Sunday, November 09, 2008

Step One

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about Step Nine.  People commented about that.  I thought about it some and thought I would like to write a bit about my experience with the steps.  You all have heard enough about my running, my shoes, my job, my cooking, and my knitting to keep you going for at least 12 days, so I thought I would write each day for 12 days about the steps.  It is important to note that I am not writing instructions or guidance on the steps... I am writing about my experience with them.  There are plenty of books with the ultimate interpretations of the steps, but in my opinion there were two books written with all I need to know about them...  the big book, and the 12 & 12.  This is just me writing about my experience, OK?

"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

When I got to AA, I knew I drank WAY too much.  I knew I was sick of it.  I knew that there was something very very wrong with my life.  I knew I was suicidal most of the time.  I knew I was a lousy wife and mother.  A lousy housekeeper, a lousy bookkeeper, a lousy most everything.  When I got to AA, I was honestly thrilled to think that I might have *one* problem instead of the thousands I thought I had.  

I thought I might be a little bit of an alcoholic.  It only took a few weeks in AA to realize that I related to the drinking of almost everyone.  The housewife, the nun, the stock-broker, the doctor, the bank robber, the Larimer Street (it used to be skid row in Denver before it got gentrified) wino, and the person who was locked up in the nut house.  I sat around an AA club and swapped stories with bikers and truckers and bankers and lawyers.  It took only a short while to realize that not once had I ever said "holy cow, I never drank like you guys!"  Not once. 

I was thrilled to stop drinking.  It hurt like hell for the first weeks.  I was shaking.  I was sick.  I was waking up with night sweats.  I was sick as a dog.  But I was so relieved.  It was actually easier to be sick than to be doing what I had tried for years - controlled drinking.  I loved being sober. I loved throwing in the towel and saying I couldn't do it anymore.  It was a tremendous relief.

But after a few months of sobriety, I didn't get the idea of powerlessness.  I thought I was powerful enough to stop drinking.  I thought I was powerful enough to go out and get a job and leave my husband and get an apartment and pay my bills, etc.  It took me nearly five years to "get" the idea of powerlessness and unmanageability.  

When I woke up on the wrong side of the locked doors of a psychiatric ward at 4 1/2 years of sobriety, I suddenly knew what it meant for your life to be unmanageable.  I had managed my life well enough to drive myself into suicidal exhaustion.  I had always laughed at the folks in AA who had lost everything but then would say "but I didn't pick up a drink!"  As if that was a good thing!  Well, on that morning in January 1989, I realized that the fact that I hadn't taken a drink WAS a good thing indeed, in fact miraculous, and that it was good enough.  I knew I had lots of work ahead of me and I was willing to do it.

Somehow it is a lot easier to turn it all over to God when you are in such a jam.  And I did.  But this time I never took it back... but I am getting ahead to other steps.

For me, Step One is ever-evolving.  I have over the years come to know my powerlessness on a cellular level.  I am sure it will continue to evolve as long as I am open to learning and haven't decided that I know it all.  

One of my favorite Step One stories is this:  I was sober almost 6 years.  I was about to marry a man.  I was living as an illegal alien migrant farm worker in Canada (I thought that was a hilarious, but oh-so-accurate way to describe my status).  He was an Australian crop-duster.  I was working for him doing the books.  We were in a remote town in Alberta.  I could not find an AA meeting.  I think I went 6 weeks without a meeting - however long we were in that place.  One fine day, my soon-to-be-husband asked me to stand in the road and stop traffic so that he could use the highway as his runway.  

I started crying.  I started walking around in circles, pulling my hair.  I told him "I am from Chicago!  I can't do this!  I don't belong here!"  Suddenly it occurred to me that I was behaving like a wimp!  I knew I was not a wimp, so I asked myself what was wrong with me that I was acting like this.  The thought came to me like a thunderbolt - "You need a beer."  And then next thought was "WHAT?  I haven't had a drink for nearly 6 years!  How can I need a beer?"  

Then I realized that I either need to be actively involved in AA, or I truly do need a drink.  Left to my own devices, I am not capable of quitting drinking, or being a viable human being.  I need to acknowledge my powerless over alcohol and my inability to manage my own life.... and then things change.  And my life begins to look like something that is desirable.  It may look manageable because it does have a manager, but the manager is not me!

Step Two tomorrow...


Kim A. said...

As a grateful member of Alanon who attends open AA speaker meetings, I appreciate you sharing you own story. I have a son who is active and I have never heard in open AA meetings one person thank their mother for getting them sober! That reminds me to keep out of his way and let him go. If it weren't for the drinkers in my life, I wouldn't have found out just how powerless I was over my own life.

Lou said...

I'm looking forward to "theme week"

Scott W said...

Oh, I can't wait for part 2!

♥Shann♥ said...

I too can so relate, that I need meetings and this program in order to behave like a human being, and I have been in that spot you described on the highway, feeling that craziness... and always always always, the thought to drink, then fear, then, THANK GOD I get my ass to a meeting. Thank you for reminding me. I truly admire you

Laura said...

I never get tired of hearing the real life stories and I love Step One.

"It may look manageable because it does have a manager, but the manager is not me!" Boy, does this ring true and I may have to put it on a wall in my house.

Thank you for sharing.

Brad said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with Step One. Tonight, I'm planning on doing the same thing on my blog. I believe there is nothing more powerful in an alcoholic's life than these steps and it's always great to hear someone else share their journey! Can't wait for step two!

Brad :-)


Yep - sure sounds like step 1 to me. I could so relate. The depths of my powerlessness I can face only with the help of my higher power.

Shadow said...


dAAve said...

I love airplanes. Can you describe it?

Pam said...

yes-I too am in the mood for a theme week from you MC!
And ya know, when I'm at a hair pulling stage-it always pops in my head that I need a beer.

Just Another Sober Guy said...

THIS is a great idea and I have found you just in time to experience it as it happens!

Well, I didn't exactly find you, I was guided here by Steve, LOL Just as he guided a number of people here to me.

Admitting I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable was the asy part. It was the ACCEPTANCE of it that I needed to be hit over the head with!

Nice to meet ya!


AlkySeltzer said...

Great! My life IS manageable--because it has a manager. However, that manager is not....ME.

It is SO TRUE--what I heard long ago--that if someone else did to me what *I* did to me--mentally, physically, morally--I would still be in jail....for murder!

Syd said...

Thanks MC. I'm catching up on posts and I'm glad that I've caught this one. I didn't drink but had all the other stuff that you describe. My life was a mess inwardly but I kept that outside face of "I'm okay" going at work and to the world at large. But at home things were terrible. I'm grateful for the program that showed me a different way and that I am powerless.

Kathy Lynne said...

Thank you MC! I'm a tad behind in my reading but I am very grateful for this post...xo