The First Step: Powerless and unmanageable

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

And thus is the First Step of 12 Step alcohol recovery groups. (Other addictions are appropriately substituted for alcohol in other 12 Step movements).

In essence it reflects a corruption of the will, with the references to powerlessness and unmanageability. Our wills are directed towards using our personal power to do things to manage and direct our lives. The Step refers to a lack of power and the resulting unmanageability of life, pointing towards alcohol as a key.

Since our will uses things to manage our lives, apparently somewhere along the way we figured that alcohol was a great way to do this. And somewhere further along that way we discovered that this isn’t true.

At first we thought that the same will could be used to stop our drinking. But a will that has been thoroughly corrupted by alcohol is in no condition to assert itself and stop drinking. It becomes powerless, and the life it influenced and controlled is now unmanageable. Help is needed.

God could step in and thoroughly remove the addiction, or the desire to drink. Someone could enter into the person’s life and take it over and prevent the person from drinking. But it doesn’t happen that way.

We are never entirely without our will. There are dregs of it left, despite the wretched condition we may be in at the point of admitting defeat.

And so with whatever control over our wills that we have left, we plaintively cry out in some manner into the darkness of our lives: “Help! I can’t do this myself!!” We realize that we have been beaten and cannot go on as before.

God entered our life and pours into it His graces and we survive. Our declaration of powerlessness is enough so that He, who respects the gift of free will that He had bestowed upon us, calls to us and gives us the strength to go on and seek help.

The salvation of Humanity itself needed someone else’s approval and willingness before God can work a miracle in her:

Luke 1:38: “Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ “


And with that the Holy Spirit came upon her and Jesus was formed in her womb. The defeated alcoholic’s willingness to set aside self and allow God to move in is needed to begin to work a miracle in us. We are all called to be servants of the Lord, we are all called to do God’s will according to His word. As alcoholics we were so full of self that we couldn’t tolerate this idea, if we even conceived of it. Or worse, we felt we can discern His will through the bottom of a bottle of liquor.

John 3:30: “He must increase; I must decrease.'”

(Via uSCCB.)

One follows the other, we decrease, we set aside self, we adopt an attitude or demeanor of humility, and He increases in us.

I had written about this before: First Step: Powerlessness and weakness

Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! (Thank you!!)

"The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts"

and "The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics"