the first step

i’ve been interested in the 12 steps for almost as long as i’ve been a counsellor – 15 years now. what first attracted me to them was their fierce commitment to honesty and being real, to be humble, and to follow an ethical and spiritual way of life.

the 12 steps came originally from alcoholics anonymous, back in the 1930s. it soon became obvious that they would be helpful for other situations as well – for people with alcoholics or drug users in their lives (alanon and naranon), gamblers (GA), drug users (NA), people with eating disorders (OA), people with codependency issues (CODA), people who are chronically in debt (DA), etc. for some background, history and the inevitable controversies, check out this wikipedia article.

a lot of people, me including, feel that the 12 steps can be guidelines for anyone who wants to live a better life. therefore, i’d like to start a series here discussing them, one step a month.

open-mindedness is something that the steps encourage. so i’d like to hold this as a place of discussion, of exchanging points of view, as differing as they might be, and of offering what “the program”, as it is often called by people practicing the steps, calls ESH: experience, strength and hope.

so let’s start with step 1.

“admitted that we were powerless over ___ and that our lives had become unmanageable.”


the idea is to fill in the blanks with what people are struggling with – alcohol, relationships, drugs, money … whatever.

but – POWERLESS? struggling is one thing but – POWERLESS? isn’t that the last thing anyone wants to feel? and by admitting it, aren’t we admitting defeat, once and for all?

that’s the reaction that i first had when i heard these steps. then, some time later, someone suggested that i can take this text and read anything whatsoever into it. and since i suspected that there was something to these 12 steps, i decided i was going to read into it what would work for me.

one of the perspectives that i took was to ask, “what does it mean that “i” am powerless?” this ended up opening a whole floodgate of realization about how connected i am to others. of course i knew that on a superficial level but this helped me get it on a gut level. i, on my own, don’t really have much effect on the world. for example, i wouldn’t keep on writing this blog if i felt no-one read it. this blog wouldn’t be what it is today if i hadn’t had help from people.

completely on my own, i’m not very powerful.

ok, so what about “my life had become unmanageable”.

again – what the … ??? what’s wrong with my life? yes, there are problems here and there, but excuse meeee – that’s different from “unmanageable.”

i really chewed on that one for a long time.

and then one day it dawned on me:

life. is. unmanageable.

and that’s a good thing.

because life is there to be LIVED, not to be managed.

without fail, whenever i LIVE my life, not manage it, i fare better.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

5 thoughts on “the first step

  1. isabella mori

    hi daniel,

    thanks for writing.

    i don’t like cults. at. all.

    of course i’m aware that individual 12-step groups can get totally out of hand. a bit like the government of the united states, founded by people earnestly believing in democracy, freedom, equality and brotherhood, got out of hand.

    unlike osama and his disciples, the answer to that is not to try and destroy the united states, its constitution or democracy – the answer is to step up and fix it.

    12 step programs, as i see them, are founded on a fierce belief in democracy. if there’s a bunch of people who take leadership (which they shouldn’t in the first place) and do things like cram religion down people’s throats, shame people, violate anonymity, or all these other things that are known to happen in 12-step groups, then it’s up to the members to stand up and make sure it stops. or walk away and start a meeting that DOES work.

  2. Chollie G.

    In my experience with 12-step programs–11 years and change now, in dozens of different ongoing meetings in three continents–the identification of the program as a “cult” is a complete non sequitur.

    First, who benefits? At a buck a meeting, there’s just enough to pay the rent and buy coffee. Membership is voluntary, subjective and self-granted. By tradition, “our leaders are but servants–they do not govern.” Talk about a flat democratic organization!

    If someone talks too much, they are told to take the cotton out of their ears and put it in their mouth. If someone proselytizes too much, they are told to work their own program and let others be. If anyone takes it upon themselves to promote the program or claim to speak for it, they are in violation of a couple of the Twelve Traditions and are told so in no uncertain terms.

    These aren’t abstract principles. They are how I have seen the program work, in practice, for 11 years. Isabella’s quite right.

    And as far as the first step is concerned, it is indeed about ego deflation. You are not in charge of the universe, others do not bow down to your will; and to think they do or should is to deluded about our place in humanity or in the universe. I am neither as good as I think I am, nor as bad as I think I am. Mostly, others just simply don’t think of me at all as much as I think they do! Happiness starts with humility–which doesn’t mean thinking less of myself, but simply thinking of myself less.

    And, step 1 is the only one which overtly mentions drinking, or drugs, or gambling, or whatever–the other 11 focus on living a better life so that those obsessions don’t rise again.

  3. isabella mori

    thanks for your words, chollie.

    love the idea of the ego deflation. i have this image right now of someone running around with a huge head, banging into walls all over the place. it’s painful for all involved, and makes us clumsy. deflating the ego down to a healthy size brings pleasantness and grace all round.

  4. Renee kelly

    Speaking from personal experience
    understanding the steps and principals has been an ongoing life long process so far. However, Applying them …well application is a behavior that i struggle to initiate and practice these days.

    Perhaps honesty, open minded thinking, and willingness to learn / change need to be ever changing as well.
    Im not sure if this makes sence but Im an addict free of my vice of choice for several years now but have become complacient in my own spritual recovery, No writting meetings for a year…until now. I used to overwhelm myself and others trying to manage my unable life while going to meetings / friends /family/counseling and am afraid to become obsessive again i am very critical of my self. I took the advice of a therapist i knew in college. The last time i saw him he gave offered me advice (First and only time). He said “You need to go out in the world and live your life”.
    I stopped analizing and obsessing on my weaknesses and now have my first fulltime job and support myself for the first time since ive been clean and recovering in 32 years. I guess I am living my life but now what? Im never on time I dont have a sleep schedule so I am sick and tired all the time and dont even really like the company i work for. I am greatful to have the work to do and help others and get paid for it. But now its about managing time and restrictions compromise and prioritizing and I have never used there tools consistantly of very successfully as i interact with others.
    So now ..I just want to stop writing and thank “god” and all those who wwrote before me for providing the oppportunity for people like myself to read and respond. Perhaps someone will identify with something i said or at the very least I may get some clarity and use it to continue on my path of living in a healthy honest and loving way to better serve others in need and take care of me as well. My self centerdness is alive right now but its cuz I need to make changes I dont know how to b/c I never learned and i am lazy as i see it.
    maybe a meeting is what i need. Its the onlything that ever worked with me s I could get clean and be alive today. beacuse a I learned that “We is greater than an I ” in a 12 steps meeting & I support that opinion cuz I wouldnot have benefited from writing this if it were not for those who wrote before me. Thanks . Take good care;).
    an I

    Take good care

    It all started with getting clean

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