Taking Step One

Version I 6/9/2000

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We are the Big Book Bunch group of Alcoholics Anonymous. Our origins are the Students of the Big Book group, which has met in Woodland Hills, California since December of 1985. Our goals are to live the spiritual process through which sobriety is obtained and enhanced, and to publish (at no charge) our experience for other recovering alcoholics. We have absolutely no affiliation with any organization or cause other than our membership as individuals in A.A..

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Here are the steps we took:  1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

That is what the authors of the Big Book and millions before you did.  To personalize the step for your study and action in the here and now, however, you may wish to rephrase it as:

STEP ONE. I admit that I am powerless over alcohol—that my life has become unmanageable.


Big Book: The Doctor's Opinion:
  Chapter 3, More about Alcoholism 
12&12: Step 1

If you have recently returned to A.A. after doing some alcoholism research, you will learn more about the mind that took you out if you take our Bottle Inventory .... understanding the relapse. 

.As we take Step 1, we separate it into its first and second halves:

STEP 1a. I admit that I am powerless over alcohol....

Although Step 1, itself, does not require that we admit to being "alcoholic", ....

We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. [Big Book page 30, line 11]

And what does AA say an alcoholic is? The definition is scattered through the literature, but a test is offered in the first paragraph of Chapter 4. This test is twofold:

a. If when drinking alcohol do you find it difficult to stop?, and
b. If not drinking alcohol, do you experience difficulty in leaving it alone?

The first test measures our alcohol compulsion, which Daniel W. defines as, "An impulse or feeling of being irresistibly driven toward the performance of some action which is irrational." Dr.. Silkworth, in The Doctor's Opinion, tells us that:

...the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker, [Big Book page xxvi, line 4]

The body is in the clutches of alcohol, and alcohol controls the mental processes which, in turn, keep the alcohol flowing into the body.

The second test measures our alcohol obsession, "the persistent and disturbing intrusion of, or anxious and inescapable preoccupation with, an idea or emotion...". In other words, it seems as if the alcohol calls us with voice irresistible until we have little choice but to start the drinking process anew. This affliction is strictly mental until the alcohol enters the body. Then, we are back to the first test—again. In fact, 

...the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body. [Big Book page 23, line 5]

...the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking...(are)... the crux of the problem, [Big Book page 35, line 1]

Confucius say:  (He really did, too)
Man take drink
Drink take drink
then, Drink take man!

If you haven't made the concession of being alcoholic yet, don't quit! And, if perchance you are still drinking, then don't quit trying to quit! The primary purpose of taking this step is to bring about the conviction and admission that you are alcoholic. Part of your conviction should be the absolute certainty that the next drink will lead to undesirable consequences (to say the least).

Writing: Your writing will commence with laying out some facts about your drinking. The simplest way to do this is to begin with the last drinking bout, providing the information set forth below, then proceed in reverse chronology until no significant new facts are to be uncovered.
Your goal is to set forth evidence of the mental processes that led to the first drink, and that your physical, mental, and spiritual states are taken over and subjugated by alcohol when it is introduced into your body. For example:

1. On June 20, after 3 weeks of abstinence, I had a few beers with the crew after a really hot 10 hour Friday.

I drank because: I just had to cool off, to renew my relationships with my old drinking buddies, to forget my boss's threat to replace us if we didn't speed up, to check out the ladies at the Golden Suds, and to show my nagging Alanon wife that she couldn't control me all the time.

This is what happened: I had two or three pitchers, got in a fight with John Jones, told the boss's nephew he was a nerd, spent half of my paycheck on floozies in the bar (with no physical relief, either), suffered a black-out between midnight and bar closing, parked the car in the neighbor's front yard, was locked out of my bedroom, spent the weekend puking alone, had a horrible hangover on Monday, and was placed on suspension at work.

Did alcohol work for me? It seemed to cool me off for a few minutes, but none of the other results I had in mind happened. As usual, a number of other unanticipated things also happened, all of which were not wanted. No, it didn't work—again, and I am truly lucky that no permanent damage resulted. 

2. The whole month of May was the total pits.

I drank because: It didn't occur to me that not drinking was an option. I just couldn't stand the nagging of the wife, and the looks of the kids. It was necessary, somehow to just shut them off. The only thing in life that was tolerable was pool at the Golden Suds with my pals—they understood. I was desperate for relief, and I was coming to the horrible realization that I might never find it, that I would just keep going on and on and worse and worse.

