Episode 119: The First Step

In this episode, Angela B. and John S. discuss the first step in the recovery process, which for many of us is whatever happened that helped us escape the grip of denial, admit we had a problem with alcohol and to seek help. Angela and John go into more detail about Step One and the principles behind it, while covering a few other topics along the way. 

Transcript

00:00 John S: This is episode 119 of “AA Beyond Belief.”

[music]

00:23 John S: So we’re here to talk about step one, this is our first step of the series. You ready for this?

00:47 Angela B: Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.

00:49 John S: Well, where do we begin?

00:51 Angela B: Well, you could say what step one is.

00:53 John S: I actually was looking up some of the versions of the steps and of course the first version written in 1939 by Bill Wilson that we know in AA is we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives have become unmanageable.

01:07 Angela B: Yeah.

01:07 John S: There are some other versions that I’ve learned about over just the last couple of years, a lot of them from the podcast, but one that I find interesting is Serge Prengel’s “The Proactive 12 Steps.” And his is real different. There is a big split between who I want to be and what I do, I am stuck in what I do.

01:26 Angela B: Ooh, I like that. Yeah. That’s wonderful.

01:28 John S: And then of course Arlys G and Martha Cleveland from the alternative 12 steps. I did read this this week, and I really enjoyed reading it. But admit we are powerless over other people, random events and our own persistent negative behavior, and that when we forget this, our lives become unmanageable.

01:46 Angela B: Yes, yeah.

01:47 John S: And that’s the one that you were first working when you were introduced to the steps isn’t it?

01:51 Angela B: Yeah, yeah, and it’s the one that I work with other people now too, and I find that they really, really relate to that one. One of the people that I’m working with right now is a woman who’s a little bit older than I am, and she’s been in the program for longer, but she moved to our area a few years ago, and I had moved away from meetings because she just didn’t relate anymore to a lot of the God language and stuff, and so then she found ours and started coming to it and asked me if I would take her through the steps the secular way. And so it’s kind of cool going through the steps with her of somebody who’s been in program for a long time and has worked through the steps before and has sponsored people and getting her perspective on this take on it. And this is the main book that we’re using, so yeah, it’s kind of neat. With “The Alternative 12 Steps,” they say that the principles are insight and honesty. Were you aware of that when you first started working the steps? Was that told to you or how did you first go through it?

[chuckle]

03:02 John S: Well, the way I see it now, the way that I actually worked the step was two-fold. One was not actually working it, but just from my life experience of reaching that point in life where I realized I had a problem with alcohol and I needed help. Now when I reached out and got a sponsor, the way that we actually worked the step of course was reading the 12 and 12 and The Big Book. That’s just what that group did. So I would meet with my sponsor and I would highlight the book and learn different things. And what they stressed in the Big Book is on powerlessness over alcohol because it’s an allergy of course.

[laughter]

03:41 Angela B: Right.

03:42 John S: And so, yeah, powerlessness over alcohol. And so we read “The Doctor’s Opinion,” we read “More About Alcoholism,” I believe were the two main chapters about step one and then of course the 12 by 12. But I guess what we did as we read that we also had conversations around the material, kind of relating our own personal experiences to the step. And looking back on that experience as a new person in AA going through that, I realized that I was really working in the step was by sharing my story with other people and then by doing that learning and further escaping the denial that I was in during my active addiction. So it’s kind of a long-winded answer to your question.

04:25 Angela B: No. I like it. because I think it’s probably familiar to a lot of people is… I know that when I was first listening to people talking about the steps and how they did it, that… Yeah, I didn’t get the whole principles type thing, I didn’t know that there were specific principles. It’s like we say in meetings we practice these principles in all our affairs. Well, which ones are those? When I was new I couldn’t hear any of that, and I hadn’t developed my AA to secular language translator yet, that took a little while. But yeah, the way that we do it or the way that I do it with people now is we do writing. And so I know that some people don’t like the little homework assignments that sponsors give out, but that’s the way we do it.

