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Stop Trying to Manage the Unmanageable

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” Bill W. started writing the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, known now as The Big Book, in 1938 and penned this down as the first step. It was a revolutionary way to think of addiction at the time- as a mental illness and throughout the 12-steps he designed a system of managing mental illness. What initially started as a set of guidelines for alcoholism became adopted by self-help groups across the United States and eventually the world. This important first step is now used in 12-step meetings for substance use, eating disorders, gambling, mental health, relationship, trauma, and more. Now this important book has been translated into 28 languages and AA meetings are offered in over 175 countries across all 7 continents.

We often hear that “The first step is admitting we had a problem,” but Bill W. took it a step further when he wrote the word “unmanageable.” Mental health diseases, whether they are based in addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar episodes, eating disorders, or any other number of presentations cause our lives to become unmanageable. They interrupt our relationships, our careers, our passions, our connection to other living beings. It is in letting go of our desire to manage the unmanageable we can ultimately find peace.

We need to stop making mental health our enemy. It isn’t something that we have to fight with and push against every day. It’s that exact battle, the battle to control our mental illness, that gets in our way of living our lives and connecting with others. This battle carries with it so much stigma and shame that we become afraid to reach out to others and ask for help. It is a battle that doesn’t have a winner. The more we fight, the more it fights back. If we run, it catches up later in future. To put it simply: what we resist, persists.

If we can instead turn towards ourselves, we can start treating ourselves with compassion. If we can understand that every emotion and feeling has a purpose and can be explored, learned from, and then let go of we can ultimately start treating ourselves with compassion. We can allow ourselves to feel how we are going to feel with a recognition that it may not be our favorite feeling, but it’s temporary and it will pass. We don’t have to feel guilty or ashamed that we have the feeling. We don’t have to be afraid that it’s back and feel like that means anything greater about our health and wellbeing. We can simply allow these feelings to exist, explore them, and let them pass with a recognition that they are, ultimately, temporary states. We don’t need to change them, hide from them, or fight them. We can give up that desire for control. Instead of trying to manage the unmanageable, we learn to let it pass on its own.

Author: Jacob Johnson, LPC
Jacob Johnson graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2015 with his Master’s Degree in counseling after receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in philosophy there prior. He started his counseling work in the field of substance use and co-occurring disorders working inpatient in Flagstaff and Prescott before moving back to Phoenix where he has worked as both an outpatient counselor and a clinical supervisor. He is a licensed professional counselor who has worked extensively with adults, adolescents, and families in the fields of substance use, co-occurring disorders, and general mental health utilizing a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, motivational interviewing, and positive psychology.

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