Step, Release, and Care

“The ultimate lesson that all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well.” Elizabeth Kubler Ross. 

The Al-Anon 12 steps are empty words on a page until connected to action. They are aspirations yearning to become accomplishments until attached to a movement. Success and graduation are contingent on our ability to approach them, thoughtfully and willingly. Forcing them is sure to result in failure.

Step 1 | We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

I am working on Step 1 for Tuesday. I led the discussion with Step 11 last month, and now I will kick it off from the top. I’m going to continue to work through this until Tuesday, but this is where I am at now. At face value, when I read this step some months ago, I thought, yep, I did that. This week I remembered why and how and where I was when I took this step. And why the first step is always the hardest.

Imagine a baby’s first step. The pause. The hesitation. The determination. All of the feelings behind the babe moving one foot forward. We celebrate it. There’s excited applause and hugs. Pictures. Lots of pictures. And calls of “Do it again, do it again.” Sometimes we’ll quip, “She didn’t even think about it, she just did it!” The description appears true but is a fallacy. Because even the fearless and innocent child contemplates taking the first step. If walking was natural, then newborns would walk out of the womb.

Recall the best moment with your alcoholic. Envision the expression on your face. Remember what you looked like at that moment. Your smile. Your eyes. Your voice. At that moment, warts and all, you loved that person. That moment was bathed in unconditional love.

Recall the worst moment with your alcoholic. Think of your facial expression. Where your hands were. If your fists were clenched. The tone of your voice. The thoughts in your head. That moment was bathed in so many emotions, underneath all of them propping them up, was unconditional love.

In two marriages my worst moments were the ones when I stopped wishing the alcoholic stopped drinking, I wished the alcoholic was dead, at a minimum gone, or I was gone. When that transition occurred marked the beginning of Step 1. Just like a baby who needs to scoot and crawl, the realization, admission, and execution of Step 1 cannot happen overnight. Step 1 in my first marriage started on my honeymoon and was fully executed 21 months later. In my second marriage, Step 1 began on my third wedding anniversary and took 10 years for me to articulate an admission.

In my experience, believing that “love conquered all” was my downfall. I thought it meant that love would not let the marriage fail. A naive belief in my first marriage, that became steadfast in my second. Admitting that love could not conquer and that alcoholism was a disease, like cancer that I did not cause nor could I control,  was the absolute worst, ugliest admission of my life. It meant stepping away from the person I loved. Releasing and relinquishing control, and putting myself first. And that’s when love truly conquers all. When our love for someone is so strong that we can walk away, that is unconditional love.

It doesn’t matter if your alcoholic is a spouse, parent, or sibling because everyone else in the alcoholic’s life is a subordinate. Years, of pity and self-loathing, of making excuses, of blaming parents, of believing and dismissing and ignoring, and joining the pity party, pent-up. In each marriage, I was like a machine gun loaded with resentment, disappointment, and anger. Instead of exploding, I put the truth on the table. When asked to face it, each man walked away.

Step 1, is our choice and ours alone. It requires detachment. If you want to graduate to Step 2, admission is required, followed by the physical act of releasing control. Accepting our lives are unmanageable pivots our attention to ourselves. Step, release, and care.


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