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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Step One Misperceptions and Confusion

There are many sayings - some trite but true, others not - that one hears around the tables in Alcoholics Anonymous (and many of its sister organizations). One of these sayings is that: "Step One is the only Step we do 100%." But is this what our literature says? Is this truly our collective experience? My reading of our literature, and my own experience, says it is not.

This particular saying seems to originate in the essay on Step Six in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where (at page 68) we read: "Only Step One, where we made the 100 percent admission we were powerless over alcohol, can be practiced with absolute perfection. The remaining eleven Steps state perfect ideals. They are goals toward which we look, and the measuring sticks by which we estimate our progress."

Note that in this passage it is only "the 100 percent admission we were powerless over alcohol" which can be "practiced with absolute perfection." The alcoholic addict practices this first part of the First Step with perfection each day when he or she does not drink and/or drug. This says nothing about the second (and more difficult) half of the First Step, where we admit that our lives have become unmanageable. The two halves of the First Step are separate, but intricately interrelated concepts. They are not interchangeable.

Yet, in his essay on Step One in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, even Bill seems to treat the two parts as being the same, or at least he muddies the distinction between them. At page 23 of the Twelve and Twelve, discussing those "who were scarcely more than potential alcoholics," Bill asks: "Since Step One requires an admission that our lives have become unmanageable, how could such as these take this Step?"

His answer is that we "raise the bottom the rest of us hit to the point where it would hit them." And, if this does not work, he suggests that to these "doubters" we might say: "Perhaps you are not an alcoholic after all. Why don't you try some more controlled drinking, bearing in mind meanwhile what we have told you about alcoholism."

WTF???? He suggests that a person who is struggling with the idea that his life has become unmanagaeable should go out and try more drinking? This does not make sense. In my experience it has been beneficial to suggest such a tactic to a person who is unclear whether or not he or she is powerless over alcohol, after all that is the crux of the matter and a proposition that we must accept 100 percent. By contrast, I both struggle myself (and see many many others struggle) with the idea that life is, in fact, unmanageable . . . and will remain so. After all, if life became manageable, we would just manage it by ourselves, and what need would we have for the remaining eleven Steps?

Remember, in the How It Works reading, we hear the following, over and over: "Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after [stopping drinking], make clear three pertinent ideas: (a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.  (c) That God could and would if He were sought."

I have practiced the first half of Step One with 100 percent effectiveness for the past 21 years, but day upon day I struggle with the second half of Step One - i.e., ceding control and management of my life to a Power greater than myself. Thus, whenever I have a problem toaday, I can recognize that it is, in effect, a problem with the second half of Step One. I can still be driven blindly by my small, egoic self, although thankfully (a) this does not happen as frequently as it once did, and (b) I have the tools to correct - and clean up after - such self-centered thinking and behaviour.

Not picking up a drink (and in my case a mind-altering drug) is the only part of the program that I have so-far managed to practice with 100 percent success, and it is likely to remain that way. Remember, on this spiritual path we strive for perfection, all the while knowing that we will inevitably fall short. Meanwhile, with the Grace of God, one day at a time we stay sober.

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