Dharma Wheel symbol Buddha and Bill
The Dharma &
The Twelve Steps
gold pyramid in gold circle

Step One of Twelve

Step One of the Seven Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:

"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable."1

From Chapter 3 ("More About Alcoholism") of the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous:

"Most of us have been unwilling to admit we we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.

"We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed."2

From the chapter titled "Step One" in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

"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 obsession for destructive drinking that only an act of Providence can remove it from us.

"No other kind of bankruptcy is like this. Alcohol, now become the rapacious creditor, bleeds us of all self sufficiency 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.

"We know that little good can come to any alcoholic who joins A.A. unless he has first accepted his devastating weakness and all its consequences. Until he so humbles himself, is sobriety—if any—will be precarious. Of real happiness he will find none at all. Proved beyond doubt by an immense experience, this is one of the facts of A.A. life. 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."3

From Twelve Steps on Buddha's Path by Laura S.:

"I began to realize that when I took the first drink I could not predict what would happen if I took another, and I always did take another. Having admitted that on occasion I had been powerless over alcohol, I began to find more and more things that I was powerless over—perhaps everything except my own attitudes. I knew I had no real control over the weather, for example, but for most of my life I had not accepted that I couldn't control the emotional storms of my life partner. It finally dawned on me that my emotional comfort depended on how I related to life's daily challenges, not to the people or events in my world."4

From The 12-Step Buddhist by Darren Littlejohn:

"The first time I saw Step One on a wall hanging, I said, "Yep, that's mne." I had no trouble understanding that I had a problem and and I was powerless over it. My life had never been manageable. The problem had a name, other people had it, and there was a solution. The second time through sobriety, I did Step One on a deeper level. After having it in my blood for many years, I knew the step required more than an intellectual exercise. On December 4, 1997, I woke up burned out, disgusted, and sick. I knew, wrongly, that I would never get sober again. I had tried many times in the past couple of years.

"That night, I just wandered into a meeting, quite by accident. For some strange reason, I just took a seat. I was so tired. I didn't use that night, and it looked like I had a day of sobriety going for me. So I got my head into Step One, where we have to be as desperate as the dying can be. I've been clean and sober ever since.

"What's different for me this time is that I haven't risen above Step One. I remember asking my sponsor a few months before he died if he felt that, after thirty-three years of sobriety, it was important to be as desperate today as he was the day he came in. He said, 'No, I need to be more desperate.'"

"It's hard to maintain that desperation when the ego kicks in. The "I" gets a foothold, gains strength. I learned, at a pretty high price, that the smarter I get about my disease, the smarter my disease gets about me. My disease is progressive. You'll hear that around meetings, but to my knowledge, it's not written in the literature. When I'd heard it, I thought I understood. But then I really learned, from experience, how true it is. I hope that your experience has convinced you too."5

From The Zen of Recovery by Mel Ash:

"We admitted we were powerless ... " This admission is the all-important key in entering recovery. There are no membership lists or dues and no other requirements other than this simple and excruciating act. As in most of the great wisdom traditions, suffering is the price of our admission. In admitting, we are also admitted. Admitting our powerlessness might initially feel like surrender, but we soon learn that victory and surrender were only concepts that were killing us as surely as our diseases. There was, in reality, never anything to defeat, and there was never anything to win.

"By admitting that we are powerless to play God, we no longer expect the world to conform to our egocentric beliefs and opinions. The world's ideas and direction become our own, as it was all along. This is called conforming with the Tao. It is said that if you take a step to the left or to the right of the Tao, you are lost in your own false sense of control and power. Admitting powerlessness over our specific disease is acknowledging that we must act in accord with a Higher Power, call it the Tao, Buddha-nature, Allah, your original self or God.

"Our disease indicates the presence of our original self, insisting that we return to a more human way of interacting with the universe and with others. It is a symptom of our even greater human dis-ease: the dis-ease over change, loss, death and all the other primal issues of our lives. Suffering is not created in a vacuum, nor does it spring into life spontaneously. It is a function of our refusal to acknowledge our real nature, which is without name, form or desire. These attributes are as temporary and arbitrary as the clothes we pull on each morning. Suffering wants us to stop confusing the clothes and labels with our real beings and to have the courage to look at ourselves naked in the mirror of the eternal present. Admitting our powerlessness strips away the ragged clothes of self and restores us to our original state of well-being.

"Our original state of grace, as Christians would call it, exists before the mind creates dualities through critical judgments. This mind is the one that en is pointing at, the mind that simply pays attention to the present and doesn't make vain attempts to mold the world to its desires. Dividing experience according to our interpretations is the original sin, the original error and denial.

"Admitting that our lives have become unmanageable, we become aware that the very act of admission is the only sure method of management. By attempting daily to give up our argument with the world, we resume our rightful places and feel serenity start to become our foundation rather than anxiety and disappointment. We can hold experience without strangling it and flow like water through the bends of our lives without getting hung up."6

From Chapter 5 ("How It Works") of the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous:

"The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will an hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

"What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure hat other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic rouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

"Our actor is self-centered—ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

"Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

"So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid. Many of us had moral and philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to. Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God's help.

"This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn't work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is our father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom."7

And now it is time to go to Step Two of Twelve.


1Alcoholics Anonymous Fourth Edition (c. 2008), p. 59 (See Alcoholics Anonymous—"The 'Big Book' Online" From this website, you may download a free copy of the "Book Book" in the form of a PDF file); Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (c. 1958), p. 21 (See Alcoholics Anonymous—"The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Online" From this website, you may download a free copy of the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions in the form of a PDF file).

2Alcoholics Anonymous Fourth Edition (c. 2008), p. 30.

3Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (c. 2009), p. 21.

4Laura S., 12 Steps on Buddha's Path: Bill, Buddha, and We (c. 2009), pp. 14-15.

5Darren Littlejohn, The 12-Step Buddha (c. 2009), pp. 95-96.

6Mel Ash, The Zen of Recovery (c. 1993), pp. 63-64.

7Alcoholics Anonymous Fourth Edition (c. 2008), pp. 60-62.


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