About Step One in 12 step programs

To get rid of unhealthy habits many people turn to so-called 12-step programs, such as AA, CA, Al-Anon, to name just a few of the more than 50.

Regular meetings in which the participants suffering from the same habits share their personal stories and experience form the basis of these programs.

It is common practice to have a so-called “step 1 meeting” when there are newcomers in the group. I remember my first al-anon meeting vividly (note: al-anon is a 12 step program for people living or having lived with an alcoholic partner, family member, parent , child, friend, colleague, etc.) and it may be worth while to share this experience with you.

I was expecting to find out through al-anon how other people dealt with life with an alcoholic. Tips and tricks, do’s and don’t-s. I really thought that I did not belong there. I had everything under control, I was strong, not weak. As I entered the room I was nervous, thinking “what the heck am I doing here. I am not the guilty one.”

Then the chairperson for that evening started reading “the newcomer’s welcome” from a laminated sheet (which I know by heart by now) – “This is for me”, I remember thinking as her voice spoke out:

“As a newcomer you may feel that you are here tonight for the alcoholic… That your presence here may teach you how to stop his or her drinking. The truth is you are here because of the alcoholic and not for the alcoholic. You will soon learn that you did not cause the alcoholic to drink, you cannot control the drinking, nor can you cure the alcoholic. You are here for yourself. You and you alone are responsible for dealing with your own pain. This is your program, it is your recovery from the effects of the disease of alcoholism.”

As I let these words sink in, the group took turns in reading out loud, each of the 12 steps. I heard the voices say:

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

“ Two. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

“Three. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

At this point I could no longer focus on what was being said. I literally thought I had landed in some kind of a sect or cult. Me powerless, my life unmanageable… God… as we understood him….  Ridiculous. I felt like getting up and walking out… I did not.  It has been years since that first meeting and I have been to very many. Why?

I suppose al-anon has confronted me with my own denial of reality. Somehow, deep inside of me,  a grain of consciousness had remained.  An awareness of the truth, of reality, in spite of the denial.

My life had been  like a stage act performed by an artist holding up too many spinning plates on too many sticks. And I managed to keep them all up in the air: work, children, finances, housekeeping, parents, etc. And this had become the unhealthy habit I had learned. It had become my perception. my belief of “normal”; my illusion of being in control of my life.

Although I thought I had been in control of the plates on sticks,  I was not in control of my life. Let alone in control of the alcoholism of my alcoholic.  It controlled me. It distracted me from myself. And I had been doing it for over a decade.

Was I powerless over alcohol? Yes, absolutely. And had my life become unmanageable? Oh, yes.

So, how about this higher power? This “God as we understood him”. Well, I would suggest to read some of my posts on this blog. In short: as I stopped performing, as I let go of the sticks and as the plates stopped spinning and fell to pieces on the ground, all of a sudden the life I had considered normal for so long came to a halt. It was as if I had to re-invent my life. Rediscover myself in it.

I had been suffering from insanity (see this post). I had been repeating the same behaviour over and over again, expecting a different outcome. This is precisely how Albert Einstein defined insanity.

When I stopped fighting reality, reality became clear to me. I became part of it and was no longer separating myself from it. And reality, my friends, is awesome. Creation is awesome and we are all connected with it and through it (more in this post). And this awareness is Higher Power as I understand him, her or it.

Attending al-anon meetings helped me in my recovery. I keep coming back. Thank God.

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