AA Step 1! Powerlessness Over Alcohol and Unmanageable Life in Alcoholics Anonymous

Are you ready to talk about Step 1 in Alcoholics Anonymous? This first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is as follows.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable. What we’re here to do is talk about this in practical terms for the AA beginner or for an AA family member or friend potential AA non-member who is trying to understand this.

I’m Jerry Banfield. I’m an alcoholic. I’m grateful that my sobriety date is April 2014. I’ve been going to meetings every day for five years and I’ve put this together for you with the hope that it’s useful. If you want to see my breakdown for all the steps and all my Alcoholics Anonymous videos, please click on the link. I’ve got a whole playlist for these.

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The question today is, what is the practical meaning of Step 1 in Alcoholics Anonymous? Step 1 helps to see rather we need AA or not. Rather we belong in AA. Ultimately we just need a desire to stop drinking to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. And for many of us getting to that first step is hard. Are we truly powerless over alcohol what does that even mean to have power over something? We say frequently in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The phrase is one who can control and enjoy their drinking. Many of us were able to either control our drinking or enjoy it but not consistently control and enjoy. To me, the hallmark of powerlessness is the inability to consistently make the right decision with regards to alcohol. Many of us need help to remember all those painful memories that we’ve swept under the rug and forgot about to stay sober.

Hearing other people talk about theirs in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings helps me to remember mine because our minds very easily forget the pain and when I remember even a fraction of all of the examples of how powerless I am over alcohol, I see that taking any alcohol at all in my body is a very bad decision. Why? Because I have power over something means, I can control and determine what happens next. And for me, powerlessness means if I take even a sip of alcohol, I cannot consistently control what happens next. That’s powerlessness. Think about getting on a roller coaster. Once you strap yourself into the roller coaster, you are powerless after that. You are going on the ride. Rather you want to or not. Rather you kick and scream. Rather have a panic attack. Rather you try and get off. You are going on the rest of the ride. Rather you want to or not. And the same thing with alcohol for me is a ride.

Now, Sometimes I can influence it a bit at least in the past. I’m not interested in trying it again. What I’ve noticed is that sometimes I could have some control but the thing about powerlessness is, the illusion that you do have some control. Having a drink and then saying that you’re only going to have 2 and then ending up drunk at the end of the night, that’s not controlling. And even if that only happens 10% of the time, that’s still not controlling. Think about the things you do have control over maybe driving for example. If you decided to drive in a certain Lane, you would say you had control over the car and if 10% of the time the car drifted onto the wrong side of the road against your will but you thought you changed your mind and you thought you’d just drive going the wrong way down the road. And that happened 10% of the time you’d probably never drive again because that would be terrifying.

To me something like a DUI, is an indication of powerlessness. 2 DUI to me is almost certain of powerlessness because if one could control and enjoy their drinking, maybe you could say anyone could make one bad decision in terms of, “Whoops, I drank too much and drove”. But someone who had control under no circumstances would do the same thing again. And what’s tough about alcoholism is we blame it on other things. “Well if that cop hadn’t been sitting there, he should have something better to do than being pulling me over after I had 6 beers. Come on, I’m not a real criminal.” If we are doing things that we didn’t set out to do as a result of drinking, that is clear evidence of powerlessness.

Think about it this way if you had 1 Diet Coke and suddenly decided after having one diet coke to drink 12 more and ended up in jail the next day, you’d probably never have diet coke again like, “Whoa! That was wrong. I can’t believe that happened as a result of having a diet coke”. You would see that after you had that first diet coke. Your decision making took the power away from you. Well for me, it was always the magical change of mind. After 1 drink, I’d start changing my mind a little bit. And after a few drinks, I’d change my mind a lot more. And there goes all the power I’d had. What was scary to me is, see how I’d change my mind about staying sober.

I’d swear to God, my wife, my parents and anyone else who would listen that, I was going to stay sober and then before taking a drink I would change my mind and I would think I changed my mind in my own best interest. I’d say, “Well, I think I can handle a couple of drinks” and then guess what? Lots of times I would be able to handle a couple of drinks, the first time and the second time and maybe even the fifth and tenth time sometimes. But that eleventh time would go way out of control and that’s powerlessness. When you have the illusion that you have control over something when you don’t, that is real powerlessness.

When you think, I’ve got control of this drinking thing. I can do this and you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, that’s helpless. That’s like a baby who wants to do something and just screaming and crying on the floor and yet can’t do it, That’s powerlessness. And once you recognize that then you see into the next part of the first step which is, our lives had become unmanageable. It can be relatively straightforward to say, “OK OK all right Jerry I got it. I realized that once I take that first drink I don’t have power after that”, at least all the time. Even if it’s just 5% of the time you might be able to drink 19 times out of 20 and have control over it. But if that 20th time you lose control, you do something dumb, that’s powerlessness. You wake up the next day and wonder how I did that? That’s what powerlessness looks like. And once you can get to that point like, “OK I understand now that if I have one drink, I cannot always control what happens next and I’m OK to believe that I’m powerless over alcohol”. For me, the harder part was the second part of the first step and it is that our lives had become unmanageable.

Let me throw an extra word in here. Our sober lives had become unmanageable and that was a tough one for me to realize because I thought if I didn’t drink, my life was pretty good. I thought I was managing my life perfectly sober. I thought my only problem was this little alcohol thing. And once I started coming Alcoholics Anonymous almost immediately, I was able to realize my powerlessness. I had thousands of examples of where I had one drink and at some point after that lost total control and lots more examples of losing partial control making little bit bad decisions. The hard part for me was seeing that my sober life was unmanageable. That’s where I needed help because with a thousand examples of why I should never drink again, why is it that sober I still wanted to drink anyway even when I knew better. Imagine someone who put their hand on a hot stove and got burned bad and said, “Well I just won’t put my hand on that stove as long again next time” and they get burned again and again and again. You’d say they were insane and needed to be locked up.

Well, that was my life with alcohol. And what was scary to me was realizing that, my sober decision-making process was horrible. My sober decision-making process consistently led me to think, a drink of alcohol was better than whatever my life was sober. Despite all the evidence that it wasn’t the right choice, all the times I’d been burned, losing a relationship, a car, at least one job directly from alcohol and nearly another job from alcohol, losing my health, losing friendships, despite losing thousands and thousands of dollars and thousands and thousands of hours of hangovers and stupidity, smashed broken property and all kinds of undetected crimes. Despite all that sober, my mind would tell me and I would believe it that the best thing I could do that day was to take a drink. That’s an unmanageable life. When you see that consciously you are purposefully trying to screw yourself over and when that is realized, you’ve fully completed step 1 when you can see that.

I’m powerless over alcohol. I have that one drink and I am knocked out of the batter’s box as one guy says. There’s no telling what’s going to happen next. Even if at that particular time everything’s fine. Give it 10 or 20 times. There’s no telling what’ll happen once you see that. While my sober life is so bad that I still think drinking is a good idea anyway even though I know better. Really? The result of step one is seeing that “Oh my God I’m insane” and that leads us directly to step 2. It took me about 3 months in Alcoholics Anonymous going to 2 meetings a week after 11 years of alcoholic drinking averaging 20 drinks a week or so. Now that would include times when I was sober for months and just I’m going to stay sober. And that includes other times, where I had 40 plus shots of liquor or beers in one week. And usually those would be I’d have like 10 or 20 in one night and then I’d have one or two 3 nights a week I do that.

I usually did binge drinking so, I’d get drunk, hangover, and sober up. What we get out of step one is we see, “Oh my God I am insane. I am trying to hurt myself. I’m disregarding anyone else around me. I am a sick person. I’m an insane person who wants to hurt themselves and who craves the opportunity to hurt themselves and hurt others through my alcoholic drinking. And that is an issue going on with me being sober. That’s an issue going on with me without any alcohol in my body. That’s really screwed up”.

The gift of seeing that after 90 days is I was so insane that I had to do it. I was 2. I wasn’t 1. I was 2. There was me that wanted to drink and me that wanted to stay sober. I was literally 2 people. Everything was just miserable back and forth. At some points I was so full of fear, I locked up and I would just stand in the middle of my house and just stand there because I was so afraid of what I was going to do next and the only place where I felt safe is just standstill. And I don’t even know how long I’d get stuck there but once I saw like, “Whoa this is insane”. This is like what they talk about for people going to mental hospitals and stuff.

The gift of that is, seeing all that I need help with this. I am insane and I need something to restore me to sanity because clearly, this is not an ideal state. Alcohol is not going to fix this and thus we are led into step 2 when we see the nature of our insanity that despite all of our alcoholic drinking, we still want to get drunk again no matter what the cost.

Thank you very much for reading this. I appreciate you joining me here for this step study with me alcoholic, Jerri Banfield. I trust if you want to see my videos too, you’ll smash that subscribe button as I’m a full-time YouTuber. I make 3 videos for you a day. I intend to go through all the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous plus all the related living sober and things that we encounter. If you want to watch on Facebook, please follow on Facebook. And if you want to see the posts on Facebook please turn “See First” on so my videos can come up in your news feed. You can even get notifications if you want to and like the page as well. You can also follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Linkedin. If you’d like to become one of the inner circle, please Join the Channel and you’ll get benefits you’ll love. You’ll be able to see videos first before anyone else. You will be able to have your channel’s name down in the description and you’ll feel good about directly supporting me on Youtube if you’re like me. Thank you very much for reading this. There are more videos in the Alcoholics Anonymous For Beginners Playlist on YouTube. I love you. You’re awesome. And I’ll see you again at step 2.

Jerry Banfield