Step 1 of 12: Powerlessness

Sometimes in life we need to go where we don't want to go. More often, we want to take the wrong route to go where we need to go. From either perspective, we begin our journey today through the 12 Steps of recovery.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behavior and that our lives were unmanageable.

Step 1 of any 12 Step recovery program requires brutal self honesty. People arrive at the realization that their lives are out of control in different ways. We might wake up in a strange place with no recollection of how we arrived. We may be forced into powerlessness by losing a job, or going through a divorce, or finding ourselves in prison. Maybe we're just lost and alone and scared. How we get there matters little, save for the consequences; but an admission of powerlessness must occur for meaningful recovery to begin. It's a spiritual experience that requires a touch of hopelessness to get it started.

No red-blooded American wants to admit he/she is powerless. But no spiritual journey can begin without that admission. Christians call this The Way of the Cross. The Jews call it the Wilderness. The Buddhists call it Emptiness. It's the place we resist, but where we must go. We don't give up power to get power either. That would be exchanging one ego experience for another ego experience. In Step 1, power has to be surrendered, period, because we finally realize that our lives are out of control when under our own power.

In my case, I gave up power after all other options were exhausted. More accurately, what little power I thought I had was taken away. Prior to that, I knew in my mind that denial was not a river in Egypt, but I was comfortable living in denial. In moments of lucidity, I knew I couldn't possibly repair the mess I had created, but was still frozen by fear.

One thing I can promise you about Step 1--life will get worse before it gets better. Chances are we'll get our asses kicked at first. If we don't understand that Step 1 is part of a larger process, it can lead to doubt, nihilism and despair. We're all unique, but in my case, it was, as described by the theologian Paul Tillich, like falling through a floor that I thought was the bottom floor of my soul, revealing a cavity below, then smashing through that floor, revealing another cavity and so on. Finally, there is no floor left to fall through. Ultimately grace can fill all the space that was opened on the way down...but that's later.

That's why it's important to remember that this is a TWELVE Step recovery process.