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Simplifying The Steps: Step One

Step One
We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.

For those who decide to use the 12 steps in their quest for recovery, there is a lot to learn. Not everyone uses the 12 steps, but those who do generally are very passionate about their program.

With that said, there is often some confusion about apprehension towards the steps and the concept of powerlessness.

For every addict who starts their journey of recovery, admitting and truly believing they are powerless over their addiction provides the motivation they need to make the profound changes needed to bring forth long lasting sobriety. The above statement is the First Step of AA, NA and other Twelve-Step support groups and is considered to be the most important. If the addict cannot complete this initial step, truly recovering from the devastating effects of substance abuse and addiction will not be possible.

The Concept of Powerlessness: Why Do People Struggle?

For those who are new to recovery, wrestling with the concept of powerlessness can be troublesome and can drive them away from the help and support they need. For some addicts who struggle with this concept, they may associate powerlessness with being weak or helpless while others may feel it brings forth a victim mentality.

As human beings, it is within our nature to feel we have control over the people in our lives, as well as any situation or thing that crosses our path. The thought that a substance can have the power to completely take control of one’s life to the point of dysfunction seems inconceivable. Addicts rationalize their behavior or engage in substantial denial that a problem even exists. Rationalization, denial, and other defense mechanisms provide a smokescreen to obscure the truth that is in plain view.

Looking Past Words: Searching for a Deeper Meaning

For many who are new in recovery, they can get hung up on the language that the Twelve Steps are written in and will miss the deeper meaning that these Steps are truly conveying to the addict who seeks recovery. As stated earlier, powerlessness doesn’t mean that the addict is a weak individual as a whole.

Instead, the powerlessness that is referred to in the First Step centers on the method that addicts choose in order to feel happiness or to address pain in their lives. Using drugs and alcohol creates feelings of pleasure and comfort that are short-lived. It gives the user the illusion of feeling better, but in reality the use of substances are a symptom of deeper issues that continue to spiral out of control. Without acknowledging and addressing these deeper issues on a realistic level

Additionally, the powerlessness referred to in the First Step also refers to the fact that the addict will continue using drugs and alcohol despite the consequences they may encounter. These consequences can be physical, emotional and psychological in nature, and can also include economic and legal consequences as well.

A Simpler Way to Look at The First Step

In its simplest terms, the First Step centers on the addict being able to truly admit their lives have become dysfunctional due to their substance use. By admitting powerlessness, the addict acknowledges there is an obsessive/compulsive nature with drug and alcohol use.

The obsessive nature pertains to the overwhelming desire to pick up a drink or a drug and the lengths that the addict goes through in order to getting their next fix. The compulsive nature–where the unmanageability comes into play–is the continued use of substances despite the consequences. In many respects, being able to fully grasp the First Step is the best defense against relapse, because it clearly reminds the addict of what we are inviting back into their lives if they choose to use again.

Original Article re-printed here with permission from

Red Rock Recovery Center is a Colorado state licensed substance abuse extended care treatment program designed to help you or your loved one recover from the struggles associated with alcoholism and drug addiction. Located in Denver, Colorado we offer a safe haven for those afflicted by the ravages of untreated addiction. Our program is based on a compassionate 12-step model that applies behavioral as well as life skill therapies, which will enable our clients to heal and recover.

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