Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over something -- that our lives had become unmanageable.
Koan: “It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work”
From The Impeded Stream by Wendell Berry
From Dale: "My real work is to learn about myself by doing the inventory steps. The deeper meaning of Step 1 begins with I don’t know, then admitting that I need help. It’s still this way after all these years of sobriety."
Impede: to interfere with or slow the progress of.
If alcoholism isn’t an impediment in our lives, I don’t know what is. Alcohol absolutely impedes our lives, ultimately in the most severe ways. Eventually it shows up as incomprehensible demoralization, utter despair, hopelessness and a fear of impending doom. If we’re fortunate, the time will come where we find “we no longer know what to do.”
Pam: "I always had a plan, knew what to do, a scam, could do something in that righteous place. In Step 1 it was about sitting with my failure. I can step back and find acceptance and stop trying to figure it all out. I really don’t know what to do."
I was there once. I didn’t know what I could do. My way wasn’t working. I couldn’t stop drinking. I gave up. The tiniest voice hesitantly told me, “You are probably an alcoholic.” There weren’t any arguments anymore.
Elsie: “The Steps help us to get out of our own way.”
I knew very little about AA then. My mother had found AA and would send me little notes like the Serenity Prayer. I ignored her attempts as not applicable to me. And I knew there were places like treatment centers, too. Early in December 1986 I told my wife that I think I need to go to one of those treatment centers. No argument there, either.
This is where my real work began. I didn’t know it at the time that I had opened the door of recovery and taken Step One, at least in a general way. From that point on, recovery’s momentum grew as my working continued, doing what I was asked to do at the center.
Kirsten: “At 22 months clean, I’m now actually working on my insides now! When I was out there, I never gave a thought about this, it was chasing after all the external things."
What I’ve experienced in sobriety with Step 1 is that is no longer a barrier. Perhaps, though, that’s what many of us have to work through -- the discovery that Step 1 changed from a barrier to an impediment.
Could Step One be an offering from the universe? “Hey, you might want to take a look at this.”
In our sutras we have Bodhisattva’s Vow by Torei Enji where he says:
“…this is the Buddha appearing to us,
finding ways to free us from our own attachments
the very ones that have made us suffer
again and again and again.”
Then Dale gave us a line about knowing from the Tao Te Ching: "He who regards his intellectual knowledge as ignorance has deep insight. He who overrates his intellectual achievement as definite truth is deeply sick.”
- Translated by Hua-Ching Ni, 1995, Chapter 71
By getting a sponsor and doing the Steps, the working continues; and now it’s not a burden. AA is my life’s work today; still, impediments happen daily. Something comes up that I resist or don’t like. Something seems to be getting in the way of my wants. GASP! When I recognize this I know I need to get to work on the matter.
John said, “This koan was very apropos to what I’ve been living these past few weeks. I’ve been driving myself to think I can do more than what I can actually do.” It begins by thinking “I can do this. I force myself to do more until I find myself stuck [an impediment] and have to admit I’m powerless. This is the place where I can actually begin to work by realizing I can only do so much."
When a stream meets an obstacle, the water always takes the path of least resistance. May you find the Steps to be the easier way.