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.