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Step Zero.

17 October 2013

The twelve steps are great for recovery. Those who thoroughly follow them rarely fail, the book says. That’s my experience as well. There is a very high correlation – it seems, without doing any actual math – between those who relapse and those who don’t do the steps. As always, I’ll say, AA is certainly not the only way to recover. But it is a way that works for me, and for millions of people who drink like me. And it seems to be the way that works when everything else has failed. For the cohort of drunks for whom none of the easier, softer ways work, the steps are the way that does work, if you follow them.

Step one isn’t quite exactly the first step. It’s the first step on the way to recovery, yes. But before we can admit that we are powerless over alcohol, they have to decide that recovery is for us. We have to decide that we want recovery, and that we’ll go to any length to get it. Step zero is the realization, essentially, that alcohol is interfering with our lives, and that another way exists, and is attractive.

Step one is a relief. It was for me, anyway. It was: I don’t have to fight anymore. I’m powerless. I can’t manage this on my own. I can’t keep trying to battle my addiction. I’ve lost. Step zero is terrifying. Step zero is saying: I think I might need to give up this thing which has become my only reason for living, and the only thing I truly care about.

I think a lot of people don’t recover because they never take step zero. The idea of giving up their drug of choice is so starkly terrifying that they will do anything to avoid looking at it. Vilify friends, abandon children, betray lovers. There is nothing we won’t do to satisfy an addiction when we cannot face that it is the addiction that drives the behavior. It is, among people we know, all too easy to recognize. It’s painfully obvious. I mean that literally. It is painful to see people we care about struggling to accept that they really do have a problem. Especially when they’re lashing out at us personally.

But of course, it’s not personal. Personal attacks are almost never really personal. They’re about the sickness within. And I lament it. I had a sponsee who would constantly say: “I’m not even thinking about alcohol, so why shouldn’t I get a drink. I’m not like you.” I think he’s out there now. Driving high on crack and cursing those who told him he is a danger to himself and others. I’ve seen many people ask for help, think about it, and then decide they’d rather drink than recover.

But we’re all on our own journeys. I’m on mine. And I’m happy with where I am today. Life is good. I’m happy. I’m sober. And I’m moving forward. I’m not alone. None of us have to be.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Syd permalink
    18 October 2013 07:13

    The realization is what I call awareness–aware that I am not happy and that something is wrong. And then comes acceptance that I am powerless over people, places, and things including alcoholism. Then comes action to get well and live a life of recovery. Those are the three A’s in Al-Anon.

    • Bill LeeMaster permalink
      23 January 2020 12:49

      From the day I walked into “The Rooms”, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they are powerless over people, places and things. In point of fact, EVERYONE is (and isn’t) powerless over people, places and things. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with us being alcoholics. Breaking the word “powerless” into its components POWER and LESS aren’t we really saying that we have NO “power” in our own lives–except for the “power” of the disease which makes us do things which we already don’t want to do because in and of ourselves we have NO power in our lives to combat it? From the very moment in which we decide to seek a Power Greater Than Self and invite that Power into our lives, we are no longer “powerless”. In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the word “powerless” is only mentioned ONE time…in Step One where we admit that we are “powerless” over ALCOHOL–not people, places and things. On the other hand, “POWER” is mentioned 65 times…one of the best statements pertaining to that state of being is on Pg 132: “We have recovered and have been given the POWER to help others”.

  2. Guy permalink
    8 December 2013 03:36

    I’m so grateful to have found your site. I did get to 4.5 years sober and was married to the woman of my dreams. Times got so tough financially and that took its toll on us. I had to leave her 6.8.12 after so many arguments and horrible name calling. I was so sad and alone by Nov 2012 I started to drink again. We have now got divorced and she has another man and I am devastated. I so hope I can recover again. I so hope we may find each other again

    • 8 December 2013 09:58

      I’m sorry for your losses and your relapse. Thank you for reaching out to comment. That’s a great first step. I’d say: get to a meeting. Set a sobriety date. Follow it up. Get a sponsor. Don’t worry now about anything but that.

      Relationships happen, or don’t, or start or end. You can’t control any of that. All you can do is surrender to your alcoholism and work the program. If you do that, I promise the rest will work out. Maybe not the way you want right now, but in a way that is incredible.

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