Step One

We Admitted we were Powerless and that our Lives had become Unmanageable

The 12 Steps – Step One (abbreviated)

Quick Hit

Your mind and body are on fire, SCREAMING for relief, and it isn’t easy to think straight! Before you do anything you might regret:

  • Change Location: Walk outside. Get away from whatever may be causing the “Scream.” If you are in a location where you can easily obtain your addiction, LEAVE and go somewhere else. Try to be with or talk with trustworthy people.
  • Breathe: Ten times… Breathe in, count six, hold for six, Breathe out, count six, hold for six, repeat.
  • Call: Call your sponsor immediately whether you feel like it or not. Force yourself to talk.


  • Admitted – An admission indicates the opportunity for humility (a key of recovery). When we “admit” something, we may feel like a child coming to a parent and, in shame, confessing our unworthy conduct. Shame is a natural occurrence and will keep us in bondage to our addiction.
  • We – You are not in this alone. Addiction is like fear of being in a dark room with a black cat that isn’t there. When “WE” Admit, you acknowledge that you are not in this alone. In the darkness, someone lights a candle and uses it to light other candles. This is the greatest way to eliminate shame and overcome it.
  • Powerless – We “WERE” powerless; this is all past tense. We practice living in NOW, not regretting the past or fearing the future. Your entire being may be screaming for a hit, and that is right now, and you are powerless over that physical and emotional reaction. The admission that we were powerless gives us hope for the future, but we are not attempting to be full of power (powerful). Our admission of being powerless is the saving grace of opposites. By admitting the truth, we can overcome the pride that keeps us practicing addictive behavior.
  • Unmanageable – Admitting life had become unmanageable is another past tense. It is not a single act but an overall admission that I NEED HELP.  I hate to admit my life is unmanageable. It makes me feel I am a mistake vs. I made a mistake. Somehow, I think I can take care of everything alone; if I cannot, this is an admission of weakness and shame. After all, what type of person can’t exercise a little self-control? Well, it is possible that we can’t. Thinking that we “should” be able to “STOP IT!” leads to pride, self-aggrandizement, and shame and can only lead to further pain and sorrow.

How Do You…?


This is something that we are in the process of. As we begin to admit that our lives had become unmanageable, it is an admission of a more significant issue. This is not one minor fault that we need to get over or fix. It indicates that our entire thinking framework is off and faulty from infancy to today. The house has been built on a faulty foundation, and everything is on the table. The temptation is to think, “Let’s tear it all down and start from scratch.” But that doesn’t make any sense either. If we start by admitting that we are powerless, it does not do us any good to think we can make any decision on our own that wouldn’t be faulty.

Where does that leave us if we are powerless with a resulting unmanageable life? Hopefully, it leaves us in the hands of God. Are you saying we don’t do anything or make any decisions? No, but we need to understand that this is a process. It doesn’t happen in a day, a week, or a year, so we might as well settle in for the long haul.
Let’s say you are standing in front of a dilapidated, overgrown house. You wouldn’t just pick up a sledgehammer and start pounding on the concrete. Well, maybe you would, but you shouldn’t. Instead, you engage the appropriate experts and people or teams with knowledge to evaluate the structure, make a determination about what needs to be done, and then create a plan to address it.

In this case, there is already a process to address any damage and repairs, known as the twelve steps. All you need to do is fill in the information and use the process daily, if not moment-by-moment. It is a good time to call your sponsor and consider new perspectives.

Deal with Shame

Shame is a natural occurrence, and biblically speaking, we know it was not part of the original creation. So, we should ask, is there any good in feeling shame? Turns out there is. Shame, like fear, indicates something is amiss and may need to be changed. The issue arises when there is not enough or too much shame. Not enough shame might cause us to parade around, much like the story of the Emperor with no clothes. I generally see addicts demonstrate this behavior when under the influence. When not under the influence, people with addictive personalities generally demonstrate too much shame as if they were immersed in it. Either way, it keeps us in modes of addictive behavior.

One of the keys to recovery and living an addictive-free life is to examine our shame quotient and decide how to correct it. Again, it is not something that you can determine alone in a vacuum or by reading books on the subject.  This is accomplished through counseling and accountability. People generally do not like reaching out to others for advice and counsel and hate if they have to pay for it.

Stop… Groping for the black cat that isn’t there

Everyone has a default framework, and we filter every thought, emotion, and reaction through it. No person has an accurate framework, so there are almost constant communication misunderstandings. We may misunderstand the words, inflections, tone, or other indicators the brain uses to determine what is being communicated and, more importantly, why. For example, the phrase, “Oh really? Where did you go?” may have very different meanings from a casual friend versus your thirty-year marriage partner. A lot also depends on the context of the conversation, especially if you arrive later than promised.

Then, there is the affectation of history and trauma. As you know, if someone pushes a button on a painful memory, the reaction may have no correlation to the communication or discussion. Sometimes, we refer to this as PTSD, where something in the present moment triggers a past traumatic memory and the resulting emotions. I recently had this experience after a particularly traumatic automobile accident. Several months later, a friend drove us on a two-hour trip, and I had closed my eyes to rest. He hit the brakes momentarily, and I jerked awake. The memory of the accident replayed in my mind and emotions, causing an intense panic and associated release of adrenaline. It took a few minutes of controlled breathing to calm down. Until that moment, I had no idea it was still with me.

Communication is so essential in some environments that we take extra precautions to ensure accurate communication. In aviation, complete understanding between people is required, and any potential miscommunication is mitigated by education and constant practice. I think of the Blue Angels team as a good example. As one of the Blue Angels pilots or crew, you do not have the luxury of any tiny misunderstanding or departure from the process. An example is where the Blue Angels practice their flight in a conference room. This isn’t meant to be an in-depth discussion on communication but to demonstrate that the way our brain interprets information is not always accurate.

What does this have to do with you? On a good day, your mind is probably reasonably accurate at interpreting situations and communication, and hopefully, your reactions are appropriate to the situation. However, we have all experienced times when this is not the case. Stress, moods, what we eat or drink, the weather, and other influences can cause our minds to warp experiences. When you begin to experience this, you are usually already past the point of no return. The trick is to backtrack your awareness to become aware of your state of mind before getting so far down the path that you cannot recover.

How do you build that buffer zone of awareness? Counseling can help. The more you are aware of your past trauma and how it influences today, the better you will be able to identify when that influence is occurring. Another tool you can use is to practice mindfulness, which involves becoming aware of your physical reactions in real-time. In this way, you will know what it means when, for instance, your arms start tingling, your heart begins to race, or other symptoms begin to exhibit.

Here is the story of the dark room with the black cat that isn’t there. Joe has an addiction to [name that addiction]. He knows that if his wife were more caring, his children were more obedient, and the manager at work less demanding; then he wouldn’t have to calm his nerves by [name that addiction]. What Joe does not yet realize (and may never) is that his addictive tendencies are not a result of anyone’s behavior except his own. Circumstances may be pushing a button, setting the domino fall, but Joe owns the dominos. In a sense, Joe is in a room and groping around in the dark for a black cat, which he is certain keeps brushing up against him. In truth, there is no cat, it isn’t black, and the room isn’t dark.

Joe simply needed to open his eyes.


The 12 Steps

  1. We admitted we were powerless [over our addiction] and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

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Authored by H Mark Taylor – An Independent Certified Coach, Teacher, Trainer, and Speaker with Maxwell Leadership Certified Team
Copyright © 2024 H Mark Taylor. All rights reserved.

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