05:14 Angela B: And we’re basically getting I think at the same thing that you did, which is to better understand our story and the story we make up about our story. So, I usually assign something like write a paragraph each on four topics and the four topics are like, what’s the first time you remember tasting alcohol? What’s the first time you remember getting drunk? Sometimes they’re the same, sometimes they’re not. The first time you thought you had a problem with alcohol, and the experience that brought you to AA. Yeah, and then I have them read through step one in the alternative book and then either write down or underline or whatever they want to do the statements that either mean something to them, or that they disagree with, or anything that they read through that they want to talk about it at the next time that we get together. And so yeah, so the goal is basically to have some reflection and think about…

06:21 Angela B: Am I powerless over alcohol or whatever it is that I’m doing that’s making my life difficult? And so that’s what I ask when we get together next. Is, I either ask or I listen to what they wrote and see if… Do they seem to be in a place where they get that? Are they in a place where they think their lives are unmanageable? Kind of have they, I think, in Joe’s Beyond Belief musings book, there’s a page where he’s talking about whether it’s a ceasefire, or surrender, and that if you surrender that, it’s not conditional. And so if you haven’t surrendered then it’s merely a ceasefire. And I kind of like that language, but yeah, do you think that your life is unmanageable? And how long have you been able to stay sober currently? I think that that’s an important thing to think about when we’re working together to help with positivity [chuckle] partly. But… And also, what do you think is contributing to that? What do you think helped you get to wherever it is today that we’re talking that you’ve been able to stay sober? And so that’s kind of leads us into step two, of recognizing resources outside ourselves. But yeah, that’s how I generally start with people is looking at those things, to get them thinking about their history with alcohol or substances, and where that started.

07:46 Angela B: And I used to do this with just the fourth step, because things would often come up for the women that I worked with on the fourth step, regarding abuse issues and things that were repressed that they wouldn’t even know about until they started writing. And in the writing process, stuff starts to come up. And I know that’s happened for me in journaling that I’m writing something and then all of a sudden like, “Oh I forgot that time when such and such happened.” And, but it’s happened with the first step because of the writing assignments and activity that I had had a sponsee that had a repressed memory of when she was a teenager of being sexually assaulted, and so. Yeah, and so that was really disturbing for her because she’s in the process of getting sober. And then this comes up, and so it’s like, “Well, do I really want to be doing this when these painful memories just suddenly appear?” And so I always suggest that the people I work with, particularly when something like this comes up, seek counseling or outside resources, and depending on the person, if they’re in college or something, we talk about the resources that are available here in town from the university or any other resources if they don’t have the funds to be able to seek that out.

09:08 Angela B: But I think it’s really important that people know that those are places that you can go, and that you should go when you’re in recovery that we seek outside help. That AA isn’t a cure all for everything. These tools that we start to develop are helpful for a lot of areas of our life and as a program of living. [laughter] It is good stuff, but sponsors are not counselors, we’re not training professionals. And what I’m doing is just taking somebody through with my understanding and what I’ve learned. But it’s not a profession and that… Yeah, and that goes beyond my pay grade. So, I’m always happy to talk with them and share my experience with that because it is part of my story too. So that they don’t feel alone in what what they’re feeling.

10:01 John S: I used to watch this program with my wife, she loved it for, I don’t know why [laughter] It was intervention. Did you ever see that?

10:09 Angela B: I heard about it, but no, I didn’t watch it. Yeah.

10:12 John S: Well, it was kind of interesting because they would… They basically had these interventions with people that had addiction problems. And they did all kinds of drugs, alcohol, anything. Well, one thing that I noticed, a recurring theme, especially with the women that they featured was a history of abuse, of sexual abuse in their past. I wonder if that is more common than not with women in recovery?

10:38 Angela B: Yeah, I don’t have the numbers to say, but it’s been my experience that the majority of women that I’ve spoken with and talk to that it is part of their story and a fair number of men too. And particularly the younger men that I know of seemed to be more willing to talk about that a little bit, either privately or to each other, because I’ve had some that have heard my story and heard me talk about it, and so come up to me afterwards and say, “Hey, that’s part of my story too, but I’ve never talked to anybody about it.”

