Acceptance: The Foundation For Recovery

by Dick on January 16, 2012 · 2 comments

in 12 Steps, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Alcoholism, Recovery

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

Step One: Alcoholics Anonymous

For me, admitting that I was powerless over alcohol — more accurately, alcoholism  — has been the single most difficult thing to accept in my recovery. However, without a complete acceptance of powerlessness over my alcoholism, there can be no  recovery.

Like most lawyers, I have been an classic over-achiever all my life, and I unfortunately have based my self-worth on the success and achievements I have obtained. I was raised with the saying “We don’t play to win, we play for blood.” Maybe my family meant it sort of like a joke, but deep down, but as a little kid, I took it to heart. I hated to lose and I didn’t take prisoners in life, sport and work. And that’s the only way I received recognition in my family. I became a hyper-competitive athlete and student. Losing would send me into a mini-depression. I had an abnormal fear of failure and an abnormal obsession with winning and success. Winning and achievement became the currency of my life.

This mind-set does not bode well in recovery. As it says in the AA Twelve Step Book:

Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal powerlessness. It is truly awful to admit that, glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking that only an act of Providence can remove it from us.

I did not want to admit complete defeat, and I did not want to be an alcoholic, that’s for sure. I could not stomach the fact that I had to let alcoholism “beat” me–well, that’s the way I framed it. No way, no how. No one beats me, I thought.

I thought I was different from many alcoholics in this respect. They would wallow in their misery. I was a fighter. They were down and out. I had a successful career, a nice house, nice car, wife and kids, etc. Surely, I could “conquer” alcoholism.

But I couldn’t. And I didn’t. And I won’t. I have come to the educated conclusion that one never “conquers” alcoholism. It’s impossible.

The crazy irony is that you can “beat” alcoholism only by surrending to it. Yes, that’s right. Surrendering. Heavy stuff…

I have had to change my thinking, drastically. Instead of viewing acceptance of powerlessness as a personal failure, I have started to view it as a personal triumph. After all, it takes a lot of guts and humility to admit that you are truly an alcoholic and willing to get sober. Right now, living sober is much harder than living as an active alcoholic, I can tell you that.

Also, I have accepted that having alcoholism is not my fault. I didn’t choose for this to happen. Who does? No, when I was a child I did not say “When I grow up I want to be an alcoholic!”

One day at a time…



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  • cheryl

    I teach anatomy and am an alcoholic. Even though AA and the Big Book is sometimes criticized as being old fashioned because it was written in 1939 and has a spiritual component, it’s interesting to me how much of its advice makes sense in terms of what we now know about the brain and  neurophysiology of addicition and relapse. Bill W reminds me a little of Charles Darwin – Darwin didnt know about DNA and had never seen a chromosome under the microscope, and yet he was right about natural selection and evolution. Bill W didnt know anything about neurtransmitters or brain anatomy but proposed that it was better for  alcoholics to abstain than to attempt to moderate. Both Darwin and Bill W had to ignore the religious doctrines of their time, that the earths creatures were all created 6, 000 years ago, and that alcoholics are simply weak or sinful.

    • Sober Lawyer

       What a great observation Cheryl! I was starting to get down reading some of the sour comments on that Huff Post AA hit piece, and your comment just righted my ship. Thanks!

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