He stopped drinking, so why did his life seem to be getting worse ?
STEP ONE: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
I began drinking when I was 15. Alcohol was fun and made me feel a part of the crowd. It removed my inhibitions and my feelings of inferiority. I had found the secret to my happiness and I loved it. After my first drinking experience, I began to drink whenever possible, always to get that initial elusive feeling. Sometimes I reached it, but then I always overshot the mark. But as the Big Books says, I always drank for the effect produced by alcohol.
When I was drinking, I never experienced problems. Oh, I had them—I just never experienced them. When I became restless, irritable, discontented, worried, sad or depressed, I knew just what to do. I’d grab a bottle of problem-remover and poof, no more problems. I used alcohol to manage my life and it worked quite well for a few years.
As with all of us, by the time I reached AA at age 38, alcohol no longer worked for me. Alcohol was certainly my master, so I had no problem with Step One, at least the first part of it. I admitted I was powerless over alcohol.
However, I couldn’t see how my life was unmanageable. After all, I still had a lovely wife, two beautiful children, a nice home and two cars in the garage. I was doing well at work and continued to advance in my career. I thought that once I solved my pesky little alcohol problem, life would be perfect.
A friend of mine once said, “The disease (dis-ease) of alcoholism begins when we stop drinking.” Man, was he ever right. All the problems I had ignored, all the feelings I had stuffed over the years, came back and hit me like a freight train. I had stopped drinking but I felt worse than I ever had in my life, which was totally out of control. Apparently, AA just didn’t work, I thought.
But there was a part of the First Step I hadn’t taken. It was the part after the dash. I had never admitted my life was
unmanageable. As I saw it, my life wasn’t unmanageable because of alcohol. It was unmanageable because I had never learned to confront problems and feel feelings. Alcohol had been my solution, not my problem.
I always wondered why our co-founder, Bill W., separated Step One into two parts, using a dash. I thought that one idea referred to the other. That is, my life was unmanageable because I was powerless over alcohol. Bill had a wonderful command of the English language and wrote very precisely. I looked up the grammatical use of a dash and found this comment by the writer Lewis Thomas, M.D., who wrote: “The dash is a handy device, informal and essentially playful, telling you that you’re about to take off on a different tack but still in some way connected with the present course.”
I believe Bill was “taking off on a different tack” when he separated the Step. I am powerless over alcohol, is one thought, and, my life is unmanageable, is a second thought. The two are related but should be read as two thoughts.
Over the years, I have seen folks come into AA and things start to get better immediately. There are no more hangovers. They are sleeping through the night. They begin riding on the beautiful pink cloud. The problem is that after a few months, reality sets in and life doesn’t feel so good any more. Life begins to get worse. We all know how to make things better. We drink and then go through the downward spiral again. We become convinced that AA doesn’t work. I believe it’s because we never took the entire First Step. At least that was my experience.
The Steps don’t help us get control of our drinking. They help us get control of our thinking and our actions. Only half of Step One even refers to alcohol. Once alcohol is out of the picture, the real work begins. We realize how unmanageable our lives are without alcohol, our problem-solver. The Steps help us handle our sobriety. Therefore, my new life began after the dash, and my recovery continues to this day. Often life throws me a curve, but I know I have the tools to hit it head on. Problems don’t stay now, they evaporate.