11:18 John S: Wow, that could be really traumatic. I can’t even imagine dealing with that at the same time that you’re coming to terms with your addiction.

11:24 Angela B: Right, yeah, yeah, I think it can turn people away. I do know of one girl that I was sponsoring and she had a friend that they were meeting buddies when they were, early on, and the friend had a different sponsor and had gone, was working on the fourth step and did have… I think I’ve mentioned before that awful experience of her sponsor suggesting that what she was wearing was the reason that this awful thing happened to her. And so by the time that that happened, and I heard about it it was too late, the girl was already out and drinking again, because, “Why not?” Now, she’s had it confirmed to her by somebody who’s sober that she had a fault in this. And so, yeah, so I talk about it and talk about that experience so that people are aware. And I don’t know that her sponsor had ill intent at all. I’m sure that she thought that she was taking the girl through the steps and helping her. But [laughter] people need to be aware that that’s not okay. And sometimes I think, I assume that in the society we live in that that would be, known now, not to say something like that, but yeah, not all always is. And so it’s up to me and anybody else who’s aware of it to bring that to light.

12:45 John S: So you know, speaking about women in recovery and dealing with the step. This is totally anecdotal but most of my recovery, I went to a men’s group for 25 years. I didn’t really know a lot of women in recovery and it wasn’t really until I started the We Agnostics Group that I was in meetings with women, and of course, this is an agnostic group so it’s a little bit different than others, but there’s been more than a few women who told me that they had a problem with the word powerless.

13:16 Angela B: Yeah.

13:16 John S: And do you think that’s a fairly common thing?

13:19 Angela B: I do. Yeah, definitely, because often times we either grow up or we’ve experienced where we’ve been in the down power position and had to fight to get either respect or recognition, or to survive for a variety of reasons. So yeah, so the word powerless is definitely difficult and so talking about it and as many ways as possible, is definitely helpful. I think.

13:49 John S: I just find that really interesting, because I look at the… I talked to these people and I like having that experience of being able to meet someone with a different perspective. And I flash back because I see myself in my 20s and I saw that first step, and I thought it was a perfect description of my life. But of course, I’m a guy. And I guess that was okay for me, but how different it would have been for me if I would have looked at that and those words would have turned me on.

14:18 Angela B: Right, yeah. And it’s true because we’ve been… Or at least I know I’ve been powerless, so many times, made powerless, and so it’s not an ego type of a thing, it’s that I’ve been physically and emotionally, and whatever else way made powerless in my life. And so, yeah, so going to an AA meeting where it says you’re powerless over something. Yeah, it’s not super helpful. So yeah.

14:49 John S: And I think with the original AA people and I’ll let historians correct me, but I think that they were looking at powerlessness in the sense that I have no power, so I need a higher power, that being God, I think, is to a large extent. And the whole surrender process was kind of like a conversion process that I saw it from the very beginning, actually, for me as just being powerless over alcohol in that once I begin drinking, I lose control.

15:15 Angela B: Right. Yeah, and I think that most of us come to that conclusion for what powerlessness is, but still talking about it at meetings, is… Well, I think it’s difficult. We usually don’t talk about powerlessness, or use that word, we often will… I like Allen Berger’s version of it from… I’m looking at the little book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps, the Roger C one. But how he talks about that, it helps us shatter our reliance on the false self, which was fed through the lack of self-awareness, poor self-worth, lack of language plus denial physical, mental, and spiritual compulsion. You know, that I could understand a lot easier than powerlessness. And it took it away because… And it brought it back to me and what I could do sometimes with the word powerless, then it makes it like something outside of myself is again in control. And so I wasn’t coming to AA, so that something outside of me could change my drinking, I was hoping…

16:24 John S: Yes, that is exactly the objection I hear it’s that people they say, “I want to have control over my recovery, I am the person responsible for it.” And I think that that whole idea of admitting powerlessness, is that I, nothing I can do. I need you then… You know?

