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(Below is an exceprt from Chapter 1 of Paths to Recovery - Al-Anon's core text. The book explains Al-Anon's simple 12-step programme of recovery. Step 1 is a useful introduction for those not familiar with our fellowship)

 

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

Many of us come to Al-Anon filled with despair and hopelessness. Some of us come to find out how to get another person sober; others grew up in alcoholic homes or left alcoholic partners and no longer live with active drinking. We may not see the impact of having lived with alcoholism until we begin to acknowledge that there are familiar difficulties in our present lives and relationships. Many of us would not have voluntarily walked through the doors of Al-Anon if we were not in some sort of crisis or pain that forced us to seek help.

Though we may not have labeled it this way, we come to Al-Anon because our lives are unmanageable – we come looking for relief. The first word of the First Step illustrates an important concept in Al-Anon recovery: We are not alone. In our early meetings, we realize this is true. As the Al-Anon Suggested Welcome says, “We who live, or have lived, with the problem of alcoholism understand as perhaps few others can. We, too, were lonely and frustrated, but in Al-Anon we discover that no situation is really hopeless and that it is possible for us to find contentment, and even happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.” Just hearing those words may help us to feel that there is hope for us, too.

Once we acknowledge that someone else’s drinking has affected our lives, we may want to blame everything on the drinking. We are sure there must be something more we can say or do that will convince the alcoholic to stop drinking, thus resolving our problems. We have no idea that we are as powerless over alcohol as the alcoholic is. Not understanding that alcoholism is a disease, many of us have tried to take things into our own hands. We may have poured out liquor, made excuses, nagged, pleaded, protected or punished the drinkers in our lives. We may have hidden our feelings, isolated and avoided contact with the alcoholic, thinking our problems would go away. We may have taken over the alcoholic’s unfinished projects, answered phone calls or covered his or her mistakes. No matter what we did, our lives did not improve and the alcoholic did not change.

In order to take the First Step and admit our powerlessness over alcoholism, we need first to understand and accept that alcoholism is a disease. Medical authorities agree that alcoholism is a progressive disease that can be arrested, but not cured – it is a lifetime disease. One symptom is an uncontrollable desire to drink; as long as an alcoholic continues to drink, that desire will increase. Some alcoholics try to convince family members that they are social drinkers by drinking only on weekends or by abstaining for a limited time. The compulsion to drink usually returns.

The only way to arrest the disease is total abstinence. Many alcoholics successfully recover through a variety of treatments. The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program is generally regarded as the most effective. Our experience shows that we cannot force someone to stop drinking. This is an individual choice of the alcoholic.

Alcoholism is a family disease. This means “. . . the alcoholism of one member affects the whole family, and all become sick. Why does this happen? Unlike diabetes, alcoholism not only exists inside the body of the alcoholic, but is a disease of relationships as well. Many of the symptoms of alcoholism are in the behavior of the alcoholic. The people who are involved with the alcoholic react to his behavior. They try to control it, make up for it, or hide it. They often blame themselves for it and are hurt by it. Eventually they become emotionally disturbed themselves.” (from Alateen – Hope for Children of Alcoholics, page 6)

In Al-Anon meetings we hear the three Cs describing our powerlessness over alcoholism: we didn’t cause it, can’t cure it, and can’t control it. We begin to learn the basic Al-Anon premise of taking our focus off of the alcoholic and keeping the focus on ourselves. Hard as it is to look at our own part in our problems, acceptance of Step One brings relief from impossible responsibilities. We were trying to fix a disease – and someone else’s disease at that!

To find peace and serenity in our lives, we have to change – a challenging, and perhaps fearful, thought. We may have to re-learn to take care of ourselves. When we are focused on another person’s alcoholism and behavior, many of us develop the habit of putting that person’s needs first. We may suffer from low selfesteem and not believe that we deserve to take time for ourselves. Whether we judge ourselves as good or bad doesn’t atter; we are always defeated by alcoholism.

In Al-Anon, we will find help. Admitting our powerlessness may be very difficult for us. After all, we are the competent ones who held the family, the job or the world together while the alcoholics in our lives created chaos. How can it be that we, the responsible ones, are powerless? In Al-Anon, we come to understand that our lives may be unmanageable because we are trying to control the people and situations in our lives. It can be hard to conceive that our well-meaning efforts have been part of the problem, but by the time we reach Al-Anon, we are finally ready to try something – anything – new. We have to admit that nothing we do or don’t do can control another person’s drinking. How can we help an alcoholic? In Al-Anon we learn to accept the things we cannot change (the alcoholic) and change the things we can (ourselves).

To recover we have to learn to keep the focus on ourselves. As we look back on our lives, we are asked to acknowledge our powerlessness over alcohol, the alcoholic and every person and event we sought to control by our own will power. By letting go of the illusion of control over other people, their actions and their addiction to lcohol, we find an enormous burden is lifted and we begin to discover the freedom and the power we do possess – the power to define and live our own lives. Unmanageability lessens. We begin to see the paths to our own recovery. In Al-Anon we discover principles that work for us and help us relate to others. Al-Anon helps us learn new ways to have healthy relationships in all areas of our lives. Step One reminds us of our proper relationship with others – we are powerless over them. It places us in correct relationship with ourselves – when we try to control others, we lose the ability to manage our own lives. Step One is the true beginning of our path to recovery.

(© Al-Anon Family Groups - reproduced with permission)



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