This is what happened: Whatever relief I found in the bottle was superficial. My doctor told me I needed to cut down. I almost got arrested for crashing into the freeway divider. My pals really just tolerated me. They didn't give a damn about me. Work was unbearable, what with the hangovers, short hours, and a boss who didn't understand. I was getting 2 or 3 black-outs a week. The kids were never there. The wife was a beast. I was always sick.

Did alcohol work for me? Nothing worked anymore. My greatest fear was that it would never end. The beer was no good. I got sick. Wine tasted like bile. Whisky blacked me out. I didn't know what to do. 

3. (You should have the idea by now.) Continue until the learning value wastes away.

In conclusion: provide answers to these questions.

STEP 1b. I admit that my life has become unmanageable...

You have just swallowed some painful truths about your drinking. Upon even trivial reflection it is obvious that your thinking hasn't been too rational, either, when it comes to the drink problem. Have you managed your drinking career well?

The mentality we have when it comes to drinking, however, is but one part of a deeper thinking impairment which impacts almost every aspect of our consciousness. You may have noticed expressions such as these in the Big Book:

...illusion, delusion, self deception, lurking notion, peculiar mental twist, curious mental phenomenon, insane idea, foolish idea, insanity, absurd and incomprehensible behavior, queer ideas, strangely insane, subtle insanity, strange mental blank spots...[Big Book, various pages].

You undoubtedly have your own favorite expressions gleaned from pages 30 - 43 in the Big Book. But humor aside, there must be a serious message here that our own minds—quite aside from the drink problem—cannot be trusted with running us.

Writing: Put down some thoughts/actions and vacancies/inactions that might lead you to doubt your capability to run your own life or the affairs of others. Examples might be:

I married my first wife because she liked to party. I divorced her because she couldn't hold her liquor. I made my oldest boy become a veterinarian because I liked horses. I got into steel working because it was dangerous. I socked my best friend because he voted for McGovern. I hate my step father because he wants to visit us every two years. My neighbor is weak because he is fat. I repair my own car because the local mechanic is an Arab. We installed a pool for partying. etc..

Many members of AA feel a need to write an Immoral inventory (as opposed to the moral inventory of Step 4). If you have such a need, get it out of your system here.

In the course of writing our terminal drinking experiences, we have discovered that answering these questions is helpful.

a. When I decided to take the first drink of that last drinking bout......

  1. Had I answered the 20 questions suggested by Johns Hopkins Hospital? If so, what was my "score"?

  2. Did I know that I had a problem with alcohol?

  3. Was drinking habitual?

  4. Did I have good reasons not to drink?

  5. Was I aware of the reasons not to drink while I was deciding to drink?

  6. Did I convince myself that I deserved a drink as a reward?

  7. Did I expect the drink to work for me?

  8. Did it work for me?

  9. Was I optimistic about my future?

  10. Did I have a sense of hopeless, dread or impending doom?

  11. Did I consider myself worthy of a good life?

b. Was there a moment of clarity or a traumatic event that contributed to my not taking a next drink after the final bout ended?

In conclusion: It is more than likely that 85 - 95 % of your ideas and mental processes are right-on, and that the remainder will, as a minimum, get you or others into trouble. Our problem, it seems, is that we can't differentiate the good ideas from the bad.  What is our prognosis?

Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense." [Big Book page 43, line 26]

And to remove the mental defense loop hole, how about this:

We are without defense against the first drink. [Big Book page 24, line 12]

When delusion based thinking fully established in an individual with alcoholic tendencies, he has probably placed himself beyond human aid, and unless locked up, may die or go permanently insane. [Big Book page 24, line 29]

So many want to stop but cannot. [Big Book page 25, line 3]

The prognosis of a meaningful and joyful life, even while experiencing abstinence, is also dubious, because

...our troubles...are...of our own making. They arise out of ourselves. The alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. [Big Book page 62, line 15]

In view of the following dire prediction (bold style has been added for emphasis) you may wonder if there is any hope at all....

Among physicians, the general opinion seems to be that most chronic alcoholics are doomed. [Big Book page xxviii, line 32]

They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery. [Big Book page xxvi, line 34]

The principle of Step 1. A.A. is big on principles. (Look up "principle" in the dictionary.) In fact, the word appears 36 times in the Big Book. Just one instance is,

The principles we have set down are guides to progress. [Big Book page 60, line 10]

We try to distill each of the steps into its fundamental principle. What is the principle of Step 1? (Clue—it may be hopelessness. Would you believe, capitulation? or, could it be surrender?)

Obviously, there has to be more to recovery from alcoholism than admitting total defeat. Step 2 provides some hope.

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