I have started going to Al-Anon. Part of “working the program” includes acceptance of the twelve steps, which is not a quick or easy practice. I am an academic by nature; it is going to help me to read everything I can get my hands on about this, think about it, listen to others, and then write my response. I’m going to write my responses here, until such point that I decide not to. In any event, this daylog is going to be about Step One.

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

Okay. Here goes:*

We--the plural. I am not in this alone. In the past week and a half, I have experienced enormous relief and comfort to find a loving, accepting group of people who have been through what I am experiencing, and are able to offer help and hope.

admitted--past tense; referring to those who have successfully completed this step before me. As with the we, I find this to be a source of comfort.

we were powerless--If I break it down this way, I have some problems with it. I feel pretty strongly that I am NOT powerless over my own life, but I can admit that even in my own life there is a great deal I don’t control. However, I prefer:

we were powerless over alcohol--okay, that’s better. It’s not that I am powerless over a bottle of beer, but I am certainly unable to do anything about the alcoholic’s relationship with that bottle, or its 23 first cousins. I am certainly powerless over the disease of alcoholism, as it relates to another person.

I am, when we get right down to it, powerless over the actions and thoughts of another human being, period. I may exert influence, sure, but absolute control is beyond me. I am not all-powerful. This (as Martha Stewart would say) is a good thing.

Moreover, I have spent years responding to the alcoholic, during periods of active drinking, in ineffective, unhelpful, destructive ways—allowing my anger and frustration to make things worse. I have “become irritable and unreasonable”; 1 I have contributed to the discord in my relationship(s). A vicious cycle now exists that I have been unable to think my way out of.

Which leads to:

our lives had become unmanageable—Yup. For me, as with many, there had to be a crisis to drive me to this point. There was, and it made it pretty damn clear that things were unmanageable.

At that point, I was very much focused on what the alcoholic was doing wrong, on which of the alcoholic’s actions and behaviors needed to change. I hadn’t really considered the fact that, while I am not an alcoholic, I am suffering from exposure to this disease. Over time, my anger and frustration in this one relationship has clouded my interactions with other people, in other areas of my life.

…we admit that we did not cause, cannot control, and cannot cure the alcoholic, the disease of alcoholism, or the fact that we have been affected by this disease. 2

Shifting perspective a bit, I was able to see that I have grown more negative, less patient, more controlling, less flexible, more guarded, less open. I would like to change that. I am intrigued and encouraged by the fact that the focus in Al-Anon is on what I can control; on me.

”...I have been given certain tools with which to run my life, and the free will to use them. They include judgment, intelligence, good will, and the power to reason. Perhaps much of my trouble stems from having misused these tools. Judgment may have been warped by resentment, my intelligence by failure to face issues honestly. Good will can be lost when we are unable to be tolerant of the faults of others. The power to reason can be dulled when we fail to detach ourselves from the emotional content of a problem.
I pray for the wisdom to understand my difficulties clearly and honestly, and for the strength to do something constructive about them. I know I can count on God’s help in this.”3

I’ll tackle that part about praying for God’s help when I get to Step Two.


*Please keep in mind that many of the ideas expressed here are gleaned directly from Al-Anon literature, including (but not limited to): 1This is Al-Anon © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1967, revised 1981. 2 How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics , © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1995, page 46. 3One Day At A Time in Al-Anon, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1968, 1972, 2000; page 34. and Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon's Steps, Traditions, and Concepts © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1997.

Postscript (4/16/03) This whole powerlessness concept is useful for a lot more than just alcoholism. Whenever I get worked up about the actions of another person (poorly performing coworker, irritating man on the street, government officials, etc. etc.) it helps to remember that I'm not in charge of or in control of their actions, just my own. Remembering this relieves a lot of stress, and frees me to work on my own attitudes and behavior.

Related musings: step one | step two | step three | step four | step five | step six The Twelve Steps