“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” 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 obsessionor destructive drinking that only an act of providence can remove it from us.
No other kind of bankruptcy is like this one. Alcohol,now become the rapacious creditor, bleeds us of all selfsufficiency and all will to resist its demands. Once this stark fact is accepted, our bankruptcy as going human concerns is complete.
But upon entering A.A. we soon take quite another view of this absolute humiliation. We perceive that only through utter defeat are we able to take our first steps toward liberation and strength. Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.
The principle that we shall find no enduring strength until we first admit complete defeat is the main taproot from which our whole Society has sprung and flowered.
When first challenged to admit defeat, most of us revolted. We had approached A.A. expecting to be taught self-confidence. Then we had been told that so far as alcohol
is concerned, self-confidence was no good whatever; in fact, it was a total liability. Our sponsors declared that we were the victims of a mental obsession so subtly powerful
that no amount of human willpower could break it. There was, they said, no such thing as the personal conquest of this compulsion by the unaided will. Relentlesslydeepening our dilemma, our sponsors pointed out our increasing sensitivity to alcohol— an allergy, they called it. The tyrant alcohol wielded a double-edged sword over us: first we were smitten by an insane urge that condemned us to go on drinking, and then by an allergy of the body that insured we would ultimately destroy ourselves in the process. Few indeed were those who, so assailed, had ever won through in singlehanded combat. It was a statistical fact that alcoholics almost never recovered on their own resources. And this had been true, apparently, ever since man had first crushed grapes.
In A.A.'s pioneering time, none but the most desperate cases could swallow and digest this unpalatable truth. Even these “last-gaspers” often had difficulty in realizing how
hopeless they actually were. But a few did, and when these laid hold of A.A. principles with all the fervor with whichthe drowning seize life preservers, they almost invariably
got well. That is why the first edition of the book “Alcoolics Anonymous,” published when our membership wassmall, dealt with low-bottom cases only. Many less desperate alcoholics tried A.A., but did not succeed because they could not make the admission of hopelessness.
It is a tremendous satisfaction to record that in the following years this changed. Alcoholics who still had their health, their families, their jobs, and even two cars in the
garage, began to recognize their alcoholism. As this trend grew, they were joined by young people who were scarcely more than potential alcoholics. They were spared that last ten or fifteen years of literal hell the rest of us had gone through. Since Step One requires an admission that our lives have become unmanageable, how could people such as these take this Step?
It was obviously necessary to raise the bottom the rest
of us had hit to the point where it would hit them. By going
back in our own drinking histories, we could show that
years before we realized it we were out of control, that our
drinking even then was no mere habit, that it was indeed
the beginning of a fatal progression. To the doubters we
could say, “Perhaps you're not an alcoholic after all. Why
don't you try some more controlled drinking, bearing in
mind meanwhile what we have told you about
alcoholism?” This attitude brought immediate and practical
results. It was then discovered that when one alcoholic had
planted in the mind of another the true nature of his malady,
that person could never be the same again. Following every
spree, he would say to himself, “Maybe those A.A.'s were
right . . .” After a few such experiences, often years before
the onset of extreme difficulties, he would return to us con
We know that little good can come to any alcoholicwho joins A.A. unless he has first accepted his devastating weakness and all its consequences. Until he so humbles himself, his sobriety— if any— will be precarious. Of real happiness he will find none at all. Proved beyond doubt byan immense experience, this is one of the facts of A.A. life.