The spiritual principles behind Step One: Honesty

What are the spiritual principles behind Step One?

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

The primary principle powering the practice of Step One is honesty.

Other spiritual principles that should be practiced here include acceptance, courage, surrender, open-mindedness, willingness, and humility, to name only a few.

The bottom line where honesty is concerned is, if we cannot get honest about the scope of our problem and honest about a sincere effort to resolve it, we will not succeed in our recovery. One of the shorter definitions of honesty is the absence of intent to deceive. Staying on the destructive path of addiction has required that we try to fool ourselves and others on an ongoing basis. I behaved as though I believed every bit of my BS for quite a long time. Honesty with self – honesty on the inside – must serve as the foundation for the lifetime practice of honesty on the outside.

Honesty refers to a facet of moral character and connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, straightforwardness, including straightforwardness of conduct, along with the absence of lying, cheating, theft, etc. Honesty also includes being trustworthy, loyal, fair, and sincere. (Wikipedia on honesty)

In practicing Step One, we must get brutally honest with ourselves about our addiction to alcohol and other mood-altering substances. We reflect on the past, on the various methods we used in our attempts to control our drinking and using. How successful were they, really? An honest look may reveal complete powerlessness over drugs and alcohol.

This is perhaps the first paradox (only a seeming contradiction, really) that you’ll run across in 12-step recovery: One wins when one completely surrenders to the realization of an apparent truth – in this case, powerlessness over mind-altering substances.

Surrender to win? How can that be?

You’ll come to see that this is true with some honest reflection and contemplation on the matter. Our eyes open a bit and we find that surrendering or letting go of our attachments leads to freedom and brings one closer to the goals of inner peace, contentedness, and usefulness to our fellows and to our community. We find that the genuine, heartfelt admission of powerlessness is a personal triumph, not a personal failure. Without a doubt, admitting that one is an addict/alcoholic requires courage and humility.

Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal powerlessness. It is truly awful to admit that, glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an obsesĀ­sion for destructive drinking that only an act of Providence can remove it from us. (Step One, Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, p.21 [ PDF ])

Ultimately addiction is, among other things, a disease of perspective; my drinking/drugging viewpoint, worldview, and self-image were all seriously skewed. Thus I have had to change my thinking – and drastically so.


We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. (Albert Einstein)

Providence – that is, God/nature/higher power as providing protective or spiritual care – really can remove our obsession for destructive behavior from us when we become willing and open-minded.

Life vs. life situation, unmanageability

At this point, it is useful to look more carefully into what we mean by our lives had become unmanageable. My sponsor makes a clear distinction between one’s life and one’s life situation. When we’re in small book study groups with the men who are currently guests at Discovery Place, we ask them, What is your life? What does your life consist of? The men usually point to a relationship with significant other, job or career, what we do for fun, and so on. From my sponsor’s perspective (and mine as well), all of these external things represent one’s life situation. One’s life, he says, consists of what’s going on in one’s mind: Thoughts, decisions, intentions, all of which lead to our actions.

Where is life unmanageable? The unmanageability is in our minds, what with our obsessive thinking, resentments, judgments, thinking we know best or that it will be different this time, fretting about the past, anxiety, and fear about the future, and so on. This is unmanageability, which of course manifests in our life situation. Thus the correction that needs to be made in our thinking, our attitude, our perspective.

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