16:42 Angela B: Right. Yeah. Really. And also when people do the, “I’m powerless over people, places and things, stuff” that always… That too because I feel like the tools that I’ve learned here has helped me to have my own agency to get a sense of appropriate power and how to use it. But when I hear that it reminds me of… I think I was working with my sponsor, and she was asking about my amends and I had significant financial amends and one of them, which I still have is school loans. And so when she asked me about it, I was like, “Oop, I’m powerless. I’m powerless over people, places and things school loan is the thing, nothing I can do about it.” It didn’t go over well, you know?

17:30 John S: Yeah.

17:30 Angela B: But I thought it was hilarious and a fun way to tease about that kind of saying in AA, “I’m powerless over people, places and things.”

17:41 John S: It is funny. I know. I wonder whoever came up with that. It’s like one person said it and everyone thought that was…

17:47 Angela B: Right. Thought like… Yeah.

17:48 John S: Who can be…

17:50 Angela B: I mean, I know what they’re getting at it is that I need to… I only have control of my reactions and my emotions and things like that, but it’s just… It’s trite sounding when you just toss it out there.

18:04 John S: Well I like the way that you approach it, Angela. You mentioned the word reflection. And that’s what I was thinking about, when it comes to this is reflecting on my drinking, which was almost a natural thing for me when I first came to the point where I realized I had a problem, I immediately started thinking back, I started thinking back to when my drinking started, the first time I got drunk, the problems, the people who tried to talk to me about it and who I would not… I wouldn’t even accept hearing anything about it. And what really shocked me at the time was the depth of my denial that based upon the facts it should have been completely obvious to me that I needed to stop drinking, but I hid the facts, and so it was through actually just being arrested too many times and losing my job that kind of woke me up to come out of that denial, but it was a real difficult period. So when you’re doing what you’re suggesting that you do by writing those things out. And I’ve seen that in other books too like the Secular 12 Step book. Bill W he writes about taking a first step inventory, where he does something similar to that, where he just recommends that people write stuff out and there is a lot of power in writing, I think because I used to also do a journal and you really do see things writing that you might not otherwise.

19:26 Angela B: Yeah, and I think specifically for the first step, when people are new and coming in that it’s… There’s so much confusion and stress. Sometimes they’re here at the urgency of the state or local government, like you mentioned. And so really thinking about beyond their immediate circumstances about their drinking can be difficult. And so by breaking it down into a couple of small writing assignments like you don’t have to write your entire life, just a paragraph each, that gives them the permission or the ability to sit down and think about it. And then when we write it, handwriting things, we have to slow our brains down quite a bit to be able to do that and when you slow your brain down then that allows for the different part of your brain, the higher part or a slower part to be able to really reflect on what your experience is and that’s why repressed memories and things can come up because you’re slowing things down to really use the ability, the different part of your brain to write things. So yeah, that’s been something in our community that people kind of talk about, the minutiae of, “Does your sponsor make you write things out? Or can you use a computer? Or… ” And yeah, and some people are like, “Wow! You have to actually write things out by hand, that’s controlling.” And it’s like, “Well, it’s actually more about how the brain works and processing of information and stuff.”

21:11 John S: Isn’t that weird? I find there’s a difference in typing on a Word Processor and writing also. And I hardly ever actually write any more. I always type on my computer. But… And actually, the second time that I did my fourth step, that was actually a discussion I had with my sponsor, “Do I write it by pen?” And I elected to do that one on the computer. It was a different experience. It was just different.

21:37 Angela B: Yeah, because our brain’s so fast and automated, we automate so many activities. So yeah, by doing it by computer, sure you can get more written, but the insight I don’t think is usually there of why. And when you’re writing things by hand, it’s a different system in your brain, you have to go through a different process and you’ve used more channels to be able to do it. So, yeah, so it’s an important part of when… And also when I’m doing my own step, if I’m super upset about something, and either unable to get a hold of my sponsor or it’s just not the right thing to do at the time, I do go through and do a four-step process of writing the thing out so that I know. And usually by the time that I’ve written for a little while, I’m at a different spot, so not only am I usually calmer, because I removed myself from the situation and went to write something, but I’ve just slowed my brain down enough that I’m like, “Oh, okay, I see, I’m not actually mad at this person because of what they said or they did it just reminded me of another thing that I’m upset about.” And so I’m able to process it a lot easier when I write things out by hand. I just usually not wanting to do it because often times I’m wanting to feel the righteous indignation because it feels good.

