Step One–Powerlessness


This morning as I sat in mass, I noticed four sets of parents that I recognized because their kids had gone to school with our kids.  I knew one couple because their son and our oldest son had gone to kindergarten together.  It gave me a warm feeling seeing those parents sitting in front of me.  We are linked to each other.  We’ve traveled a long journey together, all hoping to help our children discover the best versions of themselves.

I looked on seeing gray hair and worry lines that weren’t there twenty-two years ago and I realized that these were trophies.  They are gifts that remind us that while we might have hoped to help our children discover the best that was within each of them, that it was perhaps their individual journeys that had helped to unearth the value that was in our lives.

Three children provide many opportunities for a parent to ‘rub off the rough edges’ as I often remind a young cousin of mine.  But, when I learned that my child suffered from the effects of an addiction, I was offered the opportunity see my life and the gift that it is, in an entirely different manner.

About eight years ago, I began attending a twelve-step group that is for friends and families of those who suffer from addictions.  It was not a club that I ever wanted to be a member of.  But, it changed my life.  I’d even go so far as to say that it saved my life.  So, if you are a parent and your children are making your life difficult, thank God and then ask Him, “What do you have for me to learn from this?”

In my twelve-step group I learned that we don’t come there to work on our loved ones.  Instead, we move the focus to ourselves as we work the same twelve steps that those in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) work, with a few modifications.  I have been so overcome with gratitude for this program, that I have decided to share it with you.  I am going to begin a series on the twelve steps.  Each post will introduce you to a step and how it was able to help me form an intimate relationship with the God of my understanding.

Step One:  “We admitted that we are powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Now that you’ve read that step, let’s take it for another spin…”we admitted that we are powerless over _________–that our lives had become unmanageable.”  For me, I could fill in the blank with alcoholic or situation.  But, this blank can be filled with so many different nouns, that we could fill the page.

Soon after I learned of my child’s addiction, I went to get gas at a convenience store.  When I went in to pay for the gas, I noticed that the store sold hookahs and bongs.  Those items had probably been for sale at many convenience stores, but now that this problem had touched my life, I noticed.  And, boy was I mad.  I decided to march back into the store and snap pictures of these items.  I thought that I’d send these pictures to the local paper to declare my own little war against convenience stores everywhere.

The wrinkle in this plan was that the angry store owner grabbed my arm while I was trying to leave and tried to pull me back into the store which scared me to death.  By this time, a little good sense took over and I decided that I wouldn’t let him drag me back inside.  However, I did delete each and every picture as he told me to.   Later, I would learn that it is legal for him to sell those items and illegal for me to take those pictures without permission.

While all of that seems rather absurd, the big picture question here is this:  What did I think this action would accomplish in helping my loved one?  The answer is this:  I didn’t think.  I was just reacting.  I did what I’d always done.  I didn’t have a plan.  So, when I attended my first twelve-step meeting, I discovered that there is a plan to help me find serenity whether my loved one is still drinking, or not.

We open each meeting with the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the thing that I cannot change,

The courage to change the things that we can

And, the wisdom to know the difference.

The first step tells me to look at the blank that I’ve filled in and to accept that I can’t change it.  My very good twelve-step friend says that the short version of Step One is ‘I can’t’.  I can’t fix them.  I can’t change the situation.  I can-not keep trying by doing insane actions such as I did at the convenience store or I will lose my mind. My life becomes unmanageable when I try to beg or reason with my loved one.  It is senseless when I count pills or bottles.

If we look deeply into Step One, we will realize that this step involves humbling ourselves.  Like Adam, in Genesis, we want ‘to be more than’–we want to be like God.  But, we’re not–we can’t.


When it occurred to me, what I was doing, I was surprised.  This program teaches me a lot about being aware of every action that I take.  I was so impressed with the wisdom of these steps that I began to research their history.  And, I found a wonderful connection to the Catholic Church.  I later discovered that the twelve steps of AA and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola had a lot in common.

Please follow along as I share my experiences with you as I introduce you to these life changing spiritual practices.  I promise it is worth the time.



About The Author

Jean Heaton

I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.

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