Step 1 of AA: You’re Weak, and You Admit It

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What is Step 1 of AA? How does it kick off the first phase of the 12-step program?

Step 1 of AA is the first of 5 steps that help you acknowledge your defects. You have to know alcohol’s pull and surrender yourself to your higher power.

Read on to learn more about Step 1 of AA through Step 5 of AA.

What Happens in Step 1 of AA through Step 5 of AA?

In Steps 1-5, you accept the principles of the program, you make a complete list of your shortcomings, and you confess them to another person.

Step 1 of AA

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

Admitting that you’re too weak to solve your alcoholism is Step 1 of AA. As discussed in the previous chapter, self-will is not sufficient for overcoming alcoholism. Alcoholics feel an overwhelming craving that they cannot overcome through force of will or as individuals.

Step 1 of AA forces you to avoid denial that you have a problem. This will make you much more willing to engage in the rest of the steps on the path to recovery.

Step 2

“We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

After Step 1 of AA, you need something more than yourself if you’re powerless over alcohol. An individual alcoholic cannot become sober, but an alcoholic with the power of a greater force behind him can recover.

Once again, the conception of a higher power is flexible doesn’t necessarily mean a religious God. Even a group of friends and family, something larger than yourself, can be enough—because, after all, a group working together is stronger than an individual. You must give this a chance to make progress in the Twelve Steps.

Why does this belief in a higher power help? The Big Book explains: “Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.” Accepting this higher power reduced self-centeredness.

This belief is a rebirth. “God had done for him what he could not do for himself. His human will had failed. He had admitted complete defeat. Then he had in effect been raised from the dead.”

Step 3

“We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

Step 3 is the step of surrender. You turn your individual will over to a higher power. You have faith that the higher power will help you recover.

The Big Book has this specific phrasing: “God, I offer myself to Thee–to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”

Step 4

“We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

This is soul-searching. As if you owned a retail store, do an inventory of yourself. Find the damaged and unsellable goods—search for your flaws that cause your failure when drinking. These are the flaws that drive you to drink—your anger, guilt, resentment, and other emotions.

Freeing yourself of these flaws means freeing yourself of the need to drink. If you become sorry for what you’ve done, and you have an honest desire to become better, you’ll be forgiven and avoid the guilt that drives people to drink.

Resentment is an especially common and powerful flaw. Make a list of what and who make you angry. Then ask yourself why you’re angry, and how this anger causes you injury. For example:

  • I’m resentful at: my boss.
  • Because: He’s unreasonable and overbearing. He threatens to fire me for missing work.
  • This harms my: Self-esteem and feeling of security.

When doing a moral inventory of yourself, you must avoid blaming other people’s flaws. Focus just on yourself—where had you been selfish, inconsiderate, dishonest, or self-seeking? Make a list of your wrongs only.

If you can’t help blaming other people, consider that the people who have wronged you are themselves spiritually sick. Had they been perfectly fine and of right mind, they wouldn’t have behaved in a way that angered you. So treat those other people with the same compassion you would treat a physically sick person—by being tolerant, patient, and helpful.

Step 5

“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

The goal is to confess every single dark corner of your past, every twist of character, to another person. This is a big shift from keeping your secrets—you admit your shortcomings out loud to another human being. This step relieves you of the burdens of your past, as though a great weight were lifted.

Why is another person important? In the authors’ experience, an individual, solitary confession is insufficient. It doesn’t push you to examine all your dark corners, and you leave your worst items in your inventory.

You should find a person who can keep your secret and is willing to help you. This often means a doctor, a discreet friend, or a member of your trusted community. Don’t choose someone you’ll hurt with this confession, such as your spouse or parent.

Explain to the person you’re confessing to what you’re about to do and why you have to do it. Help them understand that this is a matter of life and death. Most people are glad to help.

Go through all your confessions. After you finish, it should feel as though a huge weight has been lifted. You’ll look at the world afresh, with relief. You’ll feel your drinking problem has disappeared. You’ll be at peace.

At times, you may find it necessary to revisit Step 4, do more moral inventory, and then confess a second time.

Step 1 of AA: You’re Weak, and You Admit It

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  • The key 12 steps of the program, and why they work
  • Why Alcoholics Anonymous isn't a cult and why it works

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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