Here’s a little handout we made about how to work Step One, what it does and doesn’t include, and the promises it comes with. It’s also available in prettier, easier to read PDF and Word formats.There will be one of these for each step, but most of them will probably be shorter! You can also listen to the Step One recording to hear more about what our common problem looks like –  what it is that we’re here to heal from.


Step One: Admitted we were powerless over compulsive sexual behavior, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step One promises:

(The promises in most of the steps are promises about what happens when we take that specific step. In Step One, though, they are mostly about what we are promised is coming. This is because we have not yet taken any actions to change our lives: we are only admitting we need to.)

There is a solution. There are clear-cut directions for recovery. Nearly everyone who has tried this (who works these steps, in this manner, thoroughly and honestly) has recovered.

(There is a possibly-apocryphal story that Bill W., the main author of the Big Book, later said that if he could change one thing about it, he would cut out the word “nearly”.)

When we come together to share our experiences and our recovery, we find (as the original instructions from back in 1939 put it) “a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful….  You will be bound to [each other] with new and wonderful ties, for you will escape disaster together and you will commence shoulder to shoulder your common journey. Then you will know what it means to give of yourself that others may survive and rediscover life.”

When you work the rest of the steps,  “you will find release from care, boredom and worry. Your imagination will be fired. Life will mean something at last. The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead. Thus we find the fellowship, and so will you…. Since these things have happened among us, they can happen with you. Should you wish them above all else, and be willing to make use of our experience, we are sure they will come. The age of miracles is still with us. Our own recovery proves that!” In other words, it has worked for us when we took these specific actions, and it will work for you too.

What you have to do to work this step:

Admit that you are powerless over compulsive sexual behavior and that your life has become unmanageable.

That’s it. Many of the steps involve far more actions than these little one-line summaries. But this is not one of them.

Some explanation:

In order to “admit” this, of course, it has to be true for you and you actually have to feel like it’s true.

When we say we’re “powerless” over it, we generally mean that there is, or has been, one or more people in our lives who have done something sexual that affected us, and that we’ve found that nothing we can do can control their behavior.

When we say that our lives have become “unmanageable”, we generally mean that the effects on our lives are painful and out of our control: we’re powerless over the ways it has affected us. We may day that we can’t “manage” anymore, or that we’re no longer willing to try to “manage” all of the pain, chaos, anger, fear, suffering, and/or other effects on our lives.

Either way, it means we have hit bottom: we both need and want help.

The “something sexual” part –  whether we call it sex addiction, compulsive sexual behavior, or something else entirely –  is an extremely broad category. It could include sexual harassment; date rape; sexual assault; childhood sexual abuse; porn addiction; compulsive masturbation; cheating; covert sexual abuse; and much more. It could be a parent, child, friend, partner, other relative, boss, employee, stranger, professional, etc. It could be just one person, or many people, past and/or present. This problem affects people of all ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and other backgrounds.

No one in COSA is ever going to tell you that you do not belong here. No one in COSA has the right to tell you whether or not what brought you here “is bad enough,” or “counts as sex addiction/compulsive sexual behavior.” No one cares about judging those things, either; all we care about is helping you find the same recovery and freedom we have found through working the steps, traditions, and concepts of service.

Other things people associate with the first step:

We include this section so that we can draw a distinction between taking the first step, and preparing for the first step.

Often, you will hear people speaking of their step work in ways which may sound strange to you. They may say, “This came up in my seventh step journalling this morning,” or, “I am going to start including that in my tenth step affirmations!” or, “It’s been really tough to get my first step down to 25 minutes so I can share it with my group.”

For lack of a better term, we will call these “accessories” or “add-ons” in this workshop. WE ARE NOT RECOMMENDING ANY OF THEM.

That’s not because you SHOULDN’T do them! It’s simply because “accessories” are things that either help some people prepare to take a specific step, or that their higher power has led them to do to deepen their understanding of a particular step. We are not your higher power; in this workshop, we limit ourselves to suggesting and explaining the things that we know, from decades of testing by millions of twelve-steppers, will have the same effects for everybody.

In other words, the actions we describe in “What you have to do to work this step” are the ones we know work, that we know from years of study are the actions the step is asking us to do. The “accessories” that you have probably heard others mention, or that we may mention in this section,  are things that are very individual,  and that are not part of the steps.

For example, in the first step, you DEFINITELY admit that you are powerless over compulsive sexual behavior and that your life has become unmanageable.

In the process, or afterwards, you might feel led to share what you’re powerless over and what that unmanageability looks like with your COSA group. You might journal about it. You might do something that symbolizes powerlessness or surrender, such as flying a white flag or creating some personal ritual for yourself.

These things are not the first step.

But they may or may not become part of your journey around the first step.

Going through airport security and staying in a hotel is not part of being at Disneyland, but for many people they are part of the journey to Disneyland.

We’re including these explanations to help everyone make that distinction, so that future COSAs may be able to all work the twelve steps and carry the message with a unified voice, while still benefitting from whatever other actions their higher powers lead them to take in their lives.

One extra note:

Throughout the rest of your life, you will undoubtedly keep discovering new things you are powerless over, new things that make your life unmanageable.

In COSA, when this happens, we often say something like “I’m back on the first step today!” In this workshop, we want to emphasize that there is a big difference between discovering some new aspect of our common problem, and actually stopping your step work and going back to the beginning of the steps.

We have noticed, in our own step work and in sponsorship, that it is very common,  especially when approaching the fourth or ninth steps, to suddenly feel like “I don’t think I really GOT the first step! I think I need to go back and spend more time on it.”

If this comes up for you, please remember that it’s very common, it’s a normal part of recovery, and you deserve and need the relief from this disease that only comes from moving forward in the steps.  Very few, if any, of us had a 100% perfect understanding of our problem when we worked the first step. The steps are designed to drastically deepen our understanding of our common problem, while freeing us from it.

Most of us had many surprising, even shocking revelations about ourselves along the way. That’s good! It means the steps are working and that you’re in the right place. Often we experience fear when this happens, in the form of shame and self-doubt. Again, this is totally fine and very common. Fear is one way that our disease tries to keep us from healing: we will be showing you how to use the steps to become free from it and keep growing safely.

With that said, if you truly believe that you need to start the steps over, we strongly suggest talking with your sponsor about it. You will be matched up with a temporary sponsor to help with your fourth and fifth steps, and you can always treat us as temporary sponsors before that!

Thanks for listening, and CONGRATULATIONS on your commitment to working the steps and to your own recovery. You’re gonna love it!