Step 1 – Powerless but not Helpless

We admitted we were powerless over sexual compulsion — that our lives had become unmanageable.

Powerless but not Helpless
Joe F (NYC)

I first arrived at SCA in the summer of 1983. The program was just a year old at the time, and consisted mostly of members regaling each other with their acting out adventures. I had come in because I wanted to be good. I was almost a year in a relationship and my boyfriend had to go away for the summer. I certainly wasn't surrendering. I had a compulsive sexual problem, not an addiction. I hated the label "sexual compulsive"-it sounded so clinical. Straight out of a deviant psychology textbook. I didn't like the members. I didn't really want to be there. When my boyfriend returned at the end of the summer, I left the program since he was obviously the solution to my sexual addiction.

Three years later, I came crawling back to SCA, ready to take the first step. I managed to attain eight months on my sexual recovery plan when I had moved to Europe. Within three weeks I was back in the midst of my addiction-but this time without the support of SCA meetings and fellowship. I had never felt so bad about acting out. I hit an emotional bottom. I realized that in order to stay sober I had to stop acting out. I was constantly teasing my disease because I thought I had some control over my acting out. I wasn't as bad as you addicts. I still got payoffs: validation, escape, adventure. But no more. It was just a dreary and demeaning addiction over which I had no control. 

When I finally admitted complete defeat, I started to get better. I could no longer run in and out of tea rooms or cruising areas. I could no longer go into public men's rooms. I could no longer go in gay bars alone, or parks with acting out areas. The war was over. I stopped negotiating with my disease. I have learned that once I start arguing with my disease, I've lost. It is much more powerful than me. But "we"-my higher power, the program, the fellowship, and finally me-were stronger than the addiction. As for the second part of the first step, my life had become completely unmanageable. I couldn't stop acting out when I wanted. I couldn't stop cheating on my lover. I couldn't work because I would rather act out than look for a job. I couldn't even learn the language of the country where I lived, since I would constantly run out to the men's room to cruise during language class. I had to be humbled in order to see my powerlessness. God certainly knew what I needed. This addict needed to be isolated in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language well, where there were no SCA meetings to finally be willing to do whatever it took to stay sober.

Today, 12 years later, I still need and use the first step in my recovery. I feel that my surrender has opened up the rest of the program to me: the fellowship, the steps, service. I certainly became willing to listen to suggestions. I had a sponsor who used to say to me, if something really makes me angry, then I am usually powerless over it. I am powerless over many areas of my life, but not helpless. Because of the first step, I am able to ask for and accept help quicker. (When all else fails, follow directions!) I don't play around with my addiction. I reach out to a power greater than myself more readily. This may be: talking to a friend; reading some literature; praying; or, going to a meeting. Because of the first step, I know that I can not put anything before my recovery. I have canceled plans because I knew that a meeting was more important than whatever social obligation I thought I had. I am more willing to do service and help newcomers, since that helps keep me stay sober.

Ironically, I thought that when I surrendered that all the fun in my life was over. All I had to look forward to was a lifetime of gloomy recovery and white-knuckling it. My experience has proven the opposite. The first step is the start of freedom. Being powerless over sex addiction removes so much from life and frees me up to live the rest of my life. It's as though my sex addiction is a tiny country, and there is a whole world left to explore. Yet, I often want to go back to the tiny country–that small, dark place.

Sometimes I even need to go right up to the border of my sobriety, but when I remember the first step, I realize that if I cross the border I may never come back. But freedom comes with a price tag: choice, responsibility, consciousness. And that's where the rest of the steps come in. To help us deal with and enjoy this newfound freedom.