I Heard It on The Pod
Episode 168 – Steps 1 & 2
In beginning this journey of sharing my thoughts on Sober Speak episodes, I went back through the shows, trying to recall which guest speakers resonated with me the most. I haven’t heard all the shows, nor all the speakers. But the dozens of speakers that I have heard were all amazing. John finds truly brilliant speakers who share incredible stories. Brian P is one of the speakers whose story impacted me greatly. While I loved his first episode and hope to write a blog on it soon, I thought it might be kind of cool to stick with a theme of going through the 12 steps with various speakers who shared their insights. Brian’s episode offered in-depth personal experiences and great interpretations of the critical first and second steps.
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.”
This step is so important. But when going through the program myself, I thought it was almost unnecessary. I mean, I’m here, right? Why would I walk into an AA room if my life wasn’t unmanageable? But as Brian points out, there is a lot more to this step.
Step 1 is crucial to building the framework for sober living. In fact, Brian points out that there are “51 pages of The Big Book dedicated to the first step.” As he breaks down step one, his interpretation is that the word “admitted” is “to let in” and “let internally.” In other words, admitting powerlessness is an internal admittance – a recognition to oneself that, “I can’t handle this anymore. That is my truth.” Anyone can say in meetings or tell a sponsor that they are powerless over alcohol. But, if internally they still believe that they somehow have the ability to beat alcoholism, then they have not truly surrendered. Which is concerning because surrender is the whole point of this step. But wait, it gets better.
The recognition of powerlessness over alcohol is recognizing that we have both a physical allergy and a mental obsession (as well as a spiritual malady which is the critical third component to our truth). In a physical sense, we have an allergy to alcohol. But we also have a mind which doesn’t recognize that physical allergy. This explains the continuous lies we made to ourselves when we were only going to have one or two and then found ourselves nursing a tremendous hangover and wondering, “how in the hell did that happen?”
It happened because our bodies process alcohol differently from non-alcoholics. And while our body reacts differently, our brain doesn’t recognize that reality. To further illustrate, Brian discussed times in his life where he should have restrained from drinking. Where any sane, non-alcoholic person would have easily had one or two (or even none). Brian didn’t have that ability. But he was still convinced that he was making that choice, as opposed to the alcohol making that choice for him. There was no choice. As most of us recognize now, this disease has nothing to do with choice or willpower. We just physically process liquor differently than “normal” drinkers. Yet our mind harbors the delusion that “this time” we can drink safely. Recognizing this mind/body disconnect suddenly makes the realization that we are truly powerless a little more palatable.
Brian also shared a sentiment that he heard from someone in the rooms. “Alcoholics anonymous has done slowly for me, what booze did quickly.” To illustrate this point, he breaks down the 9th step promises, but with a twist.
- When I drink alcohol, I know a new freedom and a new happiness.
- When I drink alcohol, I will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
- When I drink alcohol, I comprehend the word serenity and I know peace.
- When I drink alcohol, no matter how far down the scale I have gone, I can see how my experience can benefit others.
- When I drink alcohol, that feeling of uselessness and self-pity disappears.
- When I drink alcohol, I lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in my fellows.
- When I drink alcohol, self-seeking slips away.
- When I drink alcohol, my whole attitude and outlook upon life changes.
- When I drink alcohol, my fear of people and of economic insecurity leaves me.
- When I drink alcohol, I intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle me.
- I suddenly realize that booze is doing for me what I cannot do for myself.
And Brian says that’s why he drank alcohol. He was chasing the feeling that the promises offer. But, he didn’t know that then. If you think about it, it’s also why the program works. These simple statements are presented to us as promises. (Beautiful, powerful, in the beginning unbelievable promises.) As such, while working the program, we get to replace spirits with spirituality and slowly the promises materialize and become real.
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Brian’s discussion on step 2 begins similarly to how many of us first viewed this step. By taking offense to needing to be restored to sanity. When he told his sponsor that he disagreed with the sentence, his sponsor asked, “Okay, what’s the most insane thing you did?” (SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t heard Brian’s first episode, I highly encourage you to go back and listen to it before continuing on with this blog. The next paragraph offers a big reveal.)
Brian figured he had an easy answer. The most insane thing he’d done was rob a bank and get caught, while he was awaiting trial for bank robbery. His sponsor looked at him and said, “That’s not insane. That’s just stupid. The most insane thing you ever did was, after having empirical data that you could not drink safely, that you would walk into a bar. That’s insane. Walking into a situation and thinking that it’s going to be different OR recognizing that it’s going to be the same, but you will just deal with it.”
Brian points out that the step talks about restoring our sanity only as it pertains to alcohol. Further, the Power greater than ourselves abruptly brings God into the equation. Which, although important to the program, in the beginning can be a bitter pill to swallow. However, if step one worked and we accepted that we truly are powerless, then the only way to find power is through something more powerful than ourselves. Since we didn’t have the power to fix ourselves, this step asks us to be open to the possibility that a Power greater than ourselves can fix us. It asks us to be willing to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. By working the steps, AA bring us into closer contact with that higher power and introduces spirituality to our lives.
When it’s all said and done, I love Brian’s interpretation and explanation of the first two steps. Steps which, when I look back on my own experience, I completed almost solely on faith. I didn’t necessarily believe in a higher power. I certainly didn’t believe in one before I walked into the rooms. But, I did recognize that a bunch of drunks who I met with every day had found a way to stay sober for weeks, months, even years. I wanted that and if it worked for them, then it could work for me. Slowly, I came to believe and slowly the promises are becoming reality.
Brian’s story is inspirational. His ability to translate experience to the steps would benefit any newcomer to better understand their malady and the solution that we offer. Brian, thank you for your service! I hope to someday meet you and shake your hand. John, thank you for finding amazing speakers whose experience, strength and hope can transform lives. I also hope to someday meet you and shake your hand.
Gregg’s homegroup is The Grounded Group of Alcoholics Anonymous in Los Angeles, CA. (Thanks be to Zoom.) But after recently relocating to NYC, he is looking for a new homegroup to attend in-person once again.