Step One

How It Works: 12 Steps - Step One

"We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable."

There is nothing that interferes so absolutely with the NA recovery process and leads to relapse more than having an incomplete understanding of the First Step. While this may not apply to everyone who may come to us for help, it definitely applies to all addicts seeking recovery in NA. Many people have problems other than the disease of addiction and what little help we may have to offer them comes from the fact that we have learned to care for humanity and have learned something about living life on life's terms. We have also learned however, that in N.A. our focus must remain on recovery from the disease of addiction and to stay away from all other matters.

The First Step gives us a way out of the self-centeredness of our disease. No longer must we obsessively defend our errors or compulsively try to handle problems that are beyond our control. There is no question that we were deliberately destructive to ourselves as our addiction progressed. This is not because we like the way that we had become but because the disease had rendered us disabled. Our disability stems from our inability to recall our own experience accurately or to benefit from the experience of others. This form of self-deception limits our ability to be accurate in our perception of reality. Some of us have refrained from major decision making all together when we first got clean in order to give ourselves time to recuperate. This can free us at times from many of the pressures that sometimes add to our initial confusion about recovery. We must take care however, not to continue this practice beyond its intended purpose. From the beginning, we start catching up with what we've been missing due to our disability.

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Until we learn to identify with other addicts in recovery, sometimes all we can do is listen to the First Step. We can't surrender until we understand this Step and we cannot understand it until we cross the line into identification with other addicts. We learn to take the suggestions given to us by members with more recovery experience. We begin to read, study, and to ask questions. We share with others in order to rid ourselves of untold reservations. We do everything we can to acquire the knowledge of the reality that we have a disease and that alone, we are doomed. Once we are able to do this, we hear the First Step differently. No longer do we hear others only admit their helplessness and their inability to live happily. We begin to hear, see and feel the ‘We’ of NA. We can honestly say, "We admitted we were powerless over our addiction and our lives had become unmanageable." We feel like one among the many because this is NA. We don't have to do this Step alone.

Most of our members have experienced a curious fact in active addiction. Many times when we felt our strongest, we seem to have created some of our worst problems. Many of these problems have almost killed us or at the very least, ruined our lives. We were under the illusion that we were powerful, when we actually lacked any ability to do much more than simply force our own will upon certain situations. At other times, we felt weak and full of uncertainty. During these times when we had lost enough, we were able to admit our need for help on some level and began to regain our lost energy. Finally, putting these two realizations together, we came to the admission of the First Step: "We admitted we were powerless over our addiction and our lives had become unmanageable." Then we were able to begin the recovery process that goes on forever, unless we interrupt it by becoming ‘powerful’ and limiting our ability to receive help.

Most of us have said, "Tell me how it's done. Show me what to do. I believe you can do it but I'm afraid to even try." We have discovered, in NA, people very much like ourselves who are doing much better than we ever thought possible for ourselves. We wondered how; if we see ourselves in them, could they do so well? We saw them take on tasks that seemed impossible to us and we could barely hold back our negative comments. We expect them to fail. Sometimes, we didn't hold back and gave them all the reasons they shouldn't even try. They simply looked at us lovingly and continued with what they were doing to successful completion. As our recovery grows, we become familiar with the fact that the rules and limitations that applied to us while loaded are out of date. We are no longer trying to function in a dazed condition. We have the stimulation of our meetings and of the Fellowship. New ideas and positive values replace our negative expectations.

On the feeling level, we learn to catch ourselves just before we reach the state of obsession. When we feel our minds click ‘off’ and we move forward quickly without knowing where we are going, we can do the mental equivalent of ‘sitting down’. It is likely that no one will be there to see us and won't even know of our experience unless we tell them. We have learned that almost anything, even very important things, can wait five minutes. Cooling off and giving ourselves time to reconsider doesn't mean that we can't decide to continue with something. It just gives us a slight edge over our tenderness and sensitivity to life on life's terms. Very often, we find that there is no need to go any further. We can say, "I think I'll let God handle this one." Then new ideas, people to call and all sorts of solution directed things start happening. No one knows if these things would have eventually occurred if we had not prayed but all of us can recall the times when we didn't pray and remember what followed.