[chuckle]

23:03 Angela B: And yeah, and so writing things down I know takes some time. And I usually try to convince myself or I’m good at convincing myself that I actually see things how they are and that this person is being a jerk and I need to stand up to them or whatever else it is. I’m just in that spot that, “No, I don’t need to write this down.” But if it’s bothering me enough, or if it’s really a relationship that I value, then I’ll go and do it because it’s worked for me enough that I know I’ll get some results. Sometimes it’s having to make a decision that I don’t want to make or having to set up a boundary, but it works for me.

23:45 John S: Well that’s interesting, the whole idea of slowing the brain down and it makes sense to me when I think about it. because I used to do a lot of writing, really I was a writer my entire life. By the time I was a little kid, I guess it was because my brain was so scrambled that the only way I could make sense of what was going on was to write it out. And if I was angry at my parents, I would write it out. If I was confused about a situation at school. If I was depressed, I’d always write. And I… So looking back, those are always times in my life where I did slow my brain down and I did stop and think, and it was kind of a calming experience for me. I don’t know, honestly, and maybe I’m not remembering right, but I don’t really remember being angry writing by hand. Although I have an anger typed out of email that I brought it out to somebody about.

[laughter]

24:33 John S: I don’t know if there’s a difference thing or not, but…

24:36 Angela B: I think many of us have written an angry email.

[chuckle]

24:41 John S: And maybe that’s the whole thing because your brain is going so fast where you’re type type type, “Oh, I’m so pissed off. I’m going to email this guy.” And you have to write him… If you have to actually write the guy a memo, you’ve probably done that.

24:50 Angela B: Yeah. It’s funny because I think that’s so common to everyone, whether they’re in recovery or not. One of my sponsors think for a while, she was going to this ecstatic dance type of a thing. She was recovering from breast cancer, and so she was trying all of these different somatic movements and different things to help her with that. And so she invited me to go and that’s not really my kind of thing. Dancing with a bunch of people to kind of yeah…

[laughter]

25:24 Angela B: It’s just not my thing. Anyway, but I was willing to go to be supportive. And I’m usually willing to try out new ideas and things because what’s the worst that could happen is I don’t like it and I don’t go back. So I went to this thing and somebody was there and asked for my email to sign in. And at this time I was still, I think, fairly early in recovery, maybe. Well, not early, probably about four or five years, but I was still at that time having a hard time saying no to anybody for things. So if you asked for my email address I put my little name down. Anyway, so I get on this email list for this group for ecstatic dance and then I don’t go to it anymore. But the leader of it, who is somebody who was very active in the meditation community and in the peace community and stuff like that. I get this email from her, that’s just scathing and yelling at me for selling her a horrible house and not being honest about the problems with the house and all the different stuff that’s gone wrong with the house. And oh, and I’m a horrible person.

26:36 Angela B: And I guess the realtor had the same first initial and my last name has 10 letters in it. And so I think the same last six letters. And so they, yeah, they had just on their email clicked what looked mostly right and sent it to me and so, yeah. So I had to laugh because I’m sure that I’ve done something similar. I know I’ve sent angry emails that I regretted. I’m not sure I sent any to the wrong person. Usually I send it to the right person and still regretted it. So yeah, I had to, had to take it a step back, I think I walked around the house for a minute, and shared it with my partner, and I laughed and I came back, and said “I’m sorry that you feel that way. It sounds like a very difficult situation for you and I definitely would talk to the person, but I’m not that person. I’ve never been a realtor.” And they were so apologetic and so embarrassed. And so, yeah, they wrote back and then…

27:42 John S: Yeah.

