. Ironically in doing this I become more powerful than I ever could be on my own. So I don’t need or want “SELF” confidence. I need “WE” confidence. The confidence that together we can do this.

We talk about the double edged sword.     First I have an obsessive mind so that when it comes to drugs and alcohol, or food, or sex or any number of other things, once I start thinking about it I can’t stop. Then the physical reaction kicks in once I actually do start which means there is no telling if and when I will stop and where I will be when it all ends. Again the illustration is hopelessness.

    It was a statistical fact that alcoholics almost never recovered on their own resources. And this had been true, apparently, ever since man had first crushed grapes.

    p. 22 2nd par


How desperate do I have to be to be hopeless? For everyone the threshold is different. In these terms we are not all created equal. Some can handle a great deal more pain than others. Ultimately it comes down to a decision. When do I decide that I am willing to view my current situation as so hopeless that only and act of god can bring about the change I want? When do I decide that I want to experience a change below the level of consciousness? Am I tired enough of my current situation to actually want a new situation? I had to want something new – it wasn’t enough to just not want what I had.

The kicker is summed up (as always) at the end of the step. The big book talks about “Honesty, Open Mindedness, and Willingness”. This is in a spiritual experience. Step 1 talks about open-mindedness in the very last paragraph:

    Under the lash of alcoholism, we are driven to A.A., and there we discover the fatal nature of our situation. Then, and only then, do we become as open-minded to conviction and as willing to listen as the dying can be. We stand ready to do anything which will lift the merciless obsession from us.

    p. 24 Last Paragraph


  1. “The principal that we shall find no enduring strength until we first admit complete defeat is the main taproot from which from which our whole society has sprung and flowered”

    Funny, I was writing about this very line this morning. Complete defeat?!? That’s not easy for someone as self centered as I am. Especially when I have been around a while and the external problems that beat me into humility are now in the rearview mirror. It’s my ego recupurating that makes surrender much more difficult today. Yet I have found the only peace I have known in my life is when I have surrendered it all to God. This begs the question “why would it be so hard to do?”…..

  2. Good Question. The more I realize the truth about that statement, the easier it gets because I am hard headed and I have to find out for myself in ordert o believe. I rarely come to believe just based on what someone else tells me – evenif I can see the reults just by looking at them. The original AA’s served as an example the the new ones that came in. This is one of the reasons it is so important for us to constantly reach out and show the newcomer that this way of life is really working in our lives, not just to improve our lives – it’s bigger than that. To have the exact kind of life we can imagine for ourselves. Nothing is out of our reach in this program (the program is called life). Step 2 shows us why we have difficulty with this. It says the outstanding charateristic we all have is defiance.

    ““As psychiatrists have often observed, defiance is the outstanding characteristic of many an alcoholic.”

    The truth is that this is the outstanding characteristic of most people in our society becasue we have all been taught that strength of character is someone who can stand up on their own. Take care of themselves – if I look like I need help, I will appear weak. The paradox here is that by seeking help I become strong. By admitting that I need help I gain strength. By recogniznig that I need help and seeking that help – that reliance on a higher power (God if you choose, or simply the idea of a way of life that tells me I can become strong by relying on the help of others – that in itself is a proven, working higher power). Many people prefer to think of The Universe as the higher power – it has 3 basic ingredients (Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent). All knowing, all powerful, Everywhere. That’s the universe. It’s time for me to start writing on Step 2, but first I need to record my video on Step I – Passion.

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