I Don’t Understand the First Step – What is Unmanageability?

The first step in the 12 step recovery process is that we admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. By the time that we get sober most of us had either realized we were powerless while we were still active in our drinking or right when we got sober. The second half of that first step, however, can be challenging for us to come to terms with. If we see we have a problem with drugs and alcohol, it is easier to admit that yes, we are powerless, or yes, we do have a problem. Most of us don’t like the idea that our lives had become unmanageable, however. Still, we must examine our lives when drinking. We couldn’t hold down a job or relationship, and a lot of us lost our homes. With this admission, it’s easy to take the necessary actions that need to occur to experience the freedom of step one. However, what is the true meaning of Step One? 

Breaking Down Step One

It is associated with alcohol and drugs in the beginning. It is important to remember this, but as time passes, this step is viewed differently. We come to the belief that we are powerless over our thinking and that our lives have become unmanageable for this reason. Our lives were unmanageable because of our thought process. We thought that circumstances or other people were to blame for how terrible our lives had become. How could it be our responsibility when it’s everyone else’s fault? Well, that is the key to doing Step One. You have to have the willingness and open mind to realize that maybe all of it is your fault, that you are responsible for what your life became. 

This second half of the first step is also associated with surrender. The first surrender is the surrender to being an alcoholic. The second surrender is the surrender to self. The surrender to self is the answer to all of our problems. Once we are willing to take a look at how sour our life became and take responsibility, we realize that we were the cause of it all. We had done something at some point that caused tension or ruined relationships. We saw that every time we tried to take charge and control everything around us, we ended up in awful conditions. 

Letting Go Of Control

Control is a mechanism that substance use disorder sufferers love to utilize. We think that everything will be okay or will go our way if people would just listen to us. With this mentality, we are saying that we know what’s best for ourselves and for others at any given point. This is not the truth. When we try to control situations, we typically end up upsetting those around us. We step on their toes; they get angry and retaliate. Because we are obsessed with control, we are still the ones responsible in that scenario. We will try to manipulate or orchestrate entire situations because we think we know better. 

However, the idea that we know best is entirely delusional. This idea is insane because we have admitted that we are powerless over our thoughts, and our lives have become unmanageable because of it. That means that we suffer from a perception problem. We don’t see the truth and only see what we think is the truth. We don’t realize our minds are hazy and cloudy. With time the cloudiness will subside and pass, but in the beginning, that is our main issue. The 12 steps are designed to help you remove that and change your perception entirely. Since our perception is skewed, we can never make actual rational decisions that will benefit us or others. 

The Answer? 

The answer is joining a community and diving into the 12 steps. A Higher Power will be able to restore you back to sanity, as it says in the second step. To do the next few steps and place your trust in a Higher Power, you must admit that your life is unmanageable because of you. Without this admission, you won’t be able to actually accomplish the next few steps. This admission is also the first thing you must do to start the recovery process. After you have done this, you can begin to look at how to build a Higher Power relationship. You will begin to differentiate whenever you are in self-will or when you’re actually trusting your new way of thinking and living.

The easiest way to determine this is if you find yourself trying to control or manipulate to make something happen, it most likely isn’t supposed to happen. If you find yourself being in fear about what is occurring and reacting based on that fear, you are most likely experiencing self-will. If the situation feels comfortable and fluid, it is probably God’s will. If you come to a point where your life is unmanageable yet again, you have probably followed self-will. It may happen hundreds and thousands of times in your sobriety, but don’t let that deter you. It’s all a process, and it doesn’t get better overnight.

The First Step is the key to freedom through a 12-Step program. However, for most people, there is a step even before that one: asking for help. If your life seems to be falling apart, and you can’t pick up the pieces quickly enough, give us a call at Choice House. We are here to support you from the first step of your journey to wherever your path leads you. Our staff will help you to build skills and learn tools to help you keep moving forward even after your time with us. Choice House is a recovery program based in Boulder focused on treating addiction and co-occurring disorders. Call us today at (720) 577-4422 to learn more.


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