27:43 Angela B: Outlined how they were going to handle it differently, [chuckle] but definitely done that. So writing things out by hand can save you in a lot of ways. It can save you the embarrassment because it takes a lot longer to one, write things out, but then you’d have to post it somehow, and anyway.

28:02 John S: It looks like we’re kind of coming to I guess a consensus that okay, so this is maybe I shouldn’t assume this, but okay, for myself, I’m thinking, “Okay, step one for me is a couple of different things. It’s an experience that I have, and it’s reflecting on the experience, to learn about the experience and one way of doing that is through writing and it’s a process of getting honest and overcoming that denial, but I can also after I kind of step back and look at that whole experience as it relates to alcohol I can also relate that to other things that come up in my life, other problems.”

28:40 Angela B: Yeah, definitely. One of the things that I was reading before this was in Josie’s book. I think it was September 20th reflection and one of the things he says that is in step one, we stop blaming others and stop making excuses for ourselves, admitting our… And manageability. Maybe taking the most personal responsibility we have accepted for a long time and yeah, I think that there is some of that to my first step, because I had a lot of anger at society for getting me there. And all of the different things that it caused me to seek out, because I know that when I came I already had the insight that alcohol itself wasn’t exactly my problem, that I had other things going, and that alcohol was just my most recent solution to my problem that I had tried food before for a long time, and that worked, and then I took that away from myself, and so alcohol then became my next solution.

29:48 Angela B: So, yeah, so I had a lot of things in life that I blamed for why I was here, my childhood and all that stuff, and I needed to work through that. Those were all very real things. It’s not like I was falsely blaming somebody for my drinking. It’s just that I wasn’t taking the responsibility which is a little bit, a little bit different for it. And another thing I was reading in his book that really struck me was, I think it was February 16th. He talks about the therapist and author M. Scott Peck who did the “Road Less Traveled”, and that he said that, “If stopping doesn’t feel strange, we don’t understand the depth of pain involved in its major forms. Giving up is the most painful of human experiences.”

30:36 Angela B: And I thought about that too. And it had been about a year of really suffering with my alcoholism, and going through some pretty terrible, additional terrible things to get to the point of trying AA again. And when I did get into AA, it was because of being suicidal, and calling the suicide hotline, and so that really spoke to me, and it’s speaking to me now too, because there are other things in life that continue to come up. I think that’s one of the things that step one is that you have to, “It’s not like a zero sum.” You’re like, “Oh yeah, I surrendered, and now everything is going to be good.” It’s like you have to keep doing it with different things throughout your life and it’s still very hard for me to do in various circumstances whether it’s relationship or friendship or a job. I had several jobs in my life that I probably stayed longer than I should have or just kept trying and was not willing to surrender that it wasn’t working, and so yeah, so that kind of spoke to me of that, “It really is painful to admit that you can’t do something on your own.” And so then, you come to AA and people are like, “Oh, you can do it with God.” And that was not something that I wanted to hear or that I accepted. So yeah.

32:11 John S: I was like that with almost everything in my life. I would not admit that I had a problem, and it seems so insane to me now, but I would never, I guess I wasn’t even interested in looking within myself to understand what kind of problems I had, but I was reluctant to ask for help for anything. And one thing though I grew up with a mother who was mentally ill and one of my greatest fears was being like her. So I think I avoided that, by denying that I had these problems, and not ever acknowledging it or seeking help for it, but I did drink and I think I drank to a large extent to escape those feelings. Yeah, but what do you think? You also mentioned I think in Joe’s reading and it’s also in the original step, the whole idea of unmanageability and is that even problematic language?

