Rigorous Honesty and Step One of AA
“We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable” *
I arrived at my first AA meeting on May 15th 1984. This was after a twenty-year addiction to alcohol and drugs. My drinking and using began at the age of thirteen. As a young teenager, I was already a disturbed young man. Growing up in the cold environment of foster care left me with low self-esteem, as well as a huge chip on my shoulder.
I took to drinking and drugs like a duck to water. By the time I was nineteen, I was already hopelessly addicted. I left my foster family and went back to live with my biological mother. My behaviour at home was so volatile that my mother had no alternative but to kick me out.
I embarked on a career as a homeless person; using anything I could to dispatch myself from my feelings of abandonment and rejection. I became what the fellowship in America calls a “garbage head.” I used any and all substances to medicate my feelings. By the time I was in my late teens, I didn’t care if I lived or died.
Step one and rigorous honesty. What’s the connection?
The first part of step one declares that as alcoholics, we are unable to stop drinking under our own power. The second half of this step suggests that drunk or sober, our lives remain unmanageable. I remember going to an AA meeting once. There was a girl there who jokingly shared that she was powerless over alcohol and that her life was not unmanageable but “unbearable.” I remember laughing nervously. That’s exactly what my life was like with or without alcohol.
In sobriety, I continued to be the same person as I was during my drinking. I rejected the twelve steps thinking they were some kind of quasi-religious nonsense. In recovery, I continued running on self-will. I went to any lengths to avoid facing myself honestly. I had no concept of surrender, especially to any guidance in AA. Fear, defiance and dishonesty propelled me from one relapse to the next
“Powerlessness” and “unmanageability” were two words that meant nothing to me. The irony was that both of these ideas were the only reality I ever knew. Drinking and drugging were as natural to me as breathing.
Staying sober on fellowship alone
After my arrival at AA, I went to meetings every day. Sometimes two or three times a day. I didn’t know what people were talking about when they spoke about step one. I told myself that powerlessness and unmanageability were just gimmicks created by the founders of AA. In my sick mind, Bill W and Dr Bob came up with these ideas to disempower people. They were designed to make alcoholics dependent on the fellowship. Secretly, I believed that AA was a cult.
The truth was that I was barely able to function without alcohol. In early recovery, I suffered from dramatic mood swings and depression. Panic attacks plagued me frequently. My mental state was very unstable without alcohol. Life was so unmanageable that I couldn’t hold down a job. My attempts at relationships with women were a disaster. I was angry, volatile and unpredictable. My wife had of my erratic behaviour. She left after I had been in the program for two years. Relapse became a regular pattern The irony was that I could not admit that I was powerless over alcohol. Moreover, I was unable to see that my life as a dry alcoholic was unmanageable in almost every area of my life.
The fruits of self-will
I had nowhere else to go so I went to meetings every day. I was too vulnerable and unstable to cross the bridge to normal living. The harder I fought to stay sober and make a success of my life, the more often I relapsed. It was a merry-go-round that I couldn’t get off. My very best attempts to achieve a normal life failed. Whenever I picked up the first drink, I was so angry about it that I would end up in a terrible state Frequent relapses were becoming more and more life-threatening.
The sheer misery of an unmanageable life was too much. The chaos and madness of untreated alcoholism brought me close to the “gates of insanity or death.” * I managed that pain in the only way I knew how; by self-medicating with alcohol.
(Big Book Chapter 3 “More about alcoholism” p. 41 First Edition)
The principle of step one: Honesty
I fought valiantly for more than a decade to get sober. It was always on my own terms. One Sunday evening, I went to a step one meeting. I was counting days again. I remember well the reading from step one in the twelve steps and twelve traditions. “Who cares to admit complete defeat” That day, I received an act of grace. My alcoholic ego collapsed. Although painful at the time, it was the best thing that could have happened. For the first time ever, I knew I was beaten.
My very best ideas had failed to keep me sober! I was unable to apply my intelligence to help myself. It was very humiliating to admit that I was all out of creative solutions. The truth of step one was too shocking to face. I kept dismissing the evidence continuously placed in front of me. The God that I worshipped was the illusion of my self-sufficiency. It bought me close to self-destruction.
Written assignments on step one
Today, I am very grateful that my sponsor gave me a written step-one assignment. With regard to dismantling my denial, I had to see my dishonesty on paper. The written information in step one didn’t lie. I was amazed at how long it took to accept the reality of my powerlessness over alcohol. Moreover, once on paper, the chaos and unmanageability of my life were plain to see.
Dishonesty = Fear
FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real.
Denial condemned me to believe in the illusion that I had the power to recreate my life. I gradually came to see that my perception of reality was very distorted. It had been built on layer upon layer of excuses, lies and blame.
Following my honest admission of step one, the next honest thing was to surrender and place myself under new management. I asked David B to sponsor me and handed my will and life over to the suggested program.
Dishonesty and Ego
Today, I can see that my dishonesty was created by my maladapted alcoholic ego. Honesty and truth are within my true self. Through fear, the ego had become committed to the false. “They cannot after a time differentiate the true from then false. To them their alcoholic life seems the only normal one”. (BB “The doctor’s opinion” p. XXV111) The journey from denial to the truth is ongoing and hasn’t always been easy. The elevator to a quick and easy recovery was out of order. I had to use the steps. What a truly amazing and worthwhile journey it is! Through the twelve steps, I discovered the truth about myself. This truth has set me free.