Following my post ” Twelve Steps to Self-Recovery v2.0,” I was a bit haunted by my assertion that I had adequately worked through the first step simply because I was able to discuss how problematic my self-criticism and anger can be in my life. I began to feel suspicious that I might be glossing over some important elements of the first step in a self-sabotaging maneuver of unconscious denial. Yes, I need to identify the problem, but that isn’t all of the first step. I think I must have missed something really important, or else I wouldn’t have this niggling feeling of discomfort that keeps gripping me every time I tell myself, “Well let’s start that second step!” So without too much fanfare–and although I said I would move right to the second step and devote this month to its exploration–I am going to revisit the first step and delve a little deeper into its meaning. Because how can you build a sturdy building without a foundation?
Here, again, is the first step:
“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable .” I discussed in the post mentioned above that I didn’t really see myself as powerless over my addiction or that my life had become unmanageable, but that I do feel powerless sometimes, in some situations. Is this me denying the scope of my powerlessness? I wanted to explore the idea of powerlessness a bit more, so I did some surfing around…
And here is some commentary I found on the first step:
Step 1 is the first step to freedom. I admit to myself that something is seriously wrong in my life. I have created messes in my life. Perhaps my whole life is a mess, or maybe just important parts are a mess. I admit this and quit trying to play games with myself anymore. I realize that my life has become unmanageable in many ways. It is not under my control anymore. I do things that I later regret doing and tell myself that I will not do them again. But I do. I keep on doing them, in spite of my regrets, my denials, my vows, my cover-ups and my facades. The addiction has become bigger than I am. The first step is to admit the truth of where I am, that I am really powerless over this addiction and that I need help.
– From 12Step.org
Okay, so yes. “I do things I later regret doing and tell myself that I will not do them again.” That certainly rings true. When I let my anger get the best of me, and I unleash a verbal storm of fury in front of my children, I end up feeling regretful, guilty, sorrowful, and ashamed. I certainly tell myself that I will get this behavior under control and try to not engage in this kind of behavior again. Inevitably, in the course of my every day life, I end up becoming tired, frustrated, angry–and then having another verbal outburst, maybe even stomping around or slamming doors–and then feeling guilty again. It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens often enough for me to recognize that it is a problem. I want to break this cycle of reactivity and guilt.
“The first step is to admit the truth of where I am, that I am really powerless over this addiction and that I need help.”
So let’s imagine I’m sitting in a room, in a circle of people who are confronting their addictions…
I stand up. I take a deep breath, and begin to speak.
“Hello, my name is Lorien, and I am addicted to my own anger and self-criticism.”
“I feel really powerless over my anger when it erupts, and I feel imprisoned by fear. I am afraid of what my anger could do to my marriage, the long-term effects it might have on my children, my health, and the health of those around me. I’m tired of feeling powerless over my rage. I’m tired of feeling like a caged animal with nowhere to turn. I’m tired of feeling guilty, ashamed, regretful. And I’m tired of repeating this cycle over and over and over again. So tired. I need help.”
A pause. Some silence. Some nodding. I sit down.
Okay, now I feel like I’ve clearly admitted my problem and my powerlessness over it. And I’m asking for help. I think I can move on to the second step tomorrow. I also get the sense that the Twelve Steps aren’t just a linear thing, I could probably spiral around quite a bit on an ongoing basis and collect more pieces of myself as I amble along this path.
Deep breaths and courage now…