By Scott Smith
When I was in treatment there was a guy that came every Tuesday night for the entire six months I was there. He always talked passionately about the first half of the first step. I gravitated toward every word he said because he was high energy and motivational. Somehow the only thing I could remember once I left treatment was that he would say “if you can get the first half of the first step, you can stay sober!” Unfortunately, that’s not what he said. What he really said was “if you can get the first half of the first step you can get sober.” I also interpreted the first step as “we were powerless over alcohol therefore our lives have become unmanageable.” Of course, this is not what step one says. My brain was setting me up to fail. I had convinced myself that if I just stayed away from drugs and alcohol I would be fine. In the beginning, I was. I got a job, a car, a group of friends in my sober house, a pretty girlfriend. I was following all of the probation requirements. I was going to my required 12 step meetings and getting my card signed. I never worked a step, never got a sponsor and just kept on doing life.
This disease is cunning baffling and powerful. What I didn’t realize is that my spiritual malady was slowly awakening and growing underneath the surface like a virus or a weed. In January 2008 I hit bottom for the first time. The newness of the early sobriety accomplishments that had come with simply not using had worn off. The girlfriend had left, the employer didn’t see how great I was, I complained about not being recognized at work, I had moved on from sober living a while back and stopped hanging out with that crowd. I went to meetings just to get my card signed and my social circle consisted of a poker table of “regular” guys. That night in January those guys called and invited me out to the club for drinks and with no hesitation, I said, “sounds fun, why not?”
What saved me that night was that my body started to have a physical reaction as soon as I accepted the invitation. My body was having a biological response. I knew that this response was not geared toward having drinks but that my body was preparing itself for what I really wanted which was meth. It knew what was going to happen. God sprinkled in a healthy dose of fear at that moment and I remember standing in my living room scared to death because I knew that I could not sit on the fence that I had been sitting on anymore. I was going to fall one way or the other so I yelled out that I needed help. In the very next moment somehow it came into my mind that I needed to call a certain gentleman that I had met in the rooms and was one of the few people that I had bothered to interact with from time to time. Miraculously, he answered the phone and I began to unload my situation on him. He told me to write down everything that I was feeling and everything that I was thinking and that he would come over to my house the next day and we can talk about it. That got me through the night and the next day he showed up. He spent the day listening to me read what I wrote (it was a lot) and helped me through my first real, meaningful inventory. When he left my house he said, “You can call me your sponsor now” and I have ever since.
From that moment, I felt my shoulders drop in relief. I craved more. I wanted to be at meetings. I wanted a fellowship. I wanted to absorb recovery. It became my new dope! It still gets me high today!
My sobriety date is still November 15 of 2005. My bottom was a spiritual bottom and I had never hit that low before. That day in January 2008 was the first time that I understood step one. My life was unmanageable and had always been unmanageable. I was spiritually sick...bankrupt. Today I spend a great deal of time working with others in the second half of the first step. I believe that the “difficult” steps that most people refer to (2, 4, 9) are actually not difficult at all if that piece is understood and believed. We have to believe we have nothing left, nothing to lose, and stay there to move forward. Step 2 stops being a question of whether there is a God or not and we completely connect with the fact that we are insane. Step 3 becomes a commitment we are willing to truly make because we can’t do it on our own. Step 4 information is all in our head, it’s just jumbled up and needs to be organized on paper so we can see it. A sponsor helps us complete the picture in step 5.
In order to be willing, we must remain in touch with our unmanageability/insanity. We are crossing the bridge to living! We recommit ourselves to God with the new information about ourselves in 6 and 7. We now know our spiritual malady and have enlisted the strength of our Higher Power through our sponsor and prayer to behave differently. New, healthy relationships are formed. We begin to seek a better way of living and want to repair our past. This is step 8. We honestly set out to right our wrongs in step 9. Again, if we don’t believe that life is unmanageable without this, we won’t do it. If we don’t take the next step, we begin to die all over again. Steps 10 and 11 keep us in tune with our daily character and what needs to be addressed. If we are consistent here it keeps us from falling into the idea that we are “fine” now. We are in danger of resting on our laurels at this point because life has become good! Remember, life is still unmanageable and we need help always. The real test of staying in touch with the second half of the first step is whether we are willing to keep showing up and helping others through their journey after our lives have recovered.
Once I surrendered this all became easier to agree to. I went from hating to have to do things to craving the connection the steps bring. The life I want to have is here. I have it because I don’t try to design it. The design is in God’s hands. I just keep showing up and get amazed over and over!
Scott Smith is a recovered addict who owns and heads several levels of recovery services including residential SUD treatment, extended care residences, and sober homes. Scott has 11 years of experience in the recovery field and had 11 years of public health experience before retiring in 2016. In the public health field, Scott worked for the Texas Department of State Health Services as a contract manager and specialized in case management and care coordination, communicating with families and health professionals to ensure proper care and treatment was provided to individuals in need. In recovery, Scott has 15 years of personal sobriety. He has helped many men and women find their way in early sobriety, beginning by serving on the Austin chapter board for Oxford House in 2006 and going on to open a successful sober living company with his wife, Carrie, in 2010, extended care in 2016, and inpatient treatment in 2017. Scott has dedicated his life in recovery to helping others succeed. Scott serves as a volunteer board member of Southern Recovery Advocacy, a nonprofit, as part of his commitment to give back and to continue to educate and support the community.