by Jennifer M.
I’ve always been a fighter. Throughout my life, I would stand up for my own rights or those of others. I would go after my goals with a fierceness only matched by the zeal with which I pursued my next drink. I saw myself as someone who could get knocked down in life, but would get back up again, stronger and better than before.
As years passed, and my alcoholism progressed, I clung to the idea that the answer to all my problems was willpower. After all, I had accomplished a number of goals in my life up to that point by determination and perseverance. Surely this drinking problem could be tackled in the same way.
When I first tried to get sober, I was 25. I had overdosed by accident after a regular night out at the bar and the next morning, still alive thankfully, I vowed that I would never drink again. And I didn’t. Until two years later.
Thus began an ongoing cycle of controlled drinking, periodic out-of-control binges followed by more controlled drinking, a drunken scene that I would decide was the final straw, and yet another attempt at sobriety. People who knew me suggested AA. I said I didn’t need a program to help me quit drinking – I could quit drinking perfectly fine on my own, thank you very much. After all, look at how many times I’ve quit! When someone in my life finally suggested that quitting drinking wasn’t exactly my problem, but that STAYING quit seemed to be a bit more of a challenge, I decided that I might need help after all.
When I arrived at my first AA meeting and heard Step 1, I was confused. Powerless? Unmanageable? I was neither of those things. My life appeared convincingly managed. I could manage all sorts of things: my job, my home environment, my relationships. As AA’s premise was an acknowledgement of powerlessness, the 12 steps made no sense to me. I already felt as though I wasn’t good enough in so many ways; now I had to admit complete defeat?? As time passed, and I attended more and more meetings, and heard other alcoholics share their stories, I began to hear my own story reflected in their words. The circumstances might have been different, but the negative thinking and self-hatred and sadness and fear? Those were the same, whether a 75 yr-old man with 40 years in recovery or an 18 yr-old newcomer was speaking. I started to believe, that maybe, just maybe, I belonged here. It took a couple of “controlled drinking” experiments just to be sure, but eventually I began to realize the truth of Step 1: I really was powerless over alcohol. I had years and years and countless experiences to provide proof that when I marched onto the battlefield with my opponent alcohol, I was defeated every time.
That realization, that I was powerless over this thing, this disease, was demoralizing. I had been going at this all wrong! I had been taught my whole life that when you came up against a challenge or obstacle, you fought back. You fought until you won. However, when it came to the disease of alcoholism, I was fighting a losing battle. And when I accepted that I was powerless, that nothing I could do on my own would rid me of this disease, I actually felt some relief. I could stop fighting. If I could accept that I have a spiritual malady and a physical inability to consume alcohol without experiencing the phenomenon of craving, perhaps I could start to move forward.
Still, acknowledging that my life was unmanageable took more time. I was certain it was only when I picked up a drink that things had the tendency to spiral out of control. Other than that, I believed I could manage just fine. But as time passed in sobriety, and I procrastinated on doing the steps, and stopped attending as many meetings, the unmanageability of my life became more and more obvious. I was no longer drinking, but I was still experiencing the chaos of my disease. The drinking hadn’t actually been the problem, as it turns out. The drinking was one of my many misguided attempts to manage the things in my life that were out of control: my emotions, my thoughts, my behaviours, my views of myself and the world.
Accepting our lack of power in our own lives and in the world at large is frightening. No one wants to feel helpless and ineffective, and I know in my case that my self-esteem had already been so battered and bruised by years of alcoholic living that I didn’t think it could take yet another hit.
As it turns out, accepting my powerlessness and the unmanageability of my life is one of the many gifts that the program of Alcoholics Anonymous has given me. I no longer have to desperately keep trying to swim against the current, terrified that at any moment a wave is going to wash over my head and finally drown me. Step 1 has given me the foundation I needed to re-build a different life; a better one, as it turns out. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still hard, and there are days where my life still feels completely unmanageable. But Step 1 reminds me that it’s okay, that I don’t have to fight anymore, and that there is a solution. And that gives me hope.