Saturday, June 19, 2010

AA-Step One - The Backdrop of "Powerlessness"

Many of us enter the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous with bandages, wants and warrants, tax problems, family problems, custody problems, liver problems, seizure problems, criminal prosecution problems, business and job problems. You name it. Many of us have it or quickly recognize it.

Many of us can blame it on anything but booze. In fact, a large number of us are not looking for a reprieve from drinking. We're looking for a way out that doesn't require us to stop drinking or even own up to the drinking episodes and disasters that preceded our grand entry into "the rooms."

Then someone starts talking about the "First Step"--the first of the Twelve Steps. If we are in A.A., we'll hear talk about being "powerless." Some get so carried away with foolish thinking that they start announcing they are "powerless" over people, places, and things. And, if you take that position, you may just "helplessly" stay "in the rooms" and whine. If you are in a treatment program, there will be lots of talk about "denial" and having to overcome denial. Some don't even want to admit that they are "denying" that their problem is alcohol. They still think it is their wife, the IRS, worry, or whatever.

Then there is the unmanageable life. That's an easy one. We wouldn't be in A.A. if everything hadn't gone awry and spilled onto the sawdust. But how about this "powerless" and "denial" stuff?

Here are some approaches from early A.A. that may enable people to "take" and understand Step One without consulting a dictionary as to what "powerless" means.

First of all, Bill Wilson put the point well with a simple statement in his Big Book story:

He had not yet had enough trouble. But he was beginning to learn. He wrote "I had met my match. Alcohol was my master." (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 8).

Second, Bill Wilson summarized what he called the six word-of-mouth "steps." And he began with the statement, "We admitted that we were licked. . ." (Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 160). And he said that several other times.

Third, with his usual brevity of speech, Dr. Bob laid out his rules. In DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, at page 281, there is the account of a member who went to a grill for a meal and felt leery of the back bar. Dr. Bob said: "Stay away from that place. They've got nothing in there that you can't get somewhere else, whether it's food, cigarettes, or a Coke." He commented: "You don't ask the Lord not to lead you into temptation, then turn around and walk right into it." He made clear that not one drink was permissible, saying: "The first one will get you" (page 191).

Fourth, in Akron, it all started with Dr. Bob's friend Henrietta Seiberling. She commented: "I, who knew nothing about alcoholism (I thought a person should drink like a gentleman and that's all) was saying a prayer for Bob. I said, 'God, I don't know anything about drinking, but I told Bob that I was sure if he lived this way of life, he could quit drinking. Now I need Your help, God.' Something said to me--I call it 'guidance': it was like a voice in my head--'Bob must not touch one drop of alcohol'. . . . I told him [Dr. Bob] that my guidance was that he mustn't touch one drop of alcohol." (DR. BOB, pages 58-59).

Fifth, as early AAs frequently did, one pioneer put it in biblical terms. This man--a radio engineer--had become connected with AAs in New York and had endeavored to work the Steps, but failed. As a solution, he said: "I went to my room alone--took my Bible in hand and asked Him, the One Power, that I might open to a good place to read--and I read, 'For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?' That was enough for me--I started to understand. Here were the words of Paul a great teacher. . . From that day I gave and still give and always will, time everyday to read the word of God and let Him do the caring. Who am I to try to run myself or anyone else?" (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st ed., 1939, page 347). This man--whose personal story is called "Smile With Me, At Me"--was quoting from a version of the Bible that contained the verses from Romans 7:22-24.

Powerless? You can wrestle with that one if you like. But my own experience was that, despite the differences in their troubles and sharing, the "winners" in the A.A. fellowship were the ones who made it crystal clear that their problem had been alcohol. And they made it equally clear that--in today's language of the rooms--you don't drink, no matter what. And before long, with God's help, I learned that He could relieve me of the desire to drink; that He could help me make a new way of life without needing alcohol to do it; and also that He could and would and did enable me to overcome all the other problems that, whether caused by drunkenness, by sin, by evil behavior, or just by troubles of my own making, with God nothing was impossible. And that the addendum to the First Step is the language that Dr. Bob used: ". . . we had no Twelve Steps. . . we had no Traditions. But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book" (The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biograpical Sketches Their Last Major Talks, Pamphlet P-53, page 13).

And I certainly learned from the Good Book--which is what early AAs called the Bible--that, with God's help, I had the "power" to quit drinking, to trust in God with all my heart and lean not unto my own understanding, and to believe that if I acknowledged Him in all my ways, He would direct my paths.

See "Introductory Foundations for Christian Recovery" (

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