Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Conversing Sisters: Step 1, We Were Powerless

Me & Lisa playing with the decorator house on Christmas morning, circa 1981ish

This post is part of a series of writings I did with my sister Lisa, in 2012. Our thoughts and perspectives reflect a moment in time. They may or may not have changed in the passing years.

Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Lisa's Thoughts  

There are so many blessings that come to mind when I think about Step 1. So many realizations and internal freedoms that took place when another woman, who suffered as I did, sat me down and worked this step with me. I had no idea, at that time, that by agreeing to take this first step, I was agreeing to begin an entirely different life. I remember that day. It was a cold day in February 2008. I had almost 60 days of sobriety. As I walked into this old broken down church to meet with this woman (my sponsor at the time), I remember feeling physically cold...internally cold as well.

I had been to a few AA meetings in this broke-down palace, as I like to call it. So, I was somewhat familiar with it and the people who sat outside sharing story after story in an effort to help one another. They were strangers, yet they had such love and compassion in their eyes. This concept of fellowship was foreign to me, and even though there were so many other people there who had similar stories, I remember still feeling so scared, and extremely empty, and alone.
As I walked in the door, there she was- her eyes full of light. Her energy had such deep warmth that when she greeted me with a hug her embraced warmed every inch of my soul and body. I remember thinking: How did she do that? Who is this woman and why is she so willing to help me? Her first words were, “Well, are you ready to begin the first day of the rest of your life?” I smiled shyly and said, “Well, I guess. I really don’t have any other choice do I?” We both laughed. She said softly, “Don’t worry, Honey, the only thing you have to change is everything.” I had no idea how true that statement would become as my sobriety path unfolded one day at a time. We read step one together out of the “Twelve and Twelve” which is a sister book to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. As she read, I began feeling complete surrender. The word “we” seemed to keep repeating and suddenly I didn’t feel so all alone. That one word “we” has taken on so many different meanings as I have worked the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous over and over again. “We” meant that I never had to be alone ever again. Regardless of what was happening in my life, that feeling of loneliness and self-pity would disappear just as the promises state in the Big Book. The admittance part of this step was huge for me. I had known for a long time something was wrong with me and the way I drank. However, up until that day, I had never had the courage to admit it to anyone, not even myself. I felt a level of freedom that day when I finally stood up and said,

“My name is Lisa and I am an alcoholic.”

It felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders and that I didn’t have to continue to live with this deep dark secret that had consumed all of me. I didn’t know exactly what would become of me after admitting that I was an alcoholic but I knew it had to be better than the life I had just walked away from. Since working this step, admittance is usually what sets me free in many situations in my everyday life: admitting that I was afraid to be a mother; admitting that I was angry at my Father for the way he treated me as a child; and that I was angry at my Mother for allowing and not intervening; admitting that I had married for all the wrong reasons; admitting that I have never felt good enough or comfortable in my own skin. There is such power in admitting. I learned there are many times in my life, that I am grateful, that I just have to begin with admitting. Then I can, eventually, move into accepting. I don’t have to take them both on all at the same time. “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” “Powerlessness.” Oh Goodness! My first thoughts about this were: What do you mean I am powerless? Have you met me? Don’t you know who I am or how important I am? I think I am pretty powerful and now you are asking me to take a look at defining myself as powerless?

On and on and on my thoughts went about powerlessness. I was pretty offended by it, in the beginning, to be honest. I had no idea that surrendering and admitting powerlessness would give me so much peace and serenity in my life and relationships. It was when I began looking at powerlessness that I realized many of the solutions to my life would usually come in complete paradoxes. The beauty in immersing myself in powerlessness helped me realize that not only was I powerless over alcohol and substances but, more importantly, I was powerless over people, places, and things. My whole life I have taken responsibility for everyone’s problems and shortcomings. It was always my fault and no one was ever thankful for my ability to take their problems on emotionally. I would spend all of my time and energy trying to fix everything or save everyone. It was when I began to understand this portion of this step that I realized just how co-dependent I really was. That if I “just let go” and “got out of the way” all of the people and situations, I believed I had control of and was responsible for, would work out just the way they were supposed to without my help.

