Breaking Down Step One

Step One of AA: The Journey Begins

The first step of anything is a beginning, so the first step of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps is the beginning of your recovery process. It’s actually really exciting, because it’s the first day of a new life. This is where the healing starts.

Doing the 12 steps is also referred to as “working” the steps, because it requires willingness, effort and action.  It is said the 12 steps of AA is compared to markers put out lovingly on a path by those who preceded us, to direct us on our journey. The journey can seem daunting from the perspective of a person at the beginning but fortunately all we are asked to do is to take one step at a time.


If lucky, our journey has taken us to arriving at a point of surrender. For some people the road they traveled getting to the first step in AA has been more than enough to convince them that unconditional surrender is the only option for recovery.

For a lot of people in recovery, walking into a treatment center or an AA meeting the first time is a major part of “working” step one. Your simple and humble act of asking for help is effectively an admission of powerlessness and unmanageability.

Most addicts are filled with guilt, shame, remorse, and self-loathing when they come into the rooms of AA. They’ve also gotten very used to keeping secrets from pretty much everyone, so opening up about the nature and extent of your alcoholic behavior is going against the grain. It may even feel completely unnatural and you probably don’t want to do it. But sharing your experience and the unmanageability lifts the burden of lugging them around in secret. Letting go of your secrets frees you up to move forward with a different, better life. For many people, the act of sharing Step One in an AA meeting is the true start of recovery.

However, becoming abstinent from alcohol will also be a requirement for starting to work the first step. The first step is all about looking at the effects of alcoholism in your life and for what is needed to be clean: to find a way to stop the behaviors with a perspective that isn’t clouded by alcohol. If you’ve been clean for a while, then the first step is about powerlessness over behaviors that make your life unmanageable.


There are a lot of things alcoholics can do to fully work Step One. Most of the work is designed to unearth your complete history of use and abuse.

Inventories are a great way to work the steps—even starting with Step One. You can make a few lists:

  • A Consequences List: The easiest way to break through the fog of addiction is to create a list of consequences related to the behavior.

  • Powerlessness List: Go for as many examples of your powerlessness over your addictive behavior as possible. Be as fearlessly honest as you can, starting with early examples and ending with the most recent. (A note on “Powerlessness” this is used to exemplify the cravings in an alcoholic [or any addict] that are so intense that the ability to resist is almost impossible. Once an alcoholic takes a drink, a chemical reaction occurs within that body, setting off an intense craving for more.)

  • Unmanageability List: Write out the ways in which your addiction has created chaos and destruction in your life.


  • What does the disease of addiction mean to me?

  • How has my disease affected me physically? Mentally? Spiritually? Emotionally? Financially?

  • How does the self-centered part of my disease affect my life and the life of those around me?

  • Have I blamed other people for my behavior?

  • Have I compared my addiction with other people’s addictions?

  • What does unmanageability mean to me?

  • What troubles have been caused because of my addiction?

  • Have I used alcohol or drugs to change or suppress my feelings?

  • What reservations am I still holding onto?

  • Do I accept that I’ll never regain “control” over drinking, even after a long period without use?

  • What could my life be like if I surrendered completely?

  • Am I WILLING: to follow a sponsor’s direction, go to meetings regularly and give recovery my best effort?

  • Have I made peace with the fact that I’m an alcoholic and that I’ll have to do things to stay clean?


For each and every one of the millions of success stories in AA you will hear repeatedly about responsibility. It is our responsibility to stay involved in sobriety and follow our sponsor’s suggestions. It is our responsibility to actively cultivate and grow willingness. It’s important to grasp that you are not “powerless” completely: you do have the power to engage in a program of recovery, the power to choose not to abuse substances….but you are powerless over drugs and alcohol if you put them in your body.

Acceptance comes when we feel a profound sense of hope and peace in coming to terms with our addiction and recovery. We don’t dread a future of meeting attendance, sponsor contact and step work; instead we begin to see recovery is a precious gift.

It has been my experience that doing the steps has brought me serenity and the welcome realization that AA is not just a program where sick people get well—it is a way of living that is rewarding in and of itself.

Lot’s of people find that once they do Step One, that all manner of help appears! I feel grateful to have a program that expands as I grow. Having a firm foundation in recovery through steps has also given me a welcoming fellowship to accompany me in my journey.

Wahler, Jason. “Breaking Down Step One of AA Alcoholics Anonymous”. 2021,  5 Jan 2021