Step 1

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

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions presents an excellent introduction to the Steps and the Traditions of AA. The chapter on the First Step covers the following ideas and concepts:

  • Why it is hard to admit defeat
  • Physical allergy with a mental obsession
  • Need to “raise the bottom”
  • The fatal nature of addiction opens minds

Only occasionally do you see someone in Alcoholics Anonymous who tries to “work the Steps” before they stop drinking. There is a fairly universal understanding that first you stop drinking, and then you work the Steps so that you will stay stopped. And yet Step One says that they are powerless over alcohol, so how could they just stop?

Well, you admit you cannot do it by yourself, and the hospital, the Program, or the people in the Twelve-Step programs have a power greater than you by yourself, and that, for now, you allow that power to work for you. That is Steps One, Two, and Three, even if you have no idea what the Steps are!

Hitting Bottom

There is a saying in the Twelve-Step programs, that you must be “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Others call it “hitting bottom.” We think it means reaching an awareness that you have exhausted your resources. It means that you have tried enough things to know that there is not likely to be another book, or spa, or gimmick that will enable you to control your addictive behavior satisfactorily, by yourself.

Both Powerlessness and Unmanageability

Awareness of powerlessness and unmanageability is needed to use the First Step as a tool. If you are aware of your powerlessness over your addictive behavior, and the unmanageability that powerlessness causes in your life, then you will do whatever you need to do to recover, including using all the rest of the Steps.

If you think your life is unmanageable because of your addictive behavior, but you are still nurturing the illusion that you will be able to control it any day now, you will probably allow other priorities to supersede recovery.

Or, if you can freely admit that you can’t control it, but you are maintaining a delusion that it really isn’t interfering with your life very much, then you recognize powerlessness without unmanageability, and again you will not give recovery the priority it needs.


Step One, see also: Abstinence, Bingeing, Control, Crisis, Delusion, Detachment, Half-measures, Hitting bottom, Honesty, Powerlessness, Step Two, Steps of AA, Unmanageability.

Updated 9 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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