Step 1 A.A. explained

First, you have to admit you have a problem. Then, how can you process and be honest about how your life has spun out of control? Taking A.A.’s Step 1. More explained here.

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Step 1 = “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Admitting That Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable

Some say that taking the first step of admitting we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable, is the most important to achieving lifelong sobriety. Here we’ll discuss the second portion of that step. How do you know your life has become unmanageable? And where can you go to get help?

First, you have to admit you have a problem. And when you do that, sometimes it’s easier to see how your life has spun out of control.

What does unmanageable really mean?

Jodi Hildebrandt LPC, MS, speaks about unmanageable as not being able to direct, control or handle”. She believes you can fill the ending in with any number of things. Not being able to direct, control, or handle things like feelings, experiences, people, substances, desires, outcomes, it can be anything. And when that happens, we might turn to alcohol (or drugs or food, you name it) to help handle issues that seem unmanageable. I turned to alcohol, drugs, people, sex, adrenaline rushes, and anything I could use to numb myself.

A friend once told me this was the most difficult part of getting sober for him. He knew he had a problem, but since he hadn’t gone to jail, wasn’t homeless, hadn’t lost his career, what was the big deal? His life seemed okay and perfectly manageable. For many alcoholics, it’s difficult to own the problem of unmanageability. Everyone else around you can see it but you. It’s part of the denial we hold onto so dearly.

How do you know what to look for?

For me, it was more of an inside job. I had a low lying fear that had followed me around for years. Plus I had carried the knowledge of my alcoholism for twelve of those years. My shoulders were tense and sore from the burden, though I wasn’t aware of it until I got sober. Mostly, I was unable to see that I was replicating with my husband my parent’s dysfunctional relationship. And as a child living with them, it was easy to see that both their marriage and their lives had become unmanageable.

My husband and I were daily drinkers and like my friend, things seemed to be okay. We were what some refer to as high-functioning. But then there were the years after my daughter was born, when the fighting and the silences became unbearable, when he had an affair, and our marriage was ripping apart at the seams. Our lives were becoming unmanageable.

Actor Bradley Cooper, who’s been sober since he was 29, spoke of his unmanageable life before his sobriety. “Once, he relates, ‘I was at a party and deliberately bashed my head on the concrete floor — like, ‘Hey, look how tough I am!’ And I came up, and blood dripped down. And then I did it again. I spent the night at St. Vincent’s Hospital with a sock of ice, waiting for them to stitch me up’.”

That’s surely a sign that your life has become unmanageable.

Deciding To Get Help

If you think you have a problem with alcohol, you probably do. And you don’t have to go to A.A. to do the first step. Honestly admitting that your life has become unmanageable will help to get you on your way.

Things to Remember (about taking the second part of the first step):

  • Admitting that our lives have become unmanageable may be the hardest part of taking the step
  • Unmanageable means not being able to direct, handle or control things in our lives.
  • That can include feelings, experiences, people, substances, desires, outcomes, etc.

Where problem drinkers can go for help: 5 Tips

1. Take a self-assessment test for alcohol problems.

How can you tell if you have an alcohol problem? If you think you have a drinking problem, chances are you probably do. It might be helpful to take this self-test issued by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in order to identify possible alcoholism.

2. Seek out support groups.

If the test leans towards a problem, attending a 12-step meeting like A.A., SMART Recovery, or Rational Recovery may be good places to go next. Try a few different meetings before making a decision which one is best for you.

3. Seek one-on-one professional help.

Talking to a psychologist, therapist or counselor will also help. The American Psychological Association operates a “Find a Therapist” directory on their website. It’s a good place to start.

4. Look into treatment centers that treat alcoholism.

Many mental health clinics offer intensive outpatient programs, often referred to as IOPs, for those seeking help for alcohol and substance abuse. While residential rehab may work for some, other people find that a treatment center is the best option for them.

5. Make sure the family is treated.

And lastly, if someone’s else’s drinking troubles you, attending an Al-Anon meeting might be helpful. The CRAFT model for intervention, which requires family participation and training is also helpful.

Reference Sources:  Hildebrandt, Jodi, LCP, MS, 2014, November 9, Principles of Recovery from Addiction: Unmanageability. Retrieved from:
Rivera, Zayda, 2013, Dec 18, Bradley Cooper opens up about his past abusing drugs and alcohol: ‘I was really going to sabotage my whole life’, New York Daily News. Retrieved from:
About the author
Carol Weis started writing poetry, essays, memoir, and children’s books when she got sober 25 years ago as a way to help herself heal. She's currently working on a memoir about her drinking years and recovery in hopes of helping others, and shares a condo with her daughter, with whom she's co-written a mother/daughter memoir, with advice from both on making it through those tough teen years. You can visit her at her website at or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
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