Powerlessness, Step One, and Tradition Five

The First Step of Narcotics Anonymous is unique. Rather than addressing a single symptom or substance, we admit our powerlessness over the disease that drives us.

-Guiding Principles, Tradition Five, "For Members"

Depending on who's telling the story, our First Step's focus on the disease was either (A) a stroke of genius, (B) tremendous good luck, (C) the work of a Higher Power, or (D) all of the above. Our founding members knew that identifying a specific drug as the object of our powerlessness wouldn't work for this motley crew. They were intent on creating a place for all drug addicts, where all of us could find identification. If refraining from naming a substance had been their only concern, our First Step might have just stated that we're powerless over drugs. Instead, Step One points to the disease of addiction as our problem.

Powerlessness over the disease gives our First Step lasting relevance. Our focus on addiction-instead of an apparent symptom-makes Step One as relatable before we detox as it is when we have decades clean. Sure, drug use was the most prominent and destructive manifestation of the disease, but unmanageability can bubble to the surface long after we've stopped using. When reaching outside ourselves to fix what's within seems like a good idea, we may be in trouble. "When I admit my powerlessness, I interrupt that outward reach and turn to my Higher Power instead," one member observed. Surrendering to the First Step acts as a circuit breaker on our diseased thinking. This pause in the action is what's needed for us to dodge some unmanageability.

Step One's ongoing relevance influences how we think about the Fifth Tradition, too.

Knowing we're all eligible to be the still-suffering addict reminds us to be more inclusive as we address our primary purpose. War stories may illustrate the unmanageability in our past, but our present-day, squeaky-clean powerlessness also deserves some attention.

Talking about our struggles confirms that last element of our message: We keep coming back and keep finding a new way to live.


I will recognize my powerlessness in some present-day situation, flipping the circuit breaker on some distorted thinking and opening myself to spiritual solutions.

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Just for Today Meditation

October 05, 2022

Ask for mercy, not justice

Page 291

"Many of us have difficulty admitting that we caused harm for others... We cut away our justifications and our ideas of being a victim."

Basic Text, p.38

Our lives are progressing nicely. Things are going good, and each year in recovery brings more material and spiritual gifts. We may have a little money in the bank, a new car, or a committed relationship. We have a little self-confidence, and our faith in a Higher Power is growing.

Then, something happens. Someone breaks into our new car and steals the stereo, or the person we're in the relationship with becomes unfaithful. Right away, we feel victimized. "Where's the justice?" we wail. But if we take a look back on our own behavior, we may find that we've been guilty of what's just been done to us. We realize we wouldn't really want justice-not for ourselves, and not for others. What we want is mercy.

We thank a loving God for the compassion we've been shown, and we take the time to appreciate all the precious gifts that recovery brings.

Just for Today: I will pray for mercy, not justice. I am grateful for the compassion I've been shown, and will offer mercy to others.

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