A reminder: In this series I attempt to re-imagine the 12 steps, without changing the basic format or content, along non-theistic, Buddhist, and existentialist lines. I am attempting to do so without employing explicit Buddhist ideology, ontology, or terminology, although a complete avoidance of such is likely impossible.
At the conclusion of Step 1 (Part 1) we suggested the following, provisional, re-imagined Step 1:
We admitted we
were powerless over alcohol had engaged in an alcoholic life – that our lives had become unmanageable.
With the concept of “powerlessness” unpacked we can now turn our attention to the first two words of this step: “We admitted”.
Stoic/Editorial “Admission” v. Effusive “Confession”
While the first step uses the phrase “We admitted…” the emotional weight that is implied, and that normally attends this “admission”, is almost always greater than that of a simple admission. Instead, it is more akin to “We confessed….” That is, this singular act of “admission” is rarely experienced as a simple acknowledgment of a fact, or as some stoic editorial correction. It is rarely: “Yes, well…, upon reflection it turns out that I have, in fact, abused alcohol… I hereby revise my earlier assessment of myself.”
Instead, the admission spoken of in Step 1 normally evokes a sense of shame and a self-loathing that may more commonly be experienced by the sin-burdened penitent at confession. The emotion is felt in the manner of: “Forgive me [whoever] for I have sinned, debased and disgraced myself in your eyes and the eyes of the world.” This may not be the actual manner of confession but this language does capture the some of the complete moral and emotional collapse that one can feel in such a confessional moment.
Returning to the first step we can readily see that neither of these models carry the proper sense or connotation for the first step to be effective or meaningful. An admission of the stoic/editorial variety simply fails to acknowledge and recognize the seriousness and depth of the “admission”. In a nutshell, any confession that can be so readily and unemotionally made is of little significance, and likely to have almost no effect on a person’s life.
Alternatively, the effusive confessional model fails as an effective “life-change” event because it is primarily emotional an experience. In contrast to the stoic/editorial modal which was all intellect, this mode is virtually all emotion, and deeply negative emotion to boot. Thus, it fails to encompass an acceptance of the truths expressed. The point of a confession is to “unburden” oneself, and be relieved of the ugly truth confessed. Step 1 is intended not as an unburdening, just the opposite – it is an acceptance of the burden.
An Inelegant Re-Imagining
From the foregoing analysis, and the failures of the two described models, it is easy to see what the first step demands. The “admission” in question must recognize the true significance of what is being confessed. Further, it must be experienced in a way that the emotion does not overwhelm the “confessor” and allows them to truly accept, including intellectually, the truth. Thus the phrase “recognized and accepted” more accurately represents what is required.
Final Version: Step 1
Thus, I suggest the following replacement:
admitted recognized and accepted that we were powerless over alcohol had engaged in an alcoholic life – that our lives had become unmanageable.
This formulation avoids the unproductive emotional extremes of the stoic/editorial approach and the emotional/confessional, while actually encouraging the those things that will later promote sobriety.
A final note on Step 1: The phrase “our lives had become unmanageable” is proper, when sufficiently understood. That is, the recognition of manageability is a recognition of past manageability. That is, one’s life can, and will, be manageable (should proper steps be taken). In other words, this statement of manageability does not express an ontological or existential truth. It is not a claim that human lives are by their nature “unmanageable”, merely that ours had become so.
Upcoming in Re-Imagining Step 2: “Came to believe”, “power greater than ourselves”, and the restoration of sanity (oh, my!).
Comments and debate are welcome, invited, encouraged and anticipated.