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    Now let’s carry this discussion a little further by looking at pg 60 (Fourth Edition). Here we find “:….our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

    (a) That we were alcoholics and (italics mine)could not manage our own lives.” This is a summation of Step 1.
    (b) “That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.” A rewording of Step 2.
    (c) “That God could and would if He were sought”. Look like step 3?

    “Being convinced, we were at step three which is at….”

    So here we find that nasty word “and”. No hyphen. So does this in fact say that Step 1 was intended to convey two parts? That perhaps a little literary license was used in the wording ( see variations in “defects of character, shortcomings, and nature of our wrongs” in Steps 5, 6, and 7.)

    Look at Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” Damn if I don’t see two part to that one. (1) Take an inventory and (2) Promptly admit it when we’re wrong.

    So I guess my question is what’s the big deal here? Sorry, but I don’t find any validity to the 4 arguments you make about why this is important. Powerless and unmanageability go hand in hand if you understand what Bill Wilson meant when he used the term. We were powerless over alcohol because we could not manage our lives without it.

    The preoccupation with obtaining and consuming alcohol, the effect alcohol had on our lives, both personal and professional, the legal problems that alcohol brought about in our lives. These are issues of our lives being unmanageable.

    It doesn’t mean that we couldn’t function, do our jobs well, have money in the bank, graduate from college. I was what’s referred to as a high functioning alcoholic. Big house, successful career, two cars all that stuff. But still, my primary focus was on the next drink. I was performing, alcohol was managing.

    It’s too bad that you got hung up for so long over an issue of semantics. Whether Step 1 has one or two parts is irrelevant. What’s important is that you understand what the step means by powerless and unmanageable. Another strong argument for getting a sponsor early on in the program.



    The dash serves the purpose of introduction, termination, separation, emphasis, or, with another dash, enclosure. The most common correct use of the dash is to denote a sudden shift or break in thought. Although a stronger mark, it is approximately equivalent to the comma…..Logically, and in terms of accurately denoting the relationship between clauses, some other mark can usually be substituted for the dash, but its occasional use provides emphasis or surprise.”

    That’s from the 1940 edition of The Harper Handbook.

    …and, yes, I used to teach English. The reason I refer here to a writing handbook from the first half of the 20th century is, of course, because that’d be the time period in which the Steps were being formulated and the Big Book was being written.

    I, too, believe that it is very, very important to notice that the 2 clauses of the First Step are connected by a dash — not a semi-colon (denoting a cause and effect relationship) or an “and” or a “thus” or a “therefore,” etc….etc…..etc….. To me this says that, while the two clauses are related, they are separate, distinct thoughts, related in a side-by-side way, rather than in such a way that one of them is somehow dependent upon or caused by the other. In other words, they are 2 manifestations of the same problem: separation from God caused by reliance on self-will.

    …and BTW, the most commonly referred to general description of the unmanageable life in the Big Book would be the second full paragraph on pg. 52, oftentimes referred to as “the bedevilments.” It is important to note also that the bedevilments describe the condition of the alcoholic — whether active or not — without recovery, meaning, of course, without a proper relationship with his/her Higher Power and without access to the Power that only such a relationship can and will provide.

    They also, from what I’ve seen and am able to tell, describe the condition of any human being who is living a life run on self-will and operating under the delusion that s/he can wrest satisfaction from life if only s/he manages well enough.

    So, they chose to use the dash — a mark of punctuation that provides emphasis and/or surprise.

    Surprise! Surprise! Liquor is but a symptom, and we are going to have to get down to conditions and causes if we want recovery….and that, of course, would be a point worthy of emphasis.

    And here I think I’m gonna cut right to the chase and just share what I’ve discovered thus far through my own working of the Steps. So, OK, I come into the rooms because I’ve got some kind of problem with alcohol — or with an alcoholic, or with the dysfunction that surrounds alcoholism, or whatever — or at least I’m telling myself that that’s what the problem is — but, aside from that, of course, I’m F.I.N.E. and, of course, my life is expertly managed, by me, the expert manager (….because, after all, we all know SO many people with expertly managed lives who end up in 12 Step rooms, right????)

    But, anyway, I finally get honest enough to admit my powerlessness over alcohol, and I start on my journey through the Steps. Somewhere in 4 and 5, assuming that I am fearless and thorough and have an IQ in the positive digits, I’m certainly going to have to realize 1) that I am powerless over a-h*ll-of-a-lot more than alcohol and that my management skills (as manifested in the overall living of my life and in my level of contentment and serenity in living my life) would probably not get me a night assistant manager position at McDonalds.

    But I continue on and eventually get to Step 12, part C: practicing these principles in all my affairs. And when I start to try to do this conscientiously and find myself right back at Step 1 in affair after affair after affair of my life, I finally see the light: I am powerless over pretty much everything — my life is unmanageable whenever I try to manage it with my own (non-existent) power and according to my own (disordered) will.

    …and I am “bedeviled” whenever and precisely insofar as I continue to pretend that I have personal power and as long as and insofar as I cling to the illusion that I am or ever will be in management.

    The dash in the Step is there to emphasize the fact that, regardless of what substance, thing, behavior, or person my powerlessness is manifesting around today and regardless of whether or not or how I “deal” with that particular substance, thing, behavior, or person, the unmanageability persists, because unmanageability is not limited to or dependent upon any particular “problem.”

    Unmanageability, like powerlessness, is the natural, unavoidable and inevitable result whenever I, as a creature of my HP, choose to try to live apart from and in disharmony with that Higher Power.




    Thanks Freya for pointing out “the bedevilments” on pg 52. I agree that they illustrate the effects of an unmanageable life, with or w/o drinking. And it seems true that they can be brought about by anybody, not just the alkie/addict, by self-will run riot.
    I do have a nit to pick about powerlessness. This word is used very sparingly in the Big Book – in conjunction with alcohol. Most of us retain some degree of power to move, speak, think, act, etc. If truly powerless over others then we’d have no need for Steps 8,9,10. We have the power to help or harm other people and to build up or tear down material things.
    I would replace “powerless” with “inability to control’ (other people, places and things). I think the idea of true powerlessness is significant to resignation or surrender; appropriately so with respect to alcohol, maybe no with other life challenges in recovery.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post (and the english lesson).

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