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Excerpted from
The 12 Steps to Happiness
By Joe Klaas, Jennifer Schneider, M.D., Gayle Rossellini, Mark Worden

We admitted we were powerless, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

It may or may not be easy to say I admit I am powerless. But even if we can say it, we may not believe it. And if we do not believe we are powerless, merely saying / admit I am powerless will not really be admitting it. It will be mouthing something we don't believe. In fact, isn't it really impossible for us to admit to anything we do not know is true?

Who wants .to admit he possesses no power at all? Our society teaches us to seek power. The most respected persons in the community are usually the heads of corporations, high-ranking military officers, powerful politicians, strong religious leaders, champion athletes. We were taught, and we teach our children, to try and be powerful members of the community. Most parents would be proud to have their offspring grow up to be president of the United States, or of General Motors, or a doctor ruling a large hospital with an iron fist for the good of mankind. If we say I admit I am powerless are we not owning up to total failure in the eyes of our families, friends and peers? Besides, who says we should admit to weakness we don't believe?

No one says it. The first part of the First Step says we admitted we were powerless. It doesn't suggest we lie about it if we don't believe we are powerless. To admit we are powerless we have to truly be powerless, and we have to know we are powerless.

Alcoholics who first took this Step had learned the hard way that they were powerless over alcohol. Narcotics addicts who took this path to recovery were convinced they were powerless over drugs. Overweight people who worked the Steps had realized they were powerless over compulsive overeating. As obvious as their complete lack of power over these things were, they had great difficulty in accepting their true states of powerlessness. In fact, only an extremely small minority of those afflicted with compulsive overeating, drug addiction, alcoholism, schizophrenia, neuroses, compulsive gambling, habitual smoking, chronic child beating and other self-destructive maladies ever recognize they have these problems, let alone admit they are powerless over them.

Yet anyone who searches his own life and inner self must certainly come upon something he is powerless over. A farmer is powerless over the weather. A businessman is powerless over national and world economy. The cancer victim and future cancer victim are powerless over cancer. Everyone is powerless over the behavior of others and even most of his own behavior. Two certain formulae for failure are to try and behave exactly the way someone else wants us to behave or to get others to behave the way we want them to. Both are impossible. Attempts to accomplish these kinds of controls over behavior have led to wars and genocide for thousands of years.

Apparently we are powerless over politics. Some of us are powerless over poverty, or disease, or earthquakes, or floods, or world affairs, or accidents, or love.

But today, as in all times, there are so-called "awareness level raising" programs fanatically involving millions of people with the false premise that each individual is personally responsible for everything that happens to him. Those who believe they must continue to take full responsibility for everything that happens to them cannot possibly admit they are powerless. You can't be powerless and be responsible too. It's impossible. So those trained to assume responsibility for everything in their lives will have to give up that old idea, as new as it may seem in an "awareness level raising" package, in order to take even the first half of the First Step.

We admitted we were powerless. Can we do that without offending God? Didn't He give us brains, muscles and talent to go forth and work hard and be responsible citizens? Or did He instead say to man and woman, you have partaken of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge and learned how to provide for yourself against My wishes? All right. If you think you are so smart, get out of My garden and run your own lives! And don V come back until you have learned some manners and are willing to let Me be responsible again!

Did God give us talent and will to take over our own lives, or did He throw us out of Eden for having usurped His responsibility? One of the biggest barriers to taking the First Step will be overcome if we can get rid of the idea that God expects us to take the credit or blame for everything good or bad that happens to us. That we are powerless over our own lives and the lives of others is a truth we must arrive at either by logic or by bitter experience. Logic is the easy way to learn we are powerless. Bitter experience is the hard way and will be no fun at all.

A man gasping his last breath under a wall that, without warning, has fallen to crush him will know he is powerless. A mother pressing to her bosom the body of a child run over by a truck will know she is powerless. A pilot plunging earthward in a burning airliner with 240 passengers aboard will know the meaning of powerlessness, and so will his passengers. They will have taken the first half of the First Step, but there won't be much time left to take the rest.

With our backs against a wall facing death or ruin, it is not difficult to admit we are powerless. But with three square meals a day to nurture us, two cars in the garage and plenty of credit cards in our wallets, it is more human to take credit for the good things that come our way and blame others for the bad.

For a thousand bloody years, noblemen of northern Europe sought the Holy Grail. The Grail was not a cup passed around at The Last Supper, a meaning given to it in the fairy-tale versions of Camelot. The Grail was the heart of a man, and it became a chalice to receive the power of God only if his brain or ego could be gotten out of the way. To find the Grail, a knight was required to embark on spiritual quests. Nine times, in selfless service without possibility of reward, the nobleman was required to place himself in such dire jeopardy that he could no longer save his own life. Only God could step in to prevent certain death. Even in those days when knights were bold and superstition flourished, God had to save man from extinction nine times before his ego could be set aside to let the ray of God pass down through the crown into the heart. Then and only then could God rule through man.

