What is Step 1 of the 12 Steps Program?
Following up last week’s post on The 12 Steps, this week begins a series of posts that examine each of the steps in more detail.
Step One of the 12 Steps: We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction–that our lives had become unmanageable.
“I can handle it” is one of humanity’s favorite phrases; most of us demand the right to dress ourselves before we can tell the front of our shirts from the back. To a large degree, our craving for self-sufficiency is a good thing. If babies’ attitudes toward practicing their walking matched those of the average teenager asked to help with the housework (“Do I have to try to stand up? … I don’t feel like toddling today. … Can’t you just do the walking for both of us? You were fine with that when I was younger!”), homo sapiens might be largely a four-legged species.
On the other hand, every parent knows that kids have a tendency to prematurely consider themselves ready for new things–and while waiting fifteen minutes as a three-year-old struggles with his clothes is dangerous only in the strain it puts on the caregiver’s patience, when the child also demands to cross a busy street alone, the best answer is a firm “You’re not ready” and a firm grip on his hand. Twelve years later, the resulting scene may replay itself–complete with tantrum–when he announces he plans to take a three-week bike trip and camp out by the highway each night, accompanied only by two friends who also are just below driver’s-license age.
Once we’re finally old enough to qualify for driver’s licenses, voter registration, and legal drinking, the approach to independence tends to shift from “I can take on a new responsibility by myself” to “I can handle every responsibility life tosses up, by myself”–an idea that many doctors would give half a year’s income to get out of the heads of high-blood-pressure and heart patients. It’s equally frustrating to be faced with a friend or relative who has an obvious substance addiction and is stubbornly determined to believe that, with the next try or just a little more effort, he or she can get rid of the associated problems without changing anything else. “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (quote attributed to Albert Einstein).
Step One of the 12 Steps: Giving Up Sanity
The final decision to give up such insanity—knowing it will take with it something one doesn’t want to give up–can ultimately be made only by the individual. If you’re ready to admit that you can’t “handle it” by sticking to old patterns, you’re ready to take Step One toward becoming better. (If you aren’t sure or don’t want to seriously consider the possibility, check our post about how to recognize substance abuse.)
It’s worth noting that admitting “I am powerless and my life is unmanageable” is hard to say not only because it threatens to tear from us a habit that’s become a favorite coping strategy and an old friend. The admission strikes a hard blow at our pride, the inherent craving to be capable of perfecting ourselves. To say “I was wrong; I can’t handle this” feels like saying “I am incapable of doing everything I want to do and should do, which makes me weak, which makes me an inferior specimen of humanity, which makes me unfit to be trusted with anything or ask for anything.”
“Everyone Makes Mistakes”
Funny how we are so quick to notice others’ imperfections and to accept their apologies with “It’s okay, everyone makes mistakes”–and yet somehow we can’t believe that anyone besides ourselves might have major weaknesses they are struggling to overcome, or could have required painful effort or help for the things at which they have succeeded. Perhaps it’s a holdover from childhood when we’re surrounded by grown people who often strike us as unfair and as holding out impossible ideals, yet who are so much more experienced and physically capable that it still seems logical to think they might always be right about everything. Most of us grow out of that idea; may we also mature out of the idea that admitting our powerlessness will make things worse.
Remember: If you actually can handle it without repercussions, it’s not an addiction (though that doesn’t necessarily make it the best use of your time). If, however, you continue to wake up with hangovers and see your everyday performance deteriorating; if you’re spending more money on the habit than you know you can afford; if you fly into full defensive mode whenever someone complains about your “using”–and if all this continues to happen despite your swearing every night that this time you’ll stop at a reasonable limit, and promising yourself every morning that you’ll stay away from it completely at least for a while–it’s time to admit you could use help.
Begin Recovery at Kemah Palms
The 12 step recovery program is one of many addiction treatment options at Kemah Palms Recovery. Our Texas addiction treatment center offers multiple levels of care, including:
- Medical detox program
- Residential addiction treatment program
- Intensive outpatient program
- Partial hospitalization program
More About the 12 Steps
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