Step One and My Path of Least Resistance by Robert K.
In science the path of least resistance refers to the
direction an object will move through its system, or environment. Water will
flow down a mountain, following the path of least resistance as it’s pulled
downward by gravity. From a social standpoint, when I squash my own ideas and
follow the crowd, I am choosing the path of least resistance. When faced with a stressful situation and I
look for the easiest and quickest solution, I am choosing the path of least
resistance. So it’s no wonder that I have come to equate the term with meaning
little or no effort.
In ‘How it Works’, I am reminded of the phrase, ‘easier,
softer way’. From my perspective it took me a long time to see the difference
between the two. After all, aren’t they saying the same thing? Don’t they mean the same thing? When I examine it
from this angle, yes they do.
But if I consider the science of the term, choosing the path
of least resistance is a call to action. It is the natural progression that
occurs when I get out of my own way and stop putting roadblocks in the way.
Easier, softer way is doing nothing, immovable, stuck. It takes a lot of energy
to not budge, to not be moved.
In hindsight I can see where the first step is what set the
tone for my early recovery and my personal interpretation of HOW to work the
steps. I’ll come back to this in a moment and explain what I mean. But in the
meantime, when I first read step one, I was confronted with my first
opportunity to take the path of least resistance.
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives
had become unmanageable. My initial interpretation of this step seemed like it
was just a mental exercise. All I had to do is admit that I can’t drink and
when I do my life is a mess. Didn’t I just do that by coming into the door and
sitting down at the table? What else do you people want? Do I have to give you
proof? I told you what it was like and what happened, what more do you want?
When I tell my story I’m telling you what I want you to
know. When I do that, I am trying to fit in while keeping some of my shame
hidden. I can tell about the night that I did all this, but I’ll leave that
part out because I’m afraid of what you’ll think of me. Keeping secrets takes
effort. It requires masking my shame, pretending that nothing is wrong. It
generates worry that I’m going to be found out.
To take the path of least resistance frees me up from all of
that worry and fear. When I admit my powerlessness over alcohol I remove
hesitation. I wipe away my fear of what you or you or you will think of me.
When I take the path of least resistance, I own my addiction. I own how much I
drank. I own how much I spent. I own how often I did it. I own how selfish I
was towards others.
When I tell my story about my unmanageability, once again,
shame may keep me from telling the truth in just how unmanageable my life was.
Especially if I was fortunate to have the intellect, the resources, the
advantages that make someone look at me and think, “They’ve got it made.” Once
again, when I stopped and was confronted by my unmanageability, I didn’t want
to confess how badly everything had spun out of control.
To take the path of least resistance allowed me to abolish
my fears of what you would think of me. I had to come to a place where I
understood that I was here for my life. When I was unmanageable, I was acting
out of character. I was the alcoholic, the addict. I wasn’t myself. Once again,
I had to own the things I found myself doing to get money or booze. I had to
own the fact that I had lied, cheated, stolen, physically hurt others and
myself, all in an attempt to get manage my life. Unfortunately I believed that
alcohol was what helped make it all better to deal with. If I could just get a
drink, I’ll be able to handle this. But that wasn’t truth. Truth came only
after I was able to look at how my world had become undone by my powerlessness
When I said initially how my approach to the first step set
the tone for my early recovery, that upon first glance it seemed as simple as
flipping a switch, I had to have three relapses before I understood that
this blasé approach had no conviction,
no substance. When I came back to the rooms that last time, I had to be told,
point blank, that I had to scrap EVERYTHING I thought the program of Alcoholics
Anonymous was. Everything I had heard from that first meeting in March of 1981
up to that first meeting back in May of 1984, all of it had to be thrown out
like so much spoiled food in the back of the refrigerator.
My initial reaction was to protest. I’d read the Big Book.
I’d read the 12&12. I’d done 12 step calls, chaired meetings, made coffee.
I’d been there and done that. Let’s get on with it, let’s just pick up from
where I left off. It wasn’t very hard, but when the person I was talking to
LITERALLY slapped my face, it was enough to shut me up and hear what he was
trying to get through to me.
I had exposure to the program, but I had no connection to
what I’d been taught. When I made a comment in a meeting, it was no different
than when I was a kid and had to give an oral report on the Civil War. I was
just parroting what I’d memorized from the book. To make the program part of
me, I had to give myself to the program, he explained. To do that, I had to get
out of the way.
The physical exercise of sitting down and writing all the
ways I was powerless over alcohol was like reading a laundry list of things
someone else had done to get booze. It was so much more than I wanted to admit
to doing and so much more detailed than simply flipping that mental light
switch. Seeing everything I had done, much of it secrets I had kept hidden out
of shame, was humbling. The proof that I was powerless was undeniable. Even
people consumed by greed of money wouldn’t have done some of the things I’d
done to get drunk.
When I wrote down all the ways that my life had become
unmanageable as a result of being powerless, once again, I was ashamed. I had
let opportunities for education, employment, even love, slip right past me like
it meant nothing. The school work would take up too much time, the better
paying job would be more responsibilities, and the relationship would turn into
constant nagging about my drinking. So I remained uneducated to the fullest of
my potential and I was only able to get the lowest of paying jobs and I got
into relationships with people just like me.
I was ashamed of my life and how things had turned out. I
became angry and sullen. I began to believe that the world owed me something.
Each time I acted on these beliefs, my life became more and more unmanageable.
I came close to losing everything so many times, that it didn’t seem unusual to
live so close to the edge of destruction. It was my normal.
For me the path of least resistance was to take action. Even
if it was just the physical act of sitting down and writing out my inventory of
powerlessness and unmanageability, it was still action. It opened my eyes to my
behavior and removed any doubt that I belonged in these rooms. When I looked
over what I’d written, I realized that people who can have one drink and be
done, do not put this much effort into having that one drink. And as I would come
to realize, this inventory that I was told to do, would become the foundation
for the searching and fearless moral inventory that was coming.