The only way knights of old could conceive to place themselves in jeopardy nine times was in war. To avoid war with other Christians, they invaded the Middle East and slaughtered "heathens" for a thousand years for no other purpose than to provoke retaliation, place themselves in great danger, and be rescued nine times by God to make them fit to rule their less enlightened brethren in His name.

The spiritual awakening in finding the Grail was in being convinced at last that God really was more competent in an emergency than the individual. Or to reverse it, that man alone is really without power, or is powerless.

All you have to do to convince yourself that you are powerless is set a goal with all its rewards specified in detail. You will never achieve it exactly as you set out to do. Even if you come close, you will never accomplish anything exactly the way you planned, nor will your achievement include all the details you expect. The joy of even partly attaining such a goal will be diluted by the frustrating way of life required to try to accomplish a goal. People who set goals live in the past when they set them and in the future when they hope to attain them. They forget how to live in the now at all. So by the time they get to any goal, they have already superimposed another goal upon it and, therefore, never arrive satisfied at a destination.

It is impossible to proceed with the second half of the First Step unless you learn first to live only in the present, one day at a time, with no goals at all. For the second half of the First Step is to admit that our lives have become unmanageable. How could we possibly plan ahead enough to achieve goals unless we are planning our own future? In other words, he who plans goals is obviously still trying to manage his life. As long as we think we can do that, we will be unable to admit we cannot.

Once again, facing up to the admission that we cannot manage our own lives, we must arrive at knowledge that is diametrically opposed to everything we have previously been taught. Have we not been told by preachers, teachers, and beloved parents that die way to success and happiness is to efficiently manage our own lives? And is it not drummed into us that the really successful person is one who manages not only his own life, but as many other lives as possible? If he manages several, he is a boss, and what greater goal can there be, according to our mentors, than to manage our lives well enough to become bosses? If we can manage several hundred thousand lives, we may become mayor or president of a labor union. If we can manage a couple-of-hundred million lives, we may become President of the United States or Prime Minister of Great Britain. But if we cannot even manage our own lives, what chance is there for us to achieve success?

The answer is none. There is no way we can achieve success if we cannot learn to manage our lives. But we can accept success if it comes to us from outside of ourselves. Yet before we can even consider accepting a fate determined by such an outside force, we must somehow have it irrefutably proven that indeed our lives have become unmanageable and that we will never learn how to manage them.

Most of us would never be able to get support for such a doctrine from our parents, employers, teachers, preachers or commanding officers. No judge or jury is apt to agree that there is no use for you to keep on trying to manage your life. The only way you can come to admit that your life is unmanageable is to discover once and for all that managing it is impossible. In other words you have to know your life is unmanageable before you can admit it.

How can you come to know that? Well, take a look at how your life has been going so far. Has it been going the way you want it to? If it has, there is no need to take the Twelve Steps. You are probably instinctively living according to the principles of the Steps, or you wouldn't be so satisfied with your life.

But perhaps you are not completely satisfied with the way things have been going lately, or for most of your life if you think about it. Yet have you not, for the most part, been trying to manage your life the best way you know how? Then why isn't life progressing exactly the way you planned it? Could it be that no matter how hard you try to manage your life, you really don't know how?

We are apt to say that is ridiculous. I know the difference between right and wrong, because I have had good parents, teachers and ministers show me from childhood what is right and what is wrong. All I have to do to manage my life is do what is right and not do what is wrong. Anyone who knows the difference between right and wrong should be able to manage his own life by following the rules.

But what rules? The rules of the United States or of Soviet Russia? The rules of the Puritans or of the liberated generations? Do we follow the rules of Mohammed, Lenin, the Pope, Yogananda, the Supreme Court, Hitler or Moses? Or do we just do what our mama tells us and not do anything she wouldn't approve of? Perhaps we should just do what our employers tell us for fifty years and get a gold watch for managing our lives so well. But will a gold watch mean we are successful? Or we could make up our own rules with advice of legal counsel, influence legislators to bend the rules to our own business needs and have a key to the washroom, high blood pressure and ulcers to prove we managed our way to the top.

Sooner or later upon close examination, we must conclude that no matter what we thought we were doing while trying to manage our lives, the results were never quite what we planned, nor as rewarding as we expected. We will one day find ourselves nodding wistfully to the music of Peggy Lee singing Is this all there is?



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