AA Step 1

The first part of Step 1 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous states that “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.” There is a lot of talk in AA meetings about the concept of powerlessness and what it is.

Being the over-analytic attorney that I am, I often find myself trying to figure out what this whole notion of powerlessness really means — to me. I’m sure I’m guilty of over-thinking all this stuff, but it’s just my nature.

I certainly bristle over the notion that I am powerless over my choice to remain sober. Does Step 1 really mean that I am powerless over my choice to be sober? I hope not.

I believe that I make a choice everyday to remain sober and not take a drink. I don’t “turn it over” to anything or a Higher Power. (This is where I diverge from a lot of AA folks). I make a choice not to drink for a day. Just like when I was drinking, I made a choice to take that first drink. I make a choice to attend AA meetings. I make a choice to do a ton of reading about recovery. I make a choice to write this blog and hang out with others in the recovery community. I’ve made a choice, or more accurately, an informed decision (after extensive “research and development”) that I simply cannot drink anymore. It’s a complete evil force in my life which will doom and destroy me, and I won’t go down like that.

I’m hoping Step One really means that

“It’s the first stepping stone to obtaining freedom for yourself. You’ve admitted that there are serious issues with your life. You may have realized you have issues with your family, with work, your friends, and your career. You may have started to realize the extent of damage your addiction has caused in your life. And you know without a doubt that you’ve lost control. At this stage of your addiction you may not fully remember the actions you have taken in the past. But you have made the crucial first step in admitting that you have a problem. From this point you have a decision to make. Do you continue your addiction and risk losing your own life or risk other relationships that are important to you? Or do you reach out and seek treatment?” (Credit, Ocean Recovery)

Yet, I’m not relying on my own willpower alone. I have a lot of resources at my disposal:  AA, medication, therapy, meditation/relaxation, exercise, cognitive-behavioral strategies, fellowship, reading, writing and the sober online community. I think I use more recovery resources that most of the people I know in the AA program.

I do believe, however, that if I take that first drink, I am powerless over what may happen next. I could be fine. Yet, most likely it will lead me down the destructive cycle of addiction as it has done in the past, leading to the downfall of my family, my career and my relationships. Why take that chance?

I guess in the end, I believe that my recovery will always start and end with me and my own choice and personal responsibility. Maybe that’s non-AA thinking, but it’s the honest truth.

Well, enough debating AA doctrine for one day. I have a life to live and enjoy!

What do you guys think?



“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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