33:08 Angela B: Well, I think that it could be in that there’s lots of management classes and tools that can help you and they generally don’t when you’re an alcoholic. You know, so. But on the other hand, I think it’s easier for a lot of us to see that things are unmanageable and that most of us don’t come to an AA meeting because things are going great. It’s a personal thing and I think there’s levels to it because particularly, at our meeting, we have a lot of people who are well-educated, who have advanced degrees and… Oh, I’d say it’s about half and half who’ve had trouble with the law [chuckle] because of it, because of their drinking. But yeah, from the outside, a lot of them would… Their lives would not look like they’re unmanageable because they often still have houses and some of them still have relationships and some of them have never been fired from a job. And so when you talk about unmanageability, I think that can sometimes be a way that some people can rationalize to themselves that maybe they don’t have that serious of a problem because they haven’t lost all of these things yet. For me, it was very obvious that my life was unmanageable.

34:26 John S: That’s how I saw it too actually, because I came through problems, so my life was a mess, so that’s how I kind of saw that, when I looked at that step was, “I, yeah, my life’s a mess. I can’t… It’s out of control.” But I did have that feeling. But you’re right, there are some people… And I’ve met many people like this who have had successful careers and happy marriages and everything seems to be wonderful and yet they’re alcoholic. So that, then manageability might be more difficult for them to see. But back in my old traditional group, though, I think that they used that as a way of saying that they themselves can’t manage their lives, they have to have a higher power to manage it for them. And so I don’t have that view now, I just have the view that… Yeah, my life, I had problems in my life, big time problems and I can… And I still do. And it’s I guess the way that I kind of learned from my whole experience and recovery is that when I do have a problem today, that the first thing I need to do to get out of it is to admit that I have the problem and get honest about it and come to terms with that and I’ve had to do that with my career here in not that many years ago. I was in a pretty bad place with my career and had to really get honest with myself about…

35:39 Angela B: Yeah, and I like in the secular book, towards the end of the first step reading, they talk about that our potential to heal is tied to our understanding of the following: One, what is within our power, two, what is beyond our power and three, where can we join with wider powers. And I really liked that as far as thinking about manageability because that’s usually where I’m stuck when I’m dealing with something is either I want to control it, you know, and again that I think that that comes where we were talking before about that being a common theme in both of our lives. I learned how to control things or that I had to control certain things in order to survive my childhood and so I learned how to manipulate adults and how to either make myself small or invisible or how to navigate things and so control, I didn’t really think I had an issue with over control.

36:37 Angela B: When I came in, obviously, I couldn’t stop drinking so there was a problem there but again the idea of control or power, there was a problem there. And so when I think about the first step in the inside and the honesty, is usually what is within my power? What is going on right now that I don’t find acceptable? And why is it that it’s not acceptable to me? What’s happening there that I think it should be different? And then do I have the ability to make it different? Should I make it different or is it that I just need to change my thinking about the issue? And I think that that all falls within step one for me.

37:21 John S: You know, I’m thinking too that if anybody is actually sitting down and even thinking about this idea of do they have a problem. Well, that’s already their first step right there that they’re even taking that because otherwise they wouldn’t. I mean, I drank for years without ever even stopping to think that… I mean, maybe if I thought about it just very briefly and dismissed the idea but yeah, once you get to that point where…

37:47 Angela B: Right, yeah, well, and the problem may not actually be like alcoholism or a disorder, whatever the different terms are. Oftentimes, I think there’s… If you’re thinking about it, then there’s definitely a problem but if you’re not sure if you should go to AA or something along those lines, I think definitely seeking out a counselor would be helpful in that. I had a person that I sponsored for a while who’s a good friend of mine now. And so this was probably like 10 years ago, that she came in and I worked with her for a little bit and she drank again. And then she… Her life kept getting bad even when she wasn’t drinking but oftentimes it would start to go with it.

38:36 Angela B: But what she found when she got treatment and got a really good therapist and doctor and step is that she… She was actually in her 20s and suffering from rapid cycle bipolar and had never been diagnosed before and so once she started to get the proper therapy for that and the medications that helped her with that, she didn’t drink unless she was in those phases and one of the phases that alcohol went with it. But otherwise, she didn’t have a problem with alcohol. She could have one with dinner with her husband and she has for probably, I think, about eight years now. And so, yeah, so I wouldn’t say that she’s an alcoholic but when she came in, she was calling herself an alcoholic because that’s what we do. And she believed herself to be one and I didn’t know any difference. If she thought she had a problem with alcohol, I was willing to help her but as it turns out and with hindsight, no, she isn’t an alcoholic. She had another mental health issue and when it got the proper treatment that it needed, yeah, she’s doing well.

