Step Zero: Willing To Go To Any Lengths

“If you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it, then you are ready to take certain steps.”

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We are told before we start working the program of recovery that we need to be “willing to go to any lengths” to overcome our addiction. Why do we need to take such extreme action? Why can we not just trundle through the 12 Steps and live happy ever after?

The alcoholic finally gets to a point where he has ONLY two options and one choice that he can make. These options are; Die the alcoholic death or work a spiritual program of action. To me some of this was extreme action. If you are alcoholic then deluding yourself into believing that there may be easier, softer options available could be fatal. In my case as an alcoholic I either need a lot of vodka or a lot of God. My disease will not settle for anything less.  It is not possible to have both, my disease will take one or the other and that is entirely up to me which option I take.

What does being willing to go to any lengths mean? It begins with the alcoholic accepting the truth of his situation, the truth of his reality.

Acceptance of one’s reality as an alcoholic is defying the law of addiction. It is the act of surrendering a deluded mind warped by our drinking into accepting that we are in actual fact not in control of our drinking and we are indeed lost in the wilderness of addiction.

Acceptance of one’s own dilemma can be explained in many ways.

I like to explain the act of surrender with a heart warming story about an Elephant that completely defined her own life purpose against all the laws of nature and logic. My understanding of surrender to my reality came through powerfully as I witnessed the event I am about to describe.

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During a weekend vacation at a wildlife sanctuary near Harare we came across an astonishing example of perspective re engineered.

A few miles into one of our game drives in the park, we observed the massive shape of a female elephant emerging from the afternoon shade of the Msasa trees. The elephant was closely followed by a substantial herd of buffalo following her in an organised single file. The elephant came to a halt 50 metres from where we were parked and the buffalo immediately surrounded her and set about their task of peacefully grazing. The elephant stood guard over the grazing buffalo with a watchful eye.

We all realized at once that we were witnessing a complete freak of nature right before our eyes.

It was almost impossible to accept the scene taking place in front of us, and yet there existed a sense of natural acceptance within this total mismatch of nature. It was not hard to see that the Elephant had accepted the buffalo as her tribe, and was the fearless matriarch of the herd. The buffalo were at peace whilst feeding under the protection of their larger than life leader.

How had this happened?

The elephant was a rescued orphan and had been the first elephant to arrive on site a few years ago. There were established herds of buffalo roaming the plains of the game park and the elephant had chosen to set about her task of acceptance into what she perceived to be her tribe. Her natural instinct for survival had obviously driven her to adopt and dominate the herd of buffalo. She had gone to the extreme lengths of putting her life on the line to achieve her place in the herd by defending her leadership against potentially dominant male buffalo who had made the mistake of challenging her authority and she had fought many of them to the death. She obviously didn’t give a hoot about her physical differences and was at peace with her tribe and her role to play as leader of pack.

This elephant had achieved what we may consider impossible. Our game guide had mentioned in the beginning that the elephant was mentally and physically confused. I had to disagree, to me she had ended up in a situation which left her no option but to accept reality of being the only elephant on site. She obviously had identified that becoming part of the buffalo herd was her only chance of survival and she had become willing to go to any lengths to achieve that regardless of her differences to the others.

To me it was a wild animal accepting her reality, and setting about the task of adapting to her potentially fatal situation to suit the new environment she found herself in. In other words instead of trying to change the world around her to suit herself, she changed her attitude to suit the world around her. As a result one could see she had found freedom within her adopted herd and elephant and buffalo lived together in harmony. An almost impossibility had become a small miracle of nature.

Before taking Step 1 we are asked if we are willing to go to any lengths to achieve sobriety. Being willing to do this is a requirement, it’s what qualifies us to work the program of recovery.

In other words we are being asked this question: “Are you now willing for the first time to adopt a new attitude towards life? Are you ready to disengage from your drinking, cease fighting anything and everything and become willing to change your attitude from insisting that the world fits into your life to suit you, to you fitting into the world around you?. Are you willing to join a new tribe, a new herd and adapt your attitude to suit the herd and not your own selfish means that have nearly destroyed you?

I call this requirement of willingness to go to any lengths Step Zero. It is a futile exercise taking Step One if you have not taken Step Zero. If you have not accepted the truth of your reality then Step One is a futile exercise. If you have not accepted your lack of power over choice and control of alcohol, then taking Step Zero is impossible.