We find ourselves surrounded by constant reminders or "triggers" from the past. Sometimes these reminders take forms that we don't generally recognize. A physical anchor is something that replays past experiences in the present situation when activated by some form of personal contact. Key words or phrases, tones of voice, touches and any other unique sensory input charged with emotional or automatic associations can activate these anchors. For instance, when someone touches the side of our neck while speaking to us, we generally listen differently. Loud or abrasive tones of voice may cause us not to hear the words spoken. The picture of a scolding parent or other authority figure may come to mind and the feelings of wanting to escape punishment may exclude all other thoughts in our minds. Much potential for our personal improvement is restricted by these ‘anchors’. Learning more about our personal anchors and associations can help us step free of reflexive actions that may no longer have a function in our lives. Intense fear, shame or anger for no good reason are indications that you have anchors embedded below your field of view. Surrendering to our disease must spread throughout our lives. Frequently, when we take away the uselessly expended energy, the so-called problem falls apart for lack of cohesiveness. We find that the pressure we have been supplying to correct something totally beyond our control provided the energy to power the problem. Without surrender, our recovery would quickly grow stale because we would find ourselves merely reciting yesterday's lessons. Part of surrender is acknowledging our part in limiting our lives. We screwed-up because it was the only way that we knew to limit or prevent the harm we would otherwise be doing. Like an old phono record with a bad scratch, we get stuck repeating the same line. The damage we do is real. Our perceptions are so confused and our appearances so misleading that we need each other in recovery to work our way out of the maze of active addiction. The old-timers just smile and say, "Easy does it." Don’t they know that ‘easy' is hard for us? Remember that you are not unique because this uneasiness seems to come to most addicts frequently.

All our old habits need examination in recovery. We tend to allow the habitual behavior to form and can go on for years without reconsidering our original sources of information. We may not recall the exact goals and concerns we had in mind when we developed this recovery habit. We fail to question how we might be capable of a better response now that we are older in recovery! This is part of our Eleventh Step. To begin anew in recovery, an addict must periodically go through and reconsider their ‘habits’. This is especially true when faced with those habits acquired or developed while we were in active addiction. These ‘habits’ tend to reproduce the environment in which they originated. For instance, ‘red or blue flashing lights’ may trigger evasive behavior if we have ever been on the run from the police, even when we have done nothing wrong. The wonder of recovery is that we no longer need to duck our heads and go the other way.

Like many of our other ideas, we find our ideas about success change. We had other values in our using days and most of the time we were just moving forward to our next using-spree or getting over our last one. While we were using our, ‘success’ was simply a matter of, staying out of trouble but not out of drugs! Likewise, success in recovery may simply mean ‘just staying abstinent and going to meetings’ for many of us, in the beginning. Unfortunately, quite a few of us remain at this point for an extremely long period and find ourselves trapped in a state of complacency. Defining clean as ‘not using" allows the concept of "staying clean" to remain our first measure of success. Working on our recovery with the Steps should most definitely be included in any list that we make of our successes. Maintaining our conscious contact with the God of our understanding, however, must become the ultimate measure of our success. This allows us to not only to get clean physically but also to get clean mentally, and spiritually. We learn about the benefits of living by the spiritual principles gained because of this conscious contact. We begin to practice honesty, service to others, and learn the meaning of unconditional love, even for those unable to love themselves. Other meaningful goals in life, such as the accomplishment of getting an academic degree, the ideal job or completing a course of study, may also become measures of our success but should never be mistaken for success in and of themselves. Material gain is another area some have mistaken as being successful. While these things may come because of successful recovery, successful recovery cannot be gauged by material or intellectual gain. Successful recovery is a spiritual state free from obsession and compulsion.

Feeling a sense of loss over being unable to live up to some commitment or goal may give us new ideas about failure. Curiosity about what our real boundaries are may replace those 'all or nothing' feelings that are so typical of addicts in active addiction. When we grant ourselves the right to fail when we first take on a goal that may seem be too much for us, we free ourselves of the fear of failure. Clean, we have to learn how to appreciate the courage we show simply by attempting to go beyond any of our old restrictions. Unrealistic expectations are too often just another form of unmanageability for us.

Reacting to the emotions and perceptions of others and how they think we are doing may seem to be a problem. This perception at times however allows us to think things over or to consult others before we take any responsive action. The insight and ability to question our old values is part of our conscious contact with a Higher Power. What was once a cloudy pool of raw emotions and prejudice settles down at some point into a clear stream of awareness for most of us. No longer must we be at the mercy of our old false impressions and undefined perceptions. We have found this to be the keynote of our practical approach to spirituality.

