Allow me to pull out a few key points, in sequence, from the essay on the First Step in the book "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,":
"Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal powerlessness." -- pg. 21
"Alcohol ... bleeds us of all self-sufficiency and all will to resist its demands ... our bankruptcy as going human concerns is complete." -- pg. 21
"In AA's pioneering time, none but the most desperate cases could swallow and digest this unpalatable truth." -- pg