The First Step Is No Theory — Unmanageability

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.” (The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous, used by all 12-step programs in modified form.)

We discussed powerlessness last week. We found that we are not powerless over alcohol and other drugs as long as we are not using them. We talked about the fact that, when our brains are under the influence of mood-altering chemicals, we are effectively suffering from chemically-induced insanity, are unable to make good decisions, and that we sometimes find it difficult to do so for quite some time after we get clean.

Now, what about unmanageability? What, exactly, do we mean by “–that our lives had become unmanageable?”

First of all, please note the dash. The statement is not “…and that our lives had become unmanageable.” Bill Wilson clearly meant — and, during his life, stated many times that he meant — that our lives were unmanageable because we were powerless over alcohol. We’re talking cause and effect here.

Let’s face it: if we have to use alcohol or drugs to function with any degree of normality at all, or to avoid getting sick, our life is not exactly manageable. If we have to plan our days around drinking and drugging, find ourselves choosing activities and friends according to whether or not we can drink and drug — or whether they drug and drink like we do — then our life is even less manageable. If wives, kids, employers and friends are nagging us about our using; if police officers are “always picking on” us; if lawyers are asking us for money so that they can discuss certain activities with the court on our behalf; if our doctor is telling us that our medical problems are because we drink or use drugs, or is refusing to prescribe for us any more, our life is getting pretty unmanageable.

If creditors are calling at all hours, and deputy sheriffs are posting notices on our front door, things are not manageable.  And when we get to the point that the whole thing feels like a house of cards that’s about to come down the next time our shaky hand approaches it with just…one…more…card, then — well, you know.

But some of us didn’t have those things happening, or not much anyway. We may say we kept our families together, kept a job that we were good at, didn’t cheat, didn’t steal, so where’s the unmanageability there?

Maybe we kept the family together, but what about the fights? What about the infidelity? What about the missed school plays, the forgotten anniversaries, the additional burden on our spouses and kids because we weren’t functioning at 100%? What about the theft of time from our employers: the times we called in sick because we’d been drinking or drugging; the sick days after a weekend, holiday or celebration; the long lunches; the reduced output in terms of both quality and quantity? What about the corners cut, the projects unfinished or behind schedule, the deals undone? If any of those ring a bell, can we really claim that our lives were well-managed?

Obviously, not all of the problems mentioned above will be present with every addict, and certainly most of them can and do occur in the lives of folks who don’t drink or drug. But we addicts and alcoholics tend to be far more consistent about them than those other folks. (They may represent the biggest consistency in our lives.) Just as social drinkers almost never get DUI’s, occasional drug users do not exhibit the issues mentioned above as a major part of their lives.

That’s what unmanageability is about: not occasional problems, but repeating, consistent, screwed-up lives that result from being under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs.

The good news is, there are solutions. We’ll talk about those, in broad terms, in the next installment.

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