As long as we identify with our problems and fail to see that they are part of the disease, we will lack a healthy perspective. We acknowledge that we are overly sensitive to what is happening around us. Addicts seem to suffer from an inability to leave well enough alone. If you add our desire to know, understand and take stands on things, even if we often fail to get our facts straight, then our curious dance with life becomes clear. We somehow forget the confusion that we felt when first we began using drugs in earnest. A noticeable loss of memory, disorientation and an inability to perform certain tasks is a common occurrence at the beginning of recovery, even if we excelled at them in the past. The lifting of the drug-induced fog is the beginning of our re-introduction to life.

Our sight, hearing and ability to feel are still under the influence of our disease when we first get clean. We hear the slogans: "Let go and let God.", "Easy does it.", "Don't leave before the miracle happens!" and "Keep coming back!" These and other sayings help us get out of the self-centered role and allow us to learn ways to readjust to life on life's terms.

The recovery environment supports life. It provides for all our needs as addicts. Most of the trouble we get into mainly has to do with intruding on the freedoms and rights of others. Our disease limits our ability to see the connection between our actions and the result of those actions. Recovery is the realignment of our inner reality with our outward environment. Useless struggles fall away and life resumes it's movement toward an interesting and productive future. Finally, we can accept happiness because it no longer feels like an illusion. Illusions make us ill. Only admission and surrender grant us relief. Those who hold onto reservations, and avoid coming right out with the statement, "I am powerless and my life is unmanageable!" are certain to remain in denial. The only other explanation than denial is that those individuals were not addicts to begin with. If we have the kind of behavior that gets us to meetings, without being addicts, then we certainly should get help somewhere else! If we are indeed addicts, we can benefit immediately from what has been learned about recovery and living clean in NA.

The disease of addiction has had millions of years to evolve and we are only the first generation of recovering addicts in history. At first, it all seems very natural to us and our initial experience is mostly positive. We accept the idea that the people in the meetings really are addicts who have found a new way to live. Next, we may begin to experience doubt and feel that it is all too good to be true. We find ourselves trapped by our fear of change and look for ways to manage without it. Amazingly, at times we forget that the disease generates an attitude of fault finding, hurt feelings, and tells us that we've grown as much as we can in NA. Each of us has gone through this cycle repeatedly in recovery. We remember where we came from and get on with the process of surrender and growth only to eventually resume some of our old habits. If our desire to stay clean is sincere, we will discover what we are doing in time to avoid relapse. If we lose our desire, even for a short time, we may relapse. Then all we can hope for is to find our way back again to a path of recovery.

Our word choices and definitions may directly effect our conscious actions. One of the benefits of surrender is that we can suspend having to act on those impulses rooted in active addiction. Going to meetings and spending time with other addicts in recovery allows us to debrief ourselves from active addiction. We can redefine some of our old ideas to fit the reality of the clean life before us. In recovery, we seek a restoration to sanity. In the early days of recovery, we learn a definition of sanity as ‘my way didn't work so I've got to try someone else's way’. As time goes by, even more trust is required. We learn that working the program requires total acceptance of others. At some point in time, it has to go even beyond that. We re-define insanity as ‘anything that limits us spiritually’. If we’re holding onto past bitterness, we have to come to a better definition and application of amends. We must separate the amends that we owe to ourselves from the amends that we owe others. We must be able to come to some sort of inner peace about the past.

We know that ‘inner peace’ can't come from other people but we learn that it can come through them. We each act as instruments of God by showing concern for others. This is how we begin to feel that long lost ties are being re-established. We feel new possibilities arise as we see the Second Step unfold. We finally understand the sanity, it is our Higher Power doing for us what we can't do for ourselves. Running away, we only carry our problems with us. True escape requires active change.

This change allows us to get new outcomes by discovering new ways to do things. In the words of one member, "Today we are grateful for this Step - it means hope, commitment, honesty, release. This list of 26 thoughts, questions and suggestions may help you focus your writing about this step. The major thing about this Step is its difference from those of any other 12-step program. Until we understand that, we will never have a grasp on it and will never have a commitment to NA. Spiritual principles are universal. NA is the only program we know of that allows us this type of universal freedom of understanding.

"If you have problems or doubts - just call your sponsor and ask another member for help. Try not to get discouraged or believe you're not doing enough. Don't limit your questions to any individual. Talk to everyone, listen carefully to everything. Know that your understanding of this Step and this Program will be yours. It must be yours for it to work. Make it yours - like an old favorite pair of jeans or a warm comforter. "Though we have written out these suggestions for you to write, realize that the option to share any or all of your writing rests with you. We believe trust grows from Step Two and that it's not until Step Five that we're asked to spill all. These pages are our way of giving you feedback.

