A core principle behind the First Step is recognizing that we have two chronic disorders--chemical dependency and an emotional or psychiatric illness. These two no-fault illnesses are creating big problems in our lives. That everyway we have tried to cope with these problems has not worked. We simply cannot do it alone. Help is required.
When I was in treatment they had us draw up timelines of our drinking and drugging history and timelines of our psychiatric history. Latter, we compared these two timelines. It clearly showed me how my use of alcohol and drugs was directly related to my depression and medication issues.
For me, the First Step was about honestly recognizing that I had serious problems that I simply could not deal with by myself. I tried everything and just kept digging myself in a deeper hole. I'd quit drinking for awhile but eventually I'd get so wound up and pissed off that I'd smoke some weed or start drinking again just to cool off. Pretty soon I'd be drunk again. Then I'd forget to take my meds. I hated the things I did when I was like that. I scared my wife and children. I worried my parents near to death. I'd end up in jail or the psych ward--and I'd do this over and over again no matter how ashamed and disgusted I was with myself. The harder I tried to control my drinking the worse it got.
Taking the First Step was a huge relief for me. Yes, I was an addict. Yes, I had bipolar disorder. I already knew all that. But by working with my sponsor and hearing other people at meetings share their stories, I realized I didn't have to be strong enough to deal with all these things all by myself. In fact, I learned that I could not. Willpower had nothing to do with it. It was like a big wall came down inside of me so that I could let other people know I needed help. That didn't make me a bad or weak person, but a sick person who wanted to get well.
The First Step... well, you can't do anything about a problem unless you really honestly believe it is a problem. If you don't think there's a problem, you know -- nothing changes. You also have to understand it correctly so you can start making the right choices. Like, if I blamed my drinking on my boyfriend or my boss, I'm looking in the wrong direction. I could try and change them all day and I'd only end up drunk over it. See, once you realize you have a problem, you must also identify the cause and true nature of the problem or you will likely waste a lot of time and energy chasing the wrong solutions while your real problems just gets worse.
I had a really hard time believing that my drinking and drugging were causing more problems than they were solving. I drank to kill painful feelings... frightening feelings. I felt like drinking and using was what was keeping me functional and sane. What I didn't or wouldn't see was that alcohol and street drugs reacted with my medications in some pretty strange ways. They also added to my depression over time until I finally became psychotic. Though drinking gave me some seeming temporary relief from my inner pain, it made it impossible to heal or treat the root of those feelings correctly. While working through Step One, I finally began to put two and two together and I began seeing a clearer picture of these cause and effect relationships.
I kept relapsing my first couple years around the program. I'd get clean and get my meds dialed in and go for a month or two and then relapse big time for a few days. The deal was that I always had a little doubt left when I worked the First Step. I always had this little twinkling thought that maybe I really didn't have a schizoaffective disorder. Like somehow it was a mistake or a temporary thing. Now I know that the point of the First Step is to remove ALL doubt. It wasn't until I fully accepted the reality and seriousness of my mental illness, that I finally became empowered to start dealing with it in a constructive and healthy way. Only then was I able to build up any appreciable clean and sober time.
I always thought that if I could just stop using I would be ok. That wasn't even the issue. I knew how to stop--it's called running out of blow or crank or whiskey. What I didn't know how to do was to stay stopped. Working Step One made that perfectly clear to me... I didn't have a clue how to stay stopped. Plus, I had never once thought about doing it forever. Thank God I had heard in a meeting about the One Day at a Time concept. I only had to not pick up or drink for today. Tomorrow is another day and I can do it again for that day.
It was hard for me to accept that my body processed alcohol and mood altering drugs different than most other people. I had always thought that if I could just get my anxiety and other symptoms under control, I could then drink and use like my friends. I had to go out and put my doubts to the test several times. Finally, after a short stint in jail and a long stay in the hospital, I surrendered to the idea that no matter what, I just can't take that first sip of booze or hit on the pipe. Once I do I just can't stop.
The first time I introduced myself as an addict at a meeting I felt a profound shift inside myself--a new sense of hopefulness. I guess until that moment I was still stuck in the middle of Step One somewhere. I could not yet see a solution to my misery.
*Adapted from the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous®
*The Twelve Steps of AA are reprinted and adapted with permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Permission to reprint and adapt the Twelve Steps does not mean that AA has reviewed or approved the contents of this publication, nor that AA agrees with the views expressed herein. AA is a program of recovery from alcoholism only - use of the Twelve Steps in connection with programs and activities that are patterned after AA, but that address other problems, does not imply otherwise. THE FIRST STEP OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS* 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable.