1. Read from the beginning of the NA Basic Text (“Our Symbol”) to the end of Chapter 5 (“What can I Do”)
2. Answer (in writing) the first paragraph after the italicized section of Chapter 4 (“How it Works”)
3. Write about what it is you expect from NA.
4. Write about what it is you expect from Resurrection House.
5. Write down what the exact nature of your addiction is.
6. Get a good dictionary.
7. Read chapters 1 & 2 at least 3 times before continuing.
8. Read the introduction to “It Works How & Why”.
1. Read Step One out of the basic text every day before writing.
2. Read Step One out of “It Works, How and why”.
3. Write down YOUR definition of each word in this step.
4. Look up each word individually in the dictionary and write down what you found (if any) to be the difference between YOUR definition and THE DICTIONARY’S definition.
5. Write about what each of the following phrases mean to you:
• We admitted…
• That we were powerless…
• Over our addiction…
• And that our lives…
• Had become unmanageable…
1. Write about an event (from the past OR present) that caused strong feelings.
2. Write about the circumstances leading up to the event, and the consequences arising from the event, be they GOOD OR BAD.
3. Look up “CONTROL” in the dictionary and write about how your need to control played in this event.
4. Look up “SURRENDER” in the dictionary and write about how an attitude of surrender may have helped you deal with this event.
“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable”
Step one is, by definition, the beginning of a process. We can’t go any further until we’ve worked this step.
Our reasons for formally working Step One will vary from member to member. It may be that we’re new to recovery, and we’ve just fought, and lost, an exhausting battle with drugs and/or alcohol. It may be that we’ve been around for awhile and have been abstinent from drugs, but discovered that our disease has become active in some other areas of our lives, and forced us to face our powerlessness and unmanageability of our lives, once again. Not every act of growth is motivated by pain; it may even simply be that its time again to cycle through the steps, thus beginning a new journey.
Whatever the case, we’re at the point where its time to do some step work. Some concrete activity that will bring about freedom from our addiction – whatever shapes it is currently taking. It is our goal to internalize the principles of Step One, to deepen our surrender, to make the principles of acceptance, humility, willingness, honesty, and open-mindedness a fundamental part of who we are.
Some of us find a measure of comfort in finding out we suffer from a disease that has caused us to reach the bottom we’re now at. Others don’t care what the cause is – we just want out! There are many different ways to arrive at a point of surrender. For some of us, the road we traveled to arrive at the first step, was more than enough to convince us that unconditional surrender was our only option. Others again, may start this process, even though we’re not entirely convinced that we’re addicts – only to find that working the First Step makes it clear: We Are Addicts, and therefore must surrender!
Before we begin working the First Step, we must become abstinent – whatever it takes. If we’re new in N.A. /A.A., our First Step is primarily about looking at the effects of drug addiction in our lives. WE NEED TO GET CLEAN! If we’ve been clean and sober for awhile, our First Step is about some other behavior that we’ve become powerless over. We need to find a way to stop the behavior, so that our surrender isn’t clouded over by continued acting out.
The following sections contain questions that will help us work Step One. It is important to go over this with a sponsor if you have specific questions regarding your First Step. Counselors, staff, and senior members of the house, are also excellent resources at your disposal. If you find that you’d like more information about a topic, please refer to; “It Works: How and why”. Step study meetings are also a great resource for fellowship experience with the steps.
The Disease of Addiction
What makes us addicts is the disease of addiction. It isn’t that we used too many drugs, or went too far with some other behavior. It’s that we never really had a chance to do otherwise, because of our disease. There is something within us that causes us to be unable to control our use of drugs, and be prone to becoming obsessive and compulsive in other areas. We can tell our disease is active when we become trapped in obsessive/compulsive routines that affect us physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
• Has my disease been active recently? In what way?
• What do I think of when I’m obsessed?
• When a thought occurs to me, do I immediately act out on it without considering the consequences? In what other ways do I behave compulsively?
• How has my disease affected me physically? Mentally? Spiritually? Emotionally?
Our Addiction can manifest itself in a variety of ways. When we first come to “The Program” (A.A. /N.A.), our problem will, of course, be drugs or alcohol. Later on, we may find out that our addiction is wreaking havoc in our lives in a number of ways.
• Have I given plausible, but untrue, reasons for my behavior? What have they been?
• Have I compulsively acted on an obsession and then acted as if I had planned it that way? What were those times?
• How have I blamed other people for my behavior?
• How have I compared my addiction with other’s addictions? Is my addiction “bad enough” if I don’t compare it to anyone else’s?
• Am I comparing a current manifestation of my addiction to the way my life was before I got clean? Does thinking, “I should know better” plague me?
• Have I been thinking that I have enough information about addiction and recovery to get my behavior under control before it gets out of hand?
• Am I avoiding action because of feelings of shame that will come about when I face the results of my addiction? Am I avoiding action because I’m worried about what other’s think?
