For individuals who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, there are countless resources and methods available to address this miserable and dangerous illness. While many addicts and alcoholics sadly choose not to get help (it is never too late to get help), and reap the tragic consequences of their disease, many individuals reach a point at which they are willing and ready to change and accept help. For these people, there are numerous treatment centers, therapists, doctors, and psychiatrists.

In addition to these often necessary resources, there are also fellowships that offer recovery steps that can help addicts and alcoholics break free from their addiction. These organizations- most notably Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous- offer twelve recovery steps that can help desperate and hopeless individuals find a life free of substances and full of joy, purpose, and healing.

Recovery Steps: Starting at Square One

The recovery steps found in these twelve-step fellowships are based on the program Alcoholics Anonymous, founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. Many programs have been modeled after AA, such as Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and even programs like Eating Disorders Anonymous.

All of these fellowships are based on the same twelve recovery steps. For people suffering from alcohol and/or drug addiction, these free, unaffiliated organizations can provide support as well as a path to clean and sober living through these twelve recovery steps. The University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute states that there is clear evidence from a variety of sources that early involvement in 12-step programs is associated with better substance use and psychosocial outcomes.

Most people who struggle with addiction need professional and medical care in a treatment facility, but twelve-step programs can help these individuals to maintain lifelong recovery, whether they are still in treatment or they have completed that portion of their journey. When working the recovery steps of a twelve-step program, most individuals will have a “sponsor” who guides them through the process. As with all things, this journey begins at step one.

Powerlessness and Unmanageability

The first of the recovery steps reads “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.” In Narcotics Anonymous it reads “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction- that our lives had become unmanageable.” The wording is slightly different based on the specific fellowship, but the idea is the same.

For those unfamiliar with recovery steps, this may seem strange. Isn’t recovering from addiction about taking control back in your life, and making better decisions? Well, yes, absolutely! The theory behind the recovery steps is that the first move is to admit the problem- to accept that one cannot control their drinking or drug use and that their life has gotten out of control as a result of substance use.

For anything in life, admitting and accepting that something needs to change is the beginning of making that change. That’s why the first of the recovery steps is about recognizing the problem. After all, not much can be done about it if you don’t realize or accept that it’s there! Different sponsors and members of twelve-step fellowships may all practice this step in different, individual ways, but the principle is the same: in order to solve the problem, we have to be honest about it first.

Beginning the Recovery Steps

For many people, admitting powerlessness and unmanageability may seem very unappealing. It can bring up feelings of helplessness or loss of control. However, the wonderful thing about the recovery steps for many people is that by admitting their powerlessness, they can begin to search for something that will help them recover from addiction. Rather than trying to solve it on their own, they can begin to use the tools suggested by others and begin a journey of self-discovery.
Powerless doesn’t mean helpless. In the context of the recovery steps, it means admitting that drugs and alcohol have become a problem and that it’s time to stop trying to control it. It means that we are ready to surrender and accept a new way of life, free from addiction. Accepting that our lives have become unmanageable also helps us to be willing to try a new way of life, guided by spiritual principles rather than by drugs and alcohol.

The recovery steps may seem intimidating to some and silly to others. They may not be for everyone. But for those who struggle with a drug and alcohol addiction, they can also be essential components of treating a dangerous and potentially deadly illness. It may not seem fun at first, but taking that first step can lead someone to healing their mind, body, and spirit from the pain of addiction.

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