My sponsor, at the time, helped me see that I was playing God and interfering with God’s business. If I was going to stay sober it was crucial that I leave God’s business to God, and mind my own business. It sounds hysterical to me now, but in the moment it didn’t seem so funny. There I was having a tantrum that I wasn’t God, and could no longer afford to act as if I were God. It was obvious to everyone, including myself, that externally my life was unmanageable! I had let go of my employment, my children, my family, my husband and many of my friendships, so that I could drink the way I wanted to, whenever I wanted to, without any interference. More importantly than my life being externally unmanageable was that the real chaos was going on inside. It baffled me that taking one drink, just one, had the power to cause this ripple effect of pain and suffering for not only myself, but also for everyone who cared about and loved me, and that I cared for and loved too. It was this horrific cycle of moments of sobriety and then quickly without any intention I would be drunk again. I can’t tell you how many mornings I woke up and promised myself I wouldn’t drink that day so I could show up for my responsibilities as a mother, an employee, a daughter, a friend, etc. Then I would come to somewhere in a strange place with strange people, honestly, not knowing how I got there or how much time had passed since I woke up and made that promise to myself. This cycle continued for a very long time. In the last nine months of my drinking career, my life had become so unmanageable that I was determined to die but didn’t have enough guts, so to speak, to put a gun in my mouth. So, I was on a mission to commit slow suicide through cocaine, meth, pills, alcohol, dangerous men or whatever else was available to put into my body that was life threatening. The thought of living an unmanageable life was too overwhelming and to think that I could NEVER drink again was something I just could not fathom. There were moments when the alcohol would wear off and I would begin to feel my actual feelings. The guilt and shame of the wreckage of the past would consume my heart, mind, body, and soul with an immense amount of pain. I honestly believed that it couldn’t be fixed or taken back. There was no way I could be forgiven for yesterday’s actions and the future seemed dark and hopeless. I was emotionally, spiritually, and physically bankrupt in every way...lost and blind without an ounce of strength to get back up and fight to live again. Step one taught me so many things. It helped me shift my perception just enough that I felt a tiny ray of hope after I had worked it with my sponsor that cold day in February so many years ago. She helped me see that I only had to worry about today. I would learn a few years later, when I worked this step again, that I really only need worry about this moment.

A connection to God only exists in the now. God doesn’t live in yesterday, tomorrow or today. He simply resides in the now. I have learned that “now” is the only place I can truly find, feel and hear Him. It is in the admitting, in the completely surrendering, that I have won my life back. I am truly grateful for this step and the immense power it has in my life today.

Liz’s Response 

Lisa, this is excellent! Well written with a clear narrative and strong point of view. I clearly heard your voice. It makes me feel like I need to step up my game. :-)

Liz's Thoughts  

I believe our power is something we have to give away. It cannot be taken from us. When we give our power to someone and/or something else we then become subjected to them/it.  I have seen this happen with substances in the lives of family members and friends. I’ve personally experienced the consequences of giving my power over to another person.

I was in an abusive relationship for ten years (eight of which we were married). I gave my power to my ex-husband, gradually.  At first it was my time and attention. I became intoxicated by him. I wanted to spend every minute together. I started skipping college classes, sleeping through my early morning classes because I had stayed up all night with him, cancelling plans with my friends, and slacking at my job. This behavior isn’t necessarily alarming and  is common human behavior when you start a new relationship. Generally, what happens though is people eventually find better ways of balancing their responsibilities and their relationship.

As our relationship continued to progress, in addition to my time and attention, I gave him my agency. I wouldn’t make a decision without discussing it with him first. I would do whatever he thought was best, even when I disagreed.

After a few years of this continual transfer of power, my life was no longer my own. Everything I did was for one purpose: to make him happy.  I wore what he wanted me to wear. I was friends with who he wanted to spent time with. I began to talk like him and think like him. I even ended relationships at his request – including my relationship with my parents.

My life was unmanageable because it was no longer mine.

It was his.

This began to erode my identity and my spirit. I became a shell of person. I was a desperate person doing desperate things in order to stay in a relationship that was destroying me.

I didn’t want to see this.

I would twist, justify, bend, deny, and avoid the truth so that it would allow me to keep the status quo.

All that changed when the truth demanded to be seen.

All the tricks I used before only led me back to the truth. The truth being: I was in an abusive relationship and needed to get out. Oprah Winfrey teaches the principle - you have to name it to claim it.

Once I acknowledged that I was powerless over my relationship and that my life had become unmanageable, I was able to start to see things for what they were. Once I acknowledge that, I started to reclaim my power and began the long journey to selfhood.

Lisa's Response


I was extremely amazed how easy it was for you to understand the meaning of this step! I believe everyone can experience a sense of powerlessness and unmanageability, regardless, if they are an alcoholic or not. More and more, I find these steps are just steps we can use to help us with being human and to find comfort and peace as we make this journey back home.

I so appreciate the things you said about your marriage and can relate on so many levels. I believe it is stories like yours that have the potential to help serve the masses because of who you have become and how you are living proof that with God all things are possible.

Thank you for sharing this with me!

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