Hitting Bottom: Despair and Isolation
Our addiction finally brings us to a place where we can no longer deny the nature of our problem. All the lies, rationalizations, and illusions fall away, as we stand face-to-face with what our lives have become. We realize we’ve been living without hope. We find that we’ve become friendless, or so completely disconnected, that our relationships are a sham, a parody of love and intimacy. It may seem that all is lost, when we find ourselves in this state, but it is actually necessary to reach this place before we can begin our recovery.
• What crisis brought me to recovery?
• What situation led me to formally work Step One?
• When did I first recognize my addiction as a problem? Did I try to correct it? If so, how?
• If not, why not?
We, as addicts, react to the word “powerless” in a variety of ways. Some of us recognize that a more accurate description of our situation could not exist. We admit our powerlessness, with a sense of relief. Others recoil at the word; connecting it with weakness, or believing it to be some kind of character deficiency. Understanding powerlessness, and admitting our own, is essential to our recovery. We are powerless when something is beyond our control – and our addiction certainly qualifies! We can not moderate, or control, our drug use and other compulsive behaviors, even when it’s causing us to lose the things that matter most to us. We cannot stop, even when it’s causing irreparable physical damage. We find ourselves doing things that we would never do, had it not been for our addiction – things we’re ashamed of, if we take the time to think about them. We may even decide that we don’t want to use, aren’t going to use, and still find ourselves unable to stop, when the opportunity presents itself. We have tried to abstain from drugs or other compulsive behaviors (perhaps even, with some success) for a period of time, without a program, only to find that eventually our untreated addiction takes us right back to where we were before. In order to work the First Step, we need to prove, and accept on a deep level, our own individual powerlessness.
• What exactly am I powerless over?
• I’ve done things while acting out on my addiction that I would never do if I were focusing on my recovery. What were they?
• What things have I done (to maintain my addiction) that went completely against everything I believe in?
• How does my personality change when I’m acting out on my addiction (e.g. do I become arrogant? Self Centered? Mean-tempered? Passive, to the point where I can’t protect myself? Manipulative? Whiny?)
• Do I manipulate other people to maintain my addiction? How?
• Have I tried to quit using and found that I couldn’t? Have I quit using on my own and found that my life was so painful without drugs that my abstinence didn’t last? What were those times like?
• How has my addiction caused me to hurt myself and others?
The First Step asks us to admit two things: one, that we were powerless over our addiction, and two, that our lives had become unmanageable. Actually, we would be hard pressed to admit one and not the other. Our unmanageability is outward evidence of our powerlessness. There are two general types of unmanageability: the kind that can be seen by others, and inner, or personal unmanageability.
Such things as arrests, job losses, and family problems often identify outward unmanageability. Some of our members have been incarcerated. Some have never been able to sustain any kind of a relationship for more than a few months. Some of us have been cut off from our own families, and asked never to contact them again.
Inner, or personal, unmanageability is often identified by unhealthy or untrue beliefs systems about ourselves, our world, and the people in our lives. We may believe we’re worthless.
We may believe that the world should revolve around us – or that it does! We may believe that it really isn’t our job to take care of ourselves; someone else should do it! We may believe that the responsibilities the average person takes on as a matter of course are just too large a burden for us to bear. We may over-react or under-react to events in our own lives. Emotional unmanageability is often one of the most obvious ways in which we can identify personal unmanageability.
• What does unmanageability mean to me?
• Have I ever been arrested or had legal trouble as a result of my addiction? Have I ever done anything I could have been arrested for if I had been caught? What have these things been?
• Have I had trouble at work or school because of my addiction? What have these situations been like?
• Have I had trouble with my family as a result of my addiction? What has these situations been like?
• Do I insist on having my own way? What effect has my insistence had on my relationships?
• Do I consider the needs of others? What effect has my lack of consideration had on my relationships?
• Do I accept personal responsibility? Am I able to carry out my daily responsibilities without being overwhelmed? How has this affected my life?
• Do I fall apart the minute things don’t go according to plan? What have these situations been like?
• Do I maintain a crisis-oriented mentality, responding to every situation with panic? What have these situations been like?
• Do I ignore signs that something may be seriously wrong with my health or with my children, thinking, “things will work out somehow”? What have these situations been like?
• Have I ever been in real danger and just been indifferent or otherwise unable to protect myself as a result of my addiction? What have these situations been like?
• Have I ever harmed someone as a result of my addiction? What have these situations been like?
• Do I have temper-tantrums, or react to my feelings in other ways that lower my self-respect and dignity? What have these situations been like?
• Did I take drugs or act out on my addiction to change or suppress my feelings? What have these situations been like?
Reservations are places in our program that we have reserved for relapse. They may be built around something like thinking we can maintain a small measure of control, e.g.; Okay, I accept that I can’t control my using, but I can still sell drugs, can’t I?” Or we may think we can remain friends with the people we used with, or bought drugs from. We may think that certain parts of the program don’t apply to us. We may think that there’s something that we just cannot face clean – a serious illness, the death of a loved one, etc., etc. – and plan to use if it ever happens. We may think that after we’ve accomplished some goal, made a certain amount of money, or been clean for a certain amount of time, that then we’ll be able to control our using. Reservations are usually tucked away in the back of our minds, and not something we’re fully conscious of. It is essential that we expose any reservations we may have, and cancel them, right here – right now!