"Please trust however, that we wouldn't ask you to write about these things if it were an awful experience. Every Step has meant wonderful new insights for us and we want you to have the same experience. If you begin to feel angry, depressed, or rebellious, you should pray, go to a meeting, write out a gratitude list, talk to someone you trust, or write it all out and burn it in effigy. If we haven't said it - Thank you for being part of our recovery. We love you, unconditionally."

  • 1. Pray for the awareness to understand this Step and to see how it applies to your life.
  • 2. Look up in a dictionary and define in your own words what each of the words in the Step means. (Including: we, our, that, etc.)
  • 3. Write about what's going on in your life, and problems you are facing today.
    • a) Write about the three components of the disease of addiction: Physical - compulsion; Mental - obsession; and Spiritual - self-centeredness.
    • b) Write about your fear, doubt, loneliness, isolation, confusion and the sense of being lost. How did you and do you feel different?
    • c) Define ‘drug’ and explain why this Step doesn't read: "We were powerless over drugs?"
  • 4. What things have you done in the past to hurt yourself? (List everything. NOT just the drugs.).
  • 5. Do you still do any of these things? List them.
  • 6. Why do you continue to do these things?
  • 7. Have you ever tried to stop doing these things? What happened?
  • 8. How have these things made your life unmanageable?
    • a) Do you want to stop doing these things now?
    • b) What are you willing to do differently this time?
  • 9. Can you do any of these things even once? (Explain)
    • a) Is there any situation you can think of when doing any of these things would be appropriate or acceptable?
    • b) Name them and write about "conditions" that might make them "OK."
  • 10. What are "reservations"? (Define)
    • a) Do you feel like you have any? (HINT: We all have some type of reservations at some level)
    • b) What are they? (HINT: Check your answers in question 9, a, b.)
  • 11. What is surrender? Is it an event? (Define)
  • 12. We are not responsible for our disease, but we are responsible for our recovery. Write about what this means to you.
    • a) Define "Responsibility."
    • b) What is your responsibility in this Step?
  • 13. In "How it Works," it's written that "We believe that the sooner we face our problems within our society, in everyday living, just that much faster do we become acceptable, responsible, and productive members of that society..." What does this quote mean and how does it apply to this step? Note the word "that" in relationship to "society" and explain why it’s in this quote. (HINT: pay close attention to "our" as related to "problems" and "society".)
    • a) What is recovery? (HINT-Basic Text -Chapter 5, "What Can I Do?" read the second paragraph after italics)
    • b) "Social acceptability does not equal recovery." What does this mean?
    • c) What do you think being Socially Acceptable means?
  • 14. Write about ‘control’ and ‘management’ in relation to your life.
    • a) Can you control a substance or behavior?
    • b) Can you control other people?
  • 15. What is willpower? Does it work with our disease?
  • 16. What does ‘life on life's terms' mean to you?
    • a) Describe "Life."
    • b) In what ways do you feel that ‘your life’ is limited or unlimited?
  • 17. What did you tell yourself to justify your using? How do you eliminate those justifications? (Beware of scolding yourself!)
  • 18. "We have found we had no choice except to completely change our old ways of thinking or go back to using." What does this mean?
    • a) What is change? (Define)
    • b) How do we change in NA?
  • 19. What is "acceptance"? (Define)
    • a) What have you had to "accept" about life?
    • b) What have you accepted about the disease of addiction?
  • 20. What is "willingness"? (Define)
    • a) Write about what you were "willing" to do in order to use?
    • b) Are you willing to go to those lengths for your recovery?
  • 21. Step One means that we do not have to use, and this is a great freedom." What does this mean? Define ‘use’ and ‘freedom’. (Tradition Three and the last page of "Why are we here?" will help.)
  • 22. It is not where we have been that counts, but where we are going. Make a list of your goals and how this Step relates to those goals?
  • 23. We do not just say the words of this Step, we learn to live them. How will you know when you're ‘living’ the Steps?
  • 24. What is ‘hope’? How have you found "meaning and purpose in life"?
  • 25. In a dictionary, look up the meaning and define (in your own words) each word in the Serenity Prayer.
  • 26. Call your Sponsor!

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