Monday, November 29, 2010

Getting to Recovery: Statement One

Note: This is the first in a series of essays on the 13 Statements of the Women for Sobriety program. These statements are copyright to WFS and I encourage you to see their website for more information.

Statement One: the Key to Sobriety

Often when we first come to WFS we are scared, confused, and unsure of anything save a need to quit drinking. We have not formulated a plan to implement sobriety, nor have we thought past the desire to remove alcohol from our lives. We may have tried to stop in the past, and found that we need more than our own willpower to succeed. We are searching for a framework within which to successfully defeat our addiction. The Women for Sobriety “New Life” Program provides such a framework.

Statement One provides the core belief that will enable us to move into the maintenance, or recovery, phase of sobriety. “I have a life-threatening problem that once had me. I now take charge of my life and my disease. I accept the responsibility”. The key to this statement are the words “once had me”. If we are to succeed, we must internalize these words and make them a part of our daily self talk.

We are not helpless over our addiction. We have it within ourselves to take control and eliminate alcohol from our lives, but we must be willing to take the responsibility for doing so. Taking responsibility is a major step at this point, as we often have used alcohol to escape responsibility for ourselves and our actions. The defining moment in moving from preparation to action is when we embrace taking charge of our lives, reclaiming the power that we had abdicated to our addiction.


Alcoholism is a life threatening problem. The damage done to the body by alcohol is vast and sometimes irreversible. Recognizing this is an important first step in recovery; once we accept this, we establish what is known as cognitive dissonance, an imbalance between two conflicting beliefs. In this case the belief that we are killing ourselves conflicts with the belief that we deserve to live. Unless we do not care to live, in which case treatment beyond the scope of any self help program is called for, our actions conflict with our basic sense of survival. This imbalance must be rectified internally, and the easiest way to do this is to commit to sobriety.

Most often, it is not as easy as this. People with addictions are characterized with rigid thinking, making it difficult to internalize change; it can, however, be done. What is required is for the knowledge of the danger to outweigh any habitual pattern of thought. This is one of the jobs of the addictions counselor, but can be accomplished by the individual themselves.

Once we have absorbed the knowledge that alcohol is poisonous and deadly, we begin a sometimes subconscious change in our thinking. Alcohol is no longer our friend; instead, it is a foreign substance bent on our destruction. It is this identification which gives rise to the imp, for unless we viewed drinking as a threat, there would be no conflict in the urge to drink. In this way, the imp can be viewed as a sign of forward progress. When it begins to arise, we have internalized the knowledge that we have a life-threatening problem. We have moved into the action stage where positive steps for controlling our addiction can be taken.


As I said before, these words are key in our ability to achieve and maintain sobriety. We accept the strength of our addiction, but empower ourselves by saying that we are stronger. Research has shown that people tend to believe what they say, and the more often something is said the more strongly the belief becomes held. Therefore, these words should be a mantra in the early action phase of recovery.

It is important to understand that in the early action phase, multiple attempts may be required for sobriety to “stick”. This doesn’t mean that statement one is not true until you have achieved lasting abstinence. Rather, it can be construed to mean a determination to overcome the addictive voice. Each failure can teach us something about ourselves and our triggers, and it is sometimes required that we make these missteps in order to fully embrace our desire for recovery.

The only failure in life is not to try. There are very few things worth having that can be accomplished without multiple attempts. These are learning experiences if we allow them to be. They must be if we wish to ultimately live an abstinent life. It is important to understand that how we react to failure has a great impact on our future success. If we denigrate our efforts and ourselves, we make it harder to succeed in our next attempt.

If instead we look for the positives in our actions, such as being able to ascertain our reasons for drinking and what thought processes led to it, we improve the likelihood of success the next time we are confronted with the urge to drink. As long as we learn from our experiences, addiction is a ‘once had’.


This part of statement one reinforces what I’ve said above. We are taking charge, learning what works and what doesn’t and moving ever closer to the maintenance stage where recovery begins. It cannot be emphasized enough that any amount of drinking is harmful. The fact that it may take more than one attempt to achieve lasting sobriety does not excuse or justify drinking. What taking charge means is that if we fail we have done so after utilizing all our knowledge to that point to prevent picking up.

The important thing here is that we must learn from our mistakes. If we fail to do this then we are merely active drinkers with periods of sobriety, not women seeking recovery. The first is merely going through the motions, and most likely will not succeed in long-term abstinence. The second takes error and from it creates solution.

There is a delicate balance between accepting a failure in sobriety as a learning experience and justifying continued drinking. We are the only ones who can make that distinction with accuracy. When we’re seeking support from others, we must demonstrate our commitment through expressions of what we have learned and rededication to sobriety. If we do not do this, we risk isolating ourselves from those who truly are taking charge of their disease and thus losing a valuable resource in our effort to gain a lasting recovery.


Taking responsibility is ultimately the single most important step in achieving sobriety. Others cannot make us sober; we are the only ones who can take ourselves into recovery. Support groups such as WFS are just that; they provide support. It is up to us to take advantage of the tools available, such as the statements, and to move forward in our search for sobriety. We must be willing to learn from others even as we recognize that others do not control our actions.

Accepting responsibility is in itself a sign of growth. In our active addiction we avoided responsibility for the use of alcohol. Our addictions were externally created and fueled; we told ourselves this in order to maintain our sense of the status quo. It is when we accept that we alone are responsible for ourselves and our disease that we move from a place where recovery is only theoretically possible to a place where it is real and ongoing.

Finally, the statement as a whole underpins the entire WFS program. Without embracing it, there is little purpose in participating in the group. This is not to say that we should not participate until we have internalized the statement into our core belief system; rather, we must accept it as a truth to be sought. This interpretation applies particularly for those in the preparation stage of change, those who recognize the need for abstinence but do not yet have a concrete plan for achieving it.

I have a life-threatening problem that once had me. I give myself permission to take control of my addiction and to create a plan that will lead me into recovery. I accept that I, and I alone, am responsible for my sobriety and empower myself to utilize all the tools available to me in seeking and maintaining a lasting abstinence.

Women for Sobriety is a powerful tool in our pursuit of recovery. We must be willing to open ourselves to the words of Jean Kirkpatrick and to the support of other women following the same path. We must embrace statement one and accept the awesome power that taking responsibility gives to us. It is when we do so that we truly begin the journey to recovery.

1 comment:

  1. with acceptance, all things are possible. *gentle hugs*