Step One

Step One

The Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone Canyon, sight of one a side trip or two.

The Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone Canyon, sight of  a side trip or two in the writing of this book.

“We admitted we were helpless over the problem —
that our lives have become unmanageable.”

So, let’s talk about addiction. I have already expressed that I think of it as cancer of the soul, a malignancy that begins growing in our spirit when we first indulge our addiction and eventually replaces maturity: growupus interruptus. I have already told you some of what happened to me as an addict, and after I decided I didn’t want to be addicted any more.

In the years since that decision was made, I have not become “unaddicted,” as I thought I would. I have simply learned about addiction and its nature and come to realize that I will never not be an addict. There is still a grain of the malignancy in my soul — in the essence of me — that no amount of therapy will eliminate, because to kill it would require killing me. But knowing that, knowing what it feeds on and knowing not to feed it will do me in fine stead of complete remission.

I’m still deathly allergic to gambling. So I don’t do it, because, as I’ve told you three or four times, I know it will kill me, and life is too good to die early.

Learning about addiction is a bassackwards kind of thing to do. While we are indulging our addiction, we cannot learn about it. It’s only by stopping that we begin to learn about the nature of the disease. Up until the point we stop, we are in the stomach of the monster where it is dark and dangerous — the danger being that we will be digested — and we can’t see the monster from inside. We are helpless, for we are being consumed.

It is no coincidence that the first step of a Twelve-Step program is “We admitted we were helpless over the problem — that our lives have become unmanageable.” Admitting and realizing can be two different things. We can say with our mouth many things we don’t know in our heart, but saying is one of the steps in creation. Wethink, we say, we do. When we admit out loud that we are helpless over the problem, we move that idea into the realm of the sensory — hearing — where we ourselves can realize it.

We might say, as I have at one point and another, “Oops! Just kidding. I can manage this,” and take up the addiction again. But, even in that, we will have those few moments of peace to remember when we were able to say, “I am helpless in this.” In that, there is a moment of release, and in that moment, there is also a surging hope that in realization there is redemption. If we can say it and believe it one time, it will be easier the next time. Practice makes perfect.

When we finally collapse into our own helplessness, many things might crash in on top of us. Being the one-way-or-the-other types that addicts are, we might think if we are helpless over our addictions, we are helpless over every other thing in our lives. This will play out in different ways, depending on our circumstance. If we have a good support group in our family and friends or even in our workplace, and if we have some sort of basis in faith, we are better off, no doubt. In those resources we will find ways to take the pressure off while we learn about this new idea and about what is manageable and what it not in our lives.

If we’re alone in the world, if our family and friends can’t be supportive for whatever reason, or if we’ve lost our job or even our freedom to the insanity we have been living, things are more difficult. But there’s blessing in that, too, for then we must learn more completely to depend on the Higher Power. My suggestion to those in circumstances of being alone in your pain is to make the Twelve-Step group your family for a while, where there is understanding, compassion, comfort, company, tears and even laughter; and where at every turn you will meet others who, like you,
are helpless over the problem.

The steps are not just about addiction. Step One can come in handy in other aspects of our lives, too. Step One can be applied to any kind of attachment — that concern about outcome many of us suffer from. For instance, we see advertising daily that tells us “Image is everything,” and we believe it. We become more interested in what others think of us than we are in what we think of ourselves. We might be so attached to results that we are afraid to be ourselves. We become attached to our image in the eyes of others. To that end, we obsess, act out, manipulate and falsely represent ourselves. In so doing, our self-image goes down the drain.

One of the greatest things I’ve ever heard about our obsession with — and helplessness over — our image in the eyes of others is this: “What you think of me is none of my business.” We cannot control what anyone else thinks of us, nor should we let what others think of us control us — we are helpless over the problem. We can only work on how we feel about others and how we feel about ourselves. Faced with an ambiguous situation — perhaps one in which our image is at stake — we can cast around for what we can do to straighten it out, and, after taking every action we can take and stay sane, might still face an unknown outcome. At the point where we have done everything we can do, we become “helpless over the problem.”

Accepting that can be freeing, as frightening as it might be. The answer or lack of answer may not be what we want or think we need. Justice might not be served or even touched upon. Love may be lost. But when we admit we have done all we can do, admit there is nothing more we can do, “admit we are helpless over the problem,” we can also realize that we’ve done our best in the situation. Thus Step One — and all the steps — can help anyone move into a better state of being.

One of the things said at every Twelve-Step meeting I have ever been to helps to put into perspective just what we are and are not helpless in — the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

In that, we invoke the Great Spirit by name and ask to be shown what we are and are not helpless in. That prayer is the great unifying prayer for not just addicts, but for all of humanity, for we are all helpless to do certain things, and we all have the ability to change certain things. We are helpless to change others, for instance, except by example — by changing ourselves. In some things, we are helpless to change ourselves,
except by abstention, time and prayer. Addiction is one of those things.

By saying the Serenity Prayer, even by rote, we confess to ourselves and those around us both our powerlessness and our powerfulness. We admit that it is up to the Higher Power to show us where the line is between those two things — the place where sanity ends and begins. It is the refrain to all the steps. It is the power song we sing as the Creator leads us out of the Monster.