• Have I accepted the full measure of my disease? Do I think I can still associate with people connected to my addiction? Can I still go to the places where I used to use? Do I think it’s wise to keep drugs or drug paraphernalia around, just to remind myself or test my recovery?
• Is there something I think that I can’t get through clean, some event that will be so painful that I will have to use because of it?
• Do I think that with some amount of “clean time” or with different life circumstances I’d be able to control my using?
There’s a huge difference between resignation and surrender. Resignation is what we feel when we’ve accepted the First Step as true in our lives, but don’t consider recovery the solution to the problem. Many of us found ourselves at this point, long before coming to a recovery house, or a twelve-step program. We may have thought that it was a pre-ordained fate to be addicts, to live and die in our addiction. Surrender, on the other hand, is what happens after we’ve accepted the First Step as true for us and accepted that recovery is the solution. We don’t want our lives to be the way they have been. We don’t want to keep feeling the way we’ve been feeling.
• What convinces me that I can’t use successfully any more?
• Do I accept that I’ll never regain control, even after a long period of abstinence?
• Can I begin my recovery without a complete surrender? What would life be like if I surrendered?
There are probably countless ways in which Spiritual Principals are connected to each of the Twelve Steps. For the purpose of this guide, let’s look at how some Spiritual Principals are connected to each step, and explore some suggestions on how we might incorporate them into our own lives. In the First Step, we will focus on honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, humility, and acceptance.
The principle of honesty in the First Step, starts with admitting the truth about our addiction, and continues with the practice of honesty on a daily basis. We begin to be able to be honest with ourselves; and, consequently, with other people.
• If I’ve been thinking about using or acting out on my addiction in some other way, have I shared it with my sponsor or someone else?
• Have I stayed in touch with the reality of my disease, no matter how long I’ve had freedom from active addiction?
• Have I noticed that, without the necessity of having to cover up my addiction, a lot of reasons why I lie no longer exist? Do I appreciate the freedom that goes along with that? In what ways have I begun to be honest in my recovery?
Practicing the principle of open-mindedness in Step One mostly involves being ready to believe that there might be another way to live, and being willing to try that other way. It doesn’t matter that we can’t see every detail of what that way might be, or that it may be totally unlike anything we’ve heard before; what matter’s is that we don’t limit ourselves in our thinking. Sometimes we may hear group members saying things that sound totally crazy to us, things like, “surrender to win” or suggestions to pray for someone we resent. We demonstrate open-mindedness when we don’t reject these things before we have tried them.
• What have I heard in recovery that I find hard to believe? Have I asked my sponsor or the person I heard say it, to explain it to me?
• In what ways am I practicing open-mindedness?
The principle of willingness in the First Step can be practiced in a variety of ways. Many of us get our first experience with willingness when we first begin to think about recovery, and either don’t really believe it’s possible for us, or don’t understand how it will work. We go ahead with the First Step anyway, taking any action that will help us recover – and that is willingness.
• Am I willing to follow my sponsor’s direction?
• Am I willing to go to meetings regularly?
• Am I willing to give recovery my best effort?
The principle of humility in the First Step grows out of our surrender. It is most easily identified as an acceptance of who we truly are – neither worse nor better than we believed we were when we were using – just human.
• Do I believe that I am a monster who has poisoned the whole world with my addiction? Do I believe that my addiction is inconsequential to the larger society? Or something in between?
• Do I have a sense of my relative importance within my circle of family and friends? In society as whole? What is that sense?
• How am I practicing the principle of humility, in connection with this work on the First Step?
The principle of acceptance goes far beyond that of simply admitting that we are addicts. When we accept our addiction, we feel a profound inner change that is made apparent by a rising sense of hope. We also begin to feel a sense of peace. We come to terms with our addiction and recovery, and what it will mean in our lives. We don’t dread a future of meeting attendance, sponsor contact, and step work. Instead, we begin to see recovery as a precious gift, and the work connected with it as no more trouble than other routines in our life.
• Have I made peace with the fact that I’m an addict?
• Have made peace with the little things I’ll need to do to keep clean?
• How is acceptance of my disease necessary for my continued recovery?
As we get ready to go on to Step Two, we’ll probably find ourselves wondering if we’ve worked Step One well enough. Are we sure its time to move on? Have we spent as much time as others may have spent on this step? Many of us have found it helpful to write about our understanding of each step, as we prepare to move on.
• How do I know it’s time to move on?
• What is my understanding of Step One?
• How has my prior knowledge and experience affected my work on this step?
We’ve come to a place where we’ve seen the results of our old way of life, and accepted that a new way is called for, but we probably don’t yet see how rich with possibilities recovery is. It may be enough just to have freedom from active addiction right now, but we will soon find out that the void we have been filling with drugs and alcohol, or other obsessive/compulsive behaviors, begs to be filled. Working the rest of the steps will fill that void. Next on our journey is; Step Two.