“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
It sounds so simple, but it is the toughest of steps for any alcoholic to take, whether that alcoholic chooses the path of a 12 step programme or not. Yet, this step is key to any alcoholic getting and staying sober.
For each person with an alcohol use disorder this step will look different; this is my experience.
Step 1, Part I: Powerlessness
Tuesday 16 April 2019: Co. Kerry Ireland
There was nothing unusual about this day. I was in the middle of the second week of visiting my parents in Ireland. Before we left for the trip I had made the usual promises to not drink too much, and as usual I had not been able to live up to that promise. It was 3am and I was sat in my parents lounge alone. Everyone else had gone to bed and I had stayed up continuing to drink alone. As often happened I sat there feeling sorry for myself and wondering why I had drank too much again that night, except on this night, for some reason I rose out of my chair and went into the bedroom I shared with my partner, woke them and said “I’ve got to stop drinking, I can’t go on like this” and I cried for the first time in years.
I still do not understand what motivated me to take action on that night. It is probably what most would describe as a divine intervention or some such thing, it certainly was not unusual for me to have these thoughts, but it was unheard of for me to actually share them with another person.
You might be forgiven for reading that account and thinking that I had done Step 1 there and then, onto Step 2 next. However, you would be very much mistaken in your thinking. In that moment I think I thought that I could still overpower my obsession to drink, if only I could stop and reset the system – a bit like a dodgy computer – but if you had asked me if I was “powerless” over alcohol, I would have thought you daft. I just had not tried hard enough and I needed a plan. I could master this if I applied some thought and effort.
I continued to drink after my declaration, but I did make a plan. My birthday was in just over a week’s time and obviously I could not give up before that, we had guests coming after all. My plan was to cease drinking on the Monday after my guests had left. It was a running joke in my family for years that my Nan’s diet would start on Monday – she’d say it at every Sunday lunch and it never materialised. I made plans for my “last week of drinking” and had a mental list of all the drinks I wanted to get in before the end. Does that sound like someone who has completed Step 1?
We arrived home from Ireland on the Sunday – a clear week before I would be giving up – and I started day 1 of my last week of drinking. The usual sparkling wine before dinner, red wine with dinner – and extra bottle opened because it was my last week of drinking – and when my partner retired for the night, a little whisky in my coffee and just a bit more whisky than coffee.
I awoke on the Bank Holiday Monday of Easter 2019 at around 12pm with a raging hangover. I felt guilty to have left my partner to deal with two tired children all morning, but my head was pounding and I couldn’t face helping out during the afternoon either. Poor me. The only thing is I was now beginning to feel it, that powerlessness, I was beginning to understand some of that and I think I knew that I was not going to give up in a week’s time. Monday would come and go and like my Nan’s diets, my cessation would never materialise. I did not know where to turn or how to stop and I knew that I had to stop.
Then I remembered that a friend had told me that when she felt alone and scared as a single parent she went on Twitter and searched for “single parents” and found a whole group of people that understood her and her situation. She made friends that spilled over into real life and found a support network that had previously not existed for her. Desperately, I grabbed my phone and made a new anonymous Twitter account and began my search of key words: “Sobriety”, “Alcoholic”, “Recovery” and that’s how I found it, #RecoveryPosse, I asked for help and received it in spades and the resounding message was “stop today” and “get to AA”.
Overwhelmed by the support and nervous as all hell, I decided that I knew nothing about how to get sober, but these people seemed to – so I will do as I’m told. I had surrendered my fight and asked for help and I was making the earliest and most tentative steps towards Step 1. What remained much harder to admit, for me, was that my life had become unmanageable and it would be sometime before I would even begin to accept that.
Step 1 is the absolute foundation to recovery, but so many of us assume that just showing up to AA or reading volumes of recovery literature is accepting that we are alcoholic. The truth is that admitting to being powerless over anything relies on us to ask for help to overcome our difficulties – to accept that we cannot do it alone. In AA the emphasis is on a “Higher Power”, but it just means that you accept that you alone have not had the power to get and remain sober and that it is time to ask for help.
Step 1, Part II: The Unmanageability of Life will be published in due course.
© @SobrietyMatt 2020