39:46 John S: It makes total sense. You know what? It makes complete sense to me and I don’t know why I never even thought that way because I… My… The brainwashing I received [laughter] was that if you show up at an AA meeting you’re an alcoholic. But you know what? It also says that the drinking is a symptom of an underlying problem. And you know what? Sometimes that underlying problem is not… It has nothing to do with your physical addiction to alcohol perhaps. It might just be a serious mental illness.

40:17 Angela B: Right. And yeah. And so we don’t really talk about that in meetings. Usually if somebody says that they might have a problem or they’re there, they’re like, “Well if you’re here, you probably probably do.” And it’s like, “Well, you know, yeah, these days… ” Well, particularly these days, people are with the internet and all of the stuff people are seeking outside help. They’re like, “Okay, I may have a problem. What’s the freeway for me to try to check? And so, often AA is a first step of checking things out and sometimes they don’t. And I think you’re posting a thing with Wally. One of the things, Wally often says is that even if you don’t have a problem with alcohol AA is an okay place to be until you figure it out. So yeah.

41:05 John S: A misnomer is that you have to be an alcoholic to be in AA member. You know what? You really don’t. All you have to do is have a desire to stop drinking.

41:10 Angela B: My sponsee who is a Latter-day Saint, she has a daughter who’s about to turn 20, but when she was 18, she went to one of those EPA events, and they were giving out coins and it came to 18, and she’s like, “I’m going up to get a coin.” And her mom’s like, “What?” And she’s like, “I haven’t had a drink in 18 years and I’m going to go get a coin.” And so she went up there and she’d been pretty much raised going to meetings and so even though she’s never had a drink because her religious belief and stuff, she actually when she gets upset she calls one of her mom’s friends to do a fifth step and she’ll go to a meeting because she’s under the belief that she’s likely alcoholic, she just hasn’t had a drink. So, yeah, so a little bit different spin on it, but yeah, she uses the tools of AA and it seems to work out pretty well for her. It makes me laugh though.

42:10 John S: I love it when a little light bulb goes off in my head. You’ve probably sent me on a whole different path here now. When I’m thinking about people showing up at our meetings and I also think about a conversation I had with my psychiatrist, one of my psychiatrist some time ago. And he told me, and I’ve always heard this, that he could never really diagnose somebody until he got them off of their substance abuse, whatever substance they were abusing. And then after they do that, they could take care of the problem. I never thought it through, I never thought it through, “Oh, you take care of that problem, and then that takes care of the other.” It’s kind of funny. Anyway, interesting, interesting.

42:50 Angela B: Alright.

42:51 John S: We did cover a lot of ground here. I thank you. I think that this really turned out pretty well. I could see this as just a simple thing of we have some sort of an experience that takes us to this problem where we are forced to reflect…

[music]

43:23 John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you for listening. If you would like to support our site and podcast, there are a couple of ways you can help out. You can post a review on iTunes, hopefully a favorable one. You can help us out financially with either a recurring or one time contribution. You can do this by setting up a small recurring contribution at our Patreon page, which you can find at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief, or through PayPal at PayPal.me/AA Beyond Belief. And you can always just visit our site, aabeyondbelief.org and click on the donate button. Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief.


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Denise
Denise

Very interesting podcast and view on 1st step. I’m sure everyone needs to work out what it means for themselves depending on thier culture, conditioning and experience and of course thier delusion and denial. Interesting what you say about writing stuff down. Not something I’ve ever heard before for step one. But I guess it could be useful for those who are unsure. For me step one was ( simply!!!) realising that whatever I did, however I did it, I would never be able to ” control and enjoy my drinking” which was my “great obsession”. I didn’t have a… Read more »