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, after a twenty-year addiction to alcohol and drugs. My drinking and drugging began at the age of thirteen. As a young teenager, I was already disturbed. Growing up in the loveless environment of foster care left me with low self-esteem, as well as a massive chip on my shoulder.
I took to drink 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 mother. My behavior at home was so volatile that my mother had no alternative but to kick me out.
I became homeless, using anything I could to despatch myself from feelings of abandonment and rejection. It didn’t matter what I took to get high. I became what the fellowship in America calls a “garbage head,” using anything to medicate my pain. 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 on 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 only unmanageable but “unbearable.” I remember laughing nervously. My sober life in AA was just like that: unmanageable and unbearable with or without alcohol.
In sobriety, I continued to be the same person while drinking. I rejected the twelve steps, thinking they were some quasi-religious nonsense. After joining the fellowship, I continued running on self-will. I went to any lengths to avoid honestly facing myself. I had no concept of surrender, especially to any guidance from a sponsor. 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 these ideas were the only reality I ever knew. Drinking and drugging were as natural to me as breathing.
Staying sober on fellowship alone
When I stopped drinking, I attended meetings every day. Sometimes, I went to two, even three a day. I didn’t know what people were talking about when they spoke about step one. In my sick mind, powerlessness and unmanageability were just gimmicks created by the founders of AA. Bill W and Dr. Bob devised these ideas to disempower people. I suspected that this tactic was about making 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 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 enough of my erratic behavior. She left after I had been in the program for two years. Relapse became a regular pattern for a long time after she left. Despite so much evidence to the contrary, I still could not admit my powerlessness over alcohol. Moreover, I also couldn’t see that my life as a dry alcoholic remained unmanageable in every area of my life.
The fruits of self-will
I had nowhere else to go, so I attended meetings every day. I was too vulnerable and unstable to get a job and cross the bridge to normal living. The harder I fought to stay sober and make something of my life, the more 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 full of self-hatred that I would drink even more until alcohol brought me to my knees again. These benders were becoming more and more life-threatening.
The sheer misery of an unmanageable life was too much. The chaos and madness of untreated alcoholism propelled me closer and closer to the “gates of insanity or death.” I managed that pain in the only way I knew how: more alcohol!
The principle of step one: – Honesty
I fought valiantly for more than a decade to get sober. That said, it was always on my terms. One Sunday evening, I went to a step-one meeting. I was ‘counting days’ again. I remember 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 then, it was the best thing that could have happened. For the first time, I knew that alcohol had beaten me. My very best ideas had failed to keep me sober! I was unable to apply my intelligence to help myself get sober. It was humbling 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 illusion of my self-sufficiency had me firmly in its grip. It brought me close to self-destruction.
Written assignments on step one
Today, I am grateful that my sponsor gave me a written step-one assignment. Concerning 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 see the reality of my powerlessness over alcohol. Moreover, once on paper, the chaos and unmanageability of my life were there on every page of my step one assignment.
Dishonesty = Fear
FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real.
Denial condemned me to believe that I had the power to recreate my life without the twelve steps. I gradually realized that I had distorted my history out of all proportions. As I soon learned in AA, “the disease of perception” was another expression for alcoholism. All I knew were lies, excuses, blame, and resentment.
Following an honest admission of step one, the next obvious step was to stop fighting and place myself under new management. I asked David B. to sponsor me and handed my will and life over to the suggestions he gave me.
Dishonesty and Ego
Today, I can see that my maladapted alcoholic ego created my dishonesty. Honesty and truth are the domain of the authentic self, which was MIA (Missing In Action) on the battlefield of addiction. Through fear, the ego was committed to the false.
“They cannot, after a time, differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one”. (BB p. XXV111)
The journey from denial to the truth is ongoing and has sometimes been challenging. The elevator to a quick and easy recovery is out of order. I have to use the steps. What a truly remarkable and worthwhile journey it is! Through the twelve steps, I faced the truth about myself. The truth has set me free.