The past few weeks I have been reflecting on Step One.
“We admitted we were powerless over sexual addiction–that our lives had become unmanageable.”
This one-liner seems pretty simple and pretty clear. Admit our powerlessness? Easy enough, right?
But actually feeling and facing the unmanageability of our lives is anything but simple or clear.
In fact, I think Step One is exactly what we are talking about when we say, “Pain is the pathway to Progress.”
Right now in my life, I am watching several loved ones undergo the beginnings of the divorce process. I have been taught again about my own powerlessness as I have had the privilege of holding hands and squeezing shoulders shuddering with pain. How I wish I could lift or ease their heartbreak and fear. How I wish I could take it away.
But even on this end, I am baffled by my powerlessness.
Interestingly, as I walk aside these loved ones in the grip of despair, it’s like the file folder from my own deepest darkness opens and I am there with them. It’s more than remembering what it was like, in a small way it’s reliving it with them. I believe this is called Empathy and it is what makes us who have walked this road the right ones to support newcomers along the way.
Working Twelve Steps has flipped pretty much everything I thought I knew about life and about God on its head. And that began with Step One.
My whole life, hadn’t I been taught to have it all together, strive for the best, achieve, achieve, achieve. When I would struggle, wasn’t the advice I was always given to brush it off, get back up, focus on my strengths, compare myself to someone who was worse off than me so I would feel better?
Or, even worse, wasn’t it more my way to never actually admit that there was a struggle? I was fine…I was together…and if something was wrong it was probably someone else’s faulty perspective to blame. Maybe there was something I could do to help them (so charitable of me).
For me, Step One, has been the counterintuitive beginning to a new life. A life of unprecedented authenticity, raw honesty, and unhindered emotion. Even when I was drowning in grief, depression, and rage, Step One, though uncomfortable, felt right.
Quit running from the feelings. Let them come. Lean into the pain. Experience it. Let down the walls. Let go of the back-up plans. Sit in the chaos and allow yourself to feel it.
“This may feel defeating and very frightening at first.”
People who haven’t experienced trauma are even more uncomfortable with Step One than we are.
“Don’t say things like that!”
“It could be worse…”
“Everything will be fine, you’ll see.”
Well-meaning loved ones can’t stand to see us in so much pain. They want us to sweep it under the rug, numb it, medicate it, not talk about it, move past it, “get over it.” Even without realizing it, they sense their own powerlessness in the face of such grief.
I used to get frustrated with myself because my pain seemed so deep. Fathoms deep, like a never-ending canyon inside my broken soul. I looked around, even at group, and thought, “Why do I feel so much?”
I felt like it was a curse, a weakness, a defect. I felt it all so deeply. The emotions were so overpowering, more than I could stand. For a long time I was stuck in them, swirling, sinking, getting sucked under.
For me Step One sounded a lot like this:
You are worthless and pathetic.
Look at you. No one could ever love you.
Sooner or later, everyone in your life will leave you.
You will never be enough.
No matter who you married they would have left you.
You are a failure and you can never erase that.
There is just something fundamentally unloveable about you.
Even today, writing out the ugly words that circling demons hissed into my broken brain can spring tears to my eyes. On paper, the words almost look ridiculous. When I was truly at Step One, these words seemed like Truth with a capital T, the dead end of a reality I had spent my whole life trying to run away from.
Really experiencing Step One is terrifying. It is finally admitting that life is bigger than you. It is letting go of all of the back-up plans and coping strategies that you had been using to make yourself feel better or normal or like you were right. It is waving the white flag.
I had no idea that people could be in so much pain and still live.
Today I want to acknowledge how real and how holy that pain is.
I want to do that because of the people I love who are in the pain right now, and for all the people I don’t know who are in the same place.
I want to promise them from my own experience that the pain won’t last forever.
I want to help them to realize that the fact that they feel so much pain doesn’t mean they are doing this wrong…it means they doing this right! The pain is exactly where they are supposed to be to start the magical healing transformation.
It’s what you do with the pain that will determine the future.
I want to remind both myself and them that if I let it, the pain creates a portal, an opening, to a new way of seeing everything. Of doing life. Of knowing God. A portal that isn’t possible without the pain.
I want to encourage us all to let go and feel it. And although for a while it might just be suffering, if we keep reaching for God and working the Steps, that pain will begin to teach us.
Instead of just senseless suffering it will turn into consecrated wisdom.
Now I look back and see that the depth of my emotions was a gift.
The darkness was so deep and so suffocating that it made me crave, made me cling to, made me desperate for the Light.
The pain made me a believer, for then, for now, and I hope for always, that I need God. Every moment. Every day. I need God like I need air.
I love this poem from Hafiz, who so beautifully understood Step One:
My Eyes So Soft
Your Loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so
My need of God
If you are stuck in the pain today, don’t be afraid to let it cut you more deeply. It is the only thing I have found in this life that has awakened me to how much I need Him.
The pain isn’t the end although it feels like it. Step One is, after all, just the beginning.
It won’t hurt forever.
Keep Working It. It Works.