Addressing the First Step in Recovery

Apr 2024 Addressing the First Step in Recovery

Since it was originally published in the late 1930s, the 12 Step recovery model has helped countless people end their use of addictive substances and start living healthier, drug-free lives. But this long history of success doesn’t mean the process is easy. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to struggle with the very first step in recovery.

What Is the First Step in Recovery? 

In discussions about addiction, rehab, and recovery, it’s common to hear someone say that admitting you have a problem is the first step. If we’re talking about finding a path out of the darkness of active addiction, this makes sense – you can’t start working on a solution if you haven’t acknowledged that a problem exists.

However, if we’re talking about the 12 Step recovery model, the first step is a bit different: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This and the other 11 steps were established in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (aka “The Big Book”), which was first published in 1939. 

The “official” first step in recovery and the informal “you have to admit you have a problem” first step in rehab are similar, as both allude to the importance of acceptance. But what, exactly, you’re being asked to accept is a bit different in each version.

We’ll discuss this in greater detail – and take a look at why this particular type of acceptance can be such a challenge for some people – in the next section.

Why Is the First Step of Recovery so Difficult?

You know you have a substance abuse problem. You’ve either entered a treatment program or started attending a 12 Step support group. Clearly, you are aware that something in your life has gone awry, and you’re taking action to get yourself back on the right track.

It can take people a long time to get to this point – so the simple fact that you’re trying to end your substance use means you have made considerable progress since the days when you were mired in the depths of active addiction. Why, then, is it so difficult for you to complete the first step in recovery?

Of course, there is no single answer to this question. Everyone who develops an addiction to alcohol or another drug is affected in a unique manner, and everyone encounters their own challenges on the path toward long-term recovery. But it’s important for you to understand that struggling with the first step in recovery is not unusual. 

Why is the First Step so Difficult?

Here are a few reasons why this step can be such a challenge:

  • It’s one thing to admit you’re struggling. It’s another thing to admit that you’re powerless. In a society that so often celebrates concepts such as resilience, independence, and self-sufficiency, it’s not always easy to acknowledge that you’re simply not capable of solving a problem on your own.
  • In addition to accepting your own powerlessness, the first step in recovery also requires you to admit that your life has become unmanageable. If you have been trying to convince yourself that you can compartmentalize your alcoholism and somehow seal it off from the rest of your life, completing step one will disabuse you of that notion.
  • The first step in recovery can be the moment when you begin to recognize the degree of damage your compulsive alcohol abuse has inflicted on your life (and on the lives of others). It can also be a time of realizing how much work you have ahead of you. Processing both of these realizations can be painful.
  • Significant life changes are often difficult, even when we know they are positive changes. Step one in recovery can be the moment when you fully grasp that you are on the precipice of a great change in your life – and no matter how much you are looking forward to achieving a healthier, drug-free future, it is understandable to be concerned about how this beneficial change will affect you and those who care about you.

Tips on How to Successfully Complete Your First Step

Here are a few suggestions for how to successfully complete the first step in recovery:

  • Take it one day at a time. There is a reason why this is such a common saying among members of the recovery community. As we noted in the previous section, thinking about all the work you need to do to rebuild your life and maintain your sobriety can quickly become overwhelming. Don’t let your concerns about tomorrow, next week, or next year prevent you from focusing on today. 
  • Talk to others who are following the 12 Step model. Someone who has been where you are, and who may have had concerns such as the ones you’re currently experiencing, can be a source of both understanding and motivation. No one’s experience will be identical to yours, but many people in recovery have had similar challenges. In addition to helping you with the first step, talking to others in recovery can also demonstrate the power of shared support.
  • Get professional help. Before you can take the first step in recovery, you may need to take a first step in rehab. Depending on the nature and severity of your struggles with substance abuse, a detox program might be necessary to help you get through withdrawal safely. Following detox with residential or outpatient programming can help you address the issues that may have contributed to your drug use in the first place, or that could threaten to sabotage your recovery. 

Many addiction rehab programs also provide 12 Step guidance, education, and support. Learning about this process from an expert can be an ideal way to complete step one and establish a stronger foothold in early recovery.

Contact Phoenix Rising Recovery About Our Rehab Programs

If you’re ready to take the first step in rehab, Phoenix Rising Recovery is here to help.

Our addiction treatment center in southern California offers a full continuum of care, including detox, residential rehab, and several outpatient options. In each program, you can expect to receive customized services and comprehensive support from a team of experienced and compassionate professionals. 

Our team understands how devastating untreated addiction can be. We also know how challenging it can be to maintain successful, long-term recovery. We will incorporate these insights into your treatment. This way, you will be best prepared to overcome any obstacles that you encounter on your path toward a healthier and more hopeful future.

To learn more about our programs and services, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.