One Thursday each month I will share one post on one of the 12 Steps. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” Step 1
“The idea that somehow, someday [the alcoholic] will control and enjoy his liquor drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death. We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 41).
When someone starts their journey of recovery from any addiction, the first step on that journey is an admission of powerlessness.
Sounds easy enough, right? Just say, “I can’t do it anymore! I’m not strong enough! I’m not capable enough to do this on my own! I’ve messed up and hurt people and am now ready to admit I have wronged others by my actions!”
Yeah, we all talk like that. All. The. Time. (hashtag: heavy sarcasm)
The admission of powerlessness is an admission that this thing I do has become so important to me that I would rather do the thing than maintain relationships. I would rather do the thing than be successful at work. I would rather keep doing the thing and die than stop doing it and live.
Admitting powerlessness is one of, if not the, most important act an addict will make. Because this admission involves utilizing the courage and strength necessary to finally say, “Help.”
If you attend 12 step meetings you will probably find that a large number of them deal with the first step. In AA lingo, you do not have to do any of the steps perfectly—except for the first one. When new people go to a meeting, the group will often shift the focus from what was planned to an open sharing time about the first step.*
Because addicts understand how difficult it is to admit defeat. How difficult it is to ask for help.
And how very vital admitting defeat and asking for help are in order to survive.
But what about people who are not addicts? Why would it be important to understand the first step?
If you are not an addict but you know one (and trust me: you do), you need to understand how difficult this is for them. Most addicts, regardless of addiction, truly wish to believe that one day they will be able to indulge in their addiction without it being a problem. But they cannot. That delusion has to be smashed.
So let me suggest some things non-addicts can do to support their addict friends.
First, let the addict know that being different is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a necessary thing. What makes the delusion hard to smash is that addicts have people in their lives who can indulge with impunity! As an example, I cannot drink alcohol. If I were to start again, I would not be able to stop. I have many friends who are able to drink and it is not an issue for them. But there are times when observing other people drinking responsibly and stopping (actually stopping!) stirs within me a type of jealousy that wants to say, “That’s not fair!”
When an addict sees other people using their substance in a responsible manner, the delusion rears its ugly head and the addict starts to think, “Maybe this time will be different.”
So it is important for the addict to have people surrounding them reminding them it will not be. Addicts need people in their lives who are willing to say, “Remember what happened before. Remember what you are trying to live like now.” Most of these people will come from the addict’s participation in 12 Step groups, but church communities, friends, and family members can provide a great encouragement by reminding the addict that they are different and that it is okay that they are different.
Second, let the addict know that being different is perfectly normal. I have friends who are vastly different than me. I learn from them. I laugh and cry with them. I spend time with them. Their differences do not prevent me from having relationship with them.
I even have friends who like to drink alcohol. One of the greatest things about my relationship with them is that they do not allow my recovery to dictate how they live, nor do I use my recovery as weapon against the choices they make in their lives.
Do not be afraid to still spend life with a recovering addict. We are dealing with all sorts of grief, pain, and guilt. We are learning what the “new normal” of our lives is going to look like. We are enduring enough different-ness in our lives already. What we need is to have friends who will just be present with us.
Third, spend time together. Community is vitally important. 12 Step groups get this. But sometimes, recovering addicts need to experience community that is not centrally focused on recovery. We need to eat dinner, go to movies, watch sporting events, attend birthday parties, and worship in safe environments with loving, caring people.
Although often unintentional, addicts are often looked at as if they suffer from a modern-day leprosy. As addicts begin the process of admitting they are powerless and need help, they need to know that there are people who will still walk with them and share life with them. Many addicts have lost their closest relationships due to the consequences of their addiction. We are in desperate need for relationship, especially early in the process of recovery.
Recovery is a long, arduous process. And it begins with a cry for help. It begins with an admission of powerlessness.
How can you provide support for people struggling with admission? What are you already doing? Please feel free to share!
*I base this statement on my experience with many groups in several states over a number of years. Your specific community may not be the same. I would encourage you to look for Open 12 Step group meetings in your area and attend at least one. You may be amazed at what you learn!