Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” I think that for many alcoholics and addicts, that admission is pretty easy. Most of us have tried to stop drinking and failed, or tried to manage our using and failed. And, for those of us who have lost jobs or relationships, it’s usually pretty clear that addiction was the cause. But, for Step One to work, we must do more than just admit that we are powerless over addiction. We must become willing to do whatever it takes to get well.
In AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step One says that we “must become as “willing to listen as the dying can be.” This is the key to successfully working a first step. It’s hard to accept that our addiction has destroyed our lives. It’s harder still to accept that on our own, we simply cannot fix the problem. Recovery means changing EVERYTHING about our lives. It’s scary to walk into the unknown – even when what we know is terrible. But, we must become willing to stop trying to solve addiction problems ourselves – and, as the sign above suggests, we must find another way.
When I got into recovery, I didn’t want to follow direction. I’m hardly alone in that. But, addiction cost me everything and nearly killed me. I was positive I was dying. And, after some thought, I realized I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live – just without being a slave to drugs. And, an interesting thing happened. I stopped balking at authority figures. I stopped arguing about doing things I didn’t want to do (like going to meetings, getting a sponsor, trusting the process, working the steps). By seeing myself as a dying person, I became unbelievably willing to save myself. And, this is why Step One worked for me. I didn’t just admit I was an alcoholic and an addict. I became willing to do ANYTHING and everything to choose life.
Four years later, I was diagnosed with cancer. I looked the possibility of dying in the eye, and instantly was willing to do whatever I had to do to save myself. Somehow, becoming as willing as the dying would be is easier when death appears directly in front of us and denial is impossible. I submitted my will to the care of doctors, surgeons, and nurses who administered chemo. I didn’t like any of it, but I never balked. I just fought for my life. And, that is what every alcoholic or addict must do to achieve sobriety – use every ounce of fight we have to save our lives. When we approach addition convinced we are dying, all rebellious thoughts give way, and we become willing to listen to our recovered fellows. After all, the directions they followed worked for them.
In nearly fourteen years of sobriety, I’ve not met one person who has stayed sober in the absence of willingness. I know a man who was an addict for many years. His negative consequences piled up like dirty plates stacked in the sink of a busy diner. He went to jail. He became a felon. He couldn’t get a job. His negative self-talk and world view remained unchanged. And, for a time, he remained clean and sober. But, the willingness to follow direction was not there. He was not even close to becoming as willing as the dying would be. In the absence of direction, he convinced himself that his drug of choice was his only problem. Other drugs, like marijuana, were just fine.
He was offered residential treatment while in jail. He refused to go, and chose to spend his time in jail instead. He didn’t go to a single meeting. He didn’t get a sponsor, didn’t read the Big Book, and didn’t work a single step. He never made amends, never regained his self-esteem, and never felt the hope that comes from clearing the wreckage of our past.
His unwillingness has created as much havoc in his life now as he experienced while using. As someone who was as willing as the dying could be, and who has experienced the psychic change the Big Book promises we’ll experience if we stay sober, watching the unwilling is excruciatingly painful for me. And, it’s not just because it’s hard to see someone who deserves to be happy miss that opportunity. It’s because I know that eventually, life will swallow someone whole unless they work a program. Staunch unwillingness is sometimes a precursor to death.
I wish I didn’t have stories to tell about friends who were unwilling and wound up dead. But, I do have those stories And, that is the reality of addiction. If we aren’t as willing as the dying would be to fight for our sobriety, our lives are endangered every single day.
In Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step One says that no alcoholic wishes to become rigorously honest. None of us want to work as hard as we can to go in an unknown direction. But, “under the lash of alcoholism,” we realize that willingness is our ONLY HOPE of finding the way out.
I had another friend. Sit and think about that sentence. I HAD another friend. That’s a powerful and painful statement. She had gone to residential treatment, had gone to meetings, had a sponsor, had worked steps, and celebrated seveal years of recovery. But, one day, she decided that recovery just wasn’t for her. All of her willingness evaporated in an instant. She chose to manage her alcoholism alone – and, she drank heavily again. And, one day I got the worst phone call one can ever get, and was told she’d killed herself. I was grief-stricken, heartbroken, devastated, and PETRIFIED. Because the moral of that horrible story is that we must always remain as willing as the dying would be. If we drop that willingness or compromise it, we risk the very real permanence of death.
I’m writing about these hard truths, because I am an addict. I have had to accept that I have a disease that can kill me IN AN INSTANT if I’m not careful. But, there’s also this. I have a treatable disease, and the miracles that have happened from treating it are more than I can count. I’m just like you. I’m human. I see a margarita at a restaurant, and sometimes think it looks refreshing, fun, and delicious. But, I know exactly what to do when I have those thoughts. I follow the directions I’ve been given. I tell someone. I play the tape through and see myself sobbing after ignoring the amends I made to my family. I imagine myself sitting in my wrecked car because I made the selfish decision to drive drunk. When I do this, an amazing thing happens every time. The waiter comes to the table and says “would you like something from our drink menu”, and I say no, thank you – I’ll have a Diet Coke. I leave with my sobriety in tact, and with hope for tomorrow.
But, most of all, I leave alive.
If drugs or alcohol have sucked the hope out of your life, we’re here to help you rediscover life and joy in recovery. You’ll need to do some work, but it won’t be nearly as hard as the work you’ve been doing to stay drunk or high. We’ll guide you, help you find yourself again, help you reconnect with your true purpose in life, and we’ll help you save yourself.
If that sounds good to you, please use the contact form below and reach out to us.