On Being an Alcoholic and Taking First Steps

One of the things that I’m constantly asked about Alcoholism is “How long have you been an alcoholic?”

The answer is ‘forever’.

That’s a really hard pill to swallow. For others will always say “But what made you that way?” and my brain will always say “Alcoholism isn’t forever. You’ve been sober long enough that you’ve learned to control it. One drink won’t hurt.”

The truth is, I’ve been drinking since I was 12 years old. By the time I was 15, it was an everyday habit. Although I’ve enjoyed periods of sobriety, the truth is that I will never be cured from this disease. My brain is wired differently. I cannot take ‘just one drink’ and leave it at that. I have to acknowledge that ‘one drink’ is a trigger point for my alcoholism.

The Truth is, I am powerless over alcohol.

Admiting that is the first part of the first step in the program of AA. In order to move forward, we have to acknowledge that we cannot manage our drinking, ourselves. This is not as easy as it seems.

Although I have been struggling with Alcoholism for more than half my life, I have yet to really admit that I am powerless over alcohol. I can say, in part, that it’s because I didn’t know that was the first step for most of my journey, thus far.

I grew up in an issolated moutain pass in the hills of West Virginia. My small town did not have the AA program. There is no Danese, WV AA group or NA group. Looking at this, now, I’m baffled by it because alcoholism and addiction is a huge problem for that area and traveling to nearby towns is an unneccesary barrier for many who are suffering. But that’s a topic for a different day so I digress.

It is easy to displace blame for why I haven’t been able to fully admit my powerless in the past. What you’ll learn about Alcoholics, if you have the chance to get to know us, is that we’re great at making excuses. So, instead of listing these excuses out one by one, I’ll submit the truth, instead.

I haven’t admitted it, because I don’t want to admit it.

Honesty is hard. Particularly when that honesty is pointed inward. Particularly when that honesty means that I have a character defect that I have no control over. I could not, in the past, submit that I was powerless because I wasn’t being honest with myself about the extent of my problem.

I’m working on that now. This time, I’m approaching my recovery with a level of personal honesty that is surprising to me. That’s what makes ‘this time’ different.

It feels real.

But, there’s a long way to go and as good as this revelation feels, it’s just the first part of the first step.

I must also admit that my life has become unmanageable

The second part of the first step in the program of AA is to admit that my life has become unmanageable.

But what does ‘unmanageable’ really mean?

This is where I’ve always gotten stuck. In so many ways, my life is not unmanageable. I am a functioning alcoholic. I’ve managed to build a decent life for myself, further my career and enjoy a bit of success, while drinking. I’ve never gotten a DUI, been in jail or rehab or stolen to support my habit.

As I listen to stories of alcoholism in the rooms, it is so easy for me to say “I’m not them.” This way of thinking makes it impossible for me to move forward in step work. It opens the doors for the whispers of the disease which will invariabily say to me “You are not an alcoholic. Go ahead and drink, you won’t be worse off for it.”

I will always fail, if I compare my story to the stories of others.

I’ve realized during the beginnings of this stent in sobriety is that ‘comparing myself to others’ is just an avenue for my dishonesty with and about myself.

If I look at my life from afar OR if I look at my life in the context of the ‘me’ that I present to the world, it will always appear as if my life hasn’t become unmanageable.

If I apply the concept of fearless and rigerous honesty, that perfect picture crumbles quickly. The unmanageableness of my life is smaller than most, that’s true. But when I say smaller, I don’t mean that it’s less significant.

My life has become unmanageable at the mundane level. The routines and habits (or lack thereof) that I keep on a daily basis are distructive and maddening. I won’t list them out publicly but I have made an inventory that I plan to share with my sponsor.

The point is that I’ve made the inventory with honesty and that’s a big step.

What happens next?

There are 11 more steps to tackle (along with attending meetings and finding a sponsor)–in short, there’s a lot of work to be done. I will touch on those and other topics as I move through this journey. I’m sharing my story in this forum because it’s easier for me to be vulnerable, here, but also because I hope it helps someone else.

Before I end, I want to acknowledge one more fact about the first step. It is not a one-time admission. I will have to acknowledge and admit my powerlessness, continuously. I know from past experience that I am really good at convincing myself that I can handle ‘just one drink’. I also know that people who do not suffer from alcoholism may never understand the cycle of it and so I will always need to explain the reasons why I cannot give myself over to the temptation to drink.

If you’re struggling with alcoholism, I encourage you to find a meeting in your area or reach out to a fellow alcoholic. Here are a few resources that might help:

AA and the 12 Steps provides information and resources for individuals suffering with alcoholism.
AA Meeting finder lists meeting locations and times for the US and Canada
Sober Grid App is a social networking app for Alcoholics and Addicts in recovery. This is a great resource for anyone who needs peer support but can’t attend meetings.
AA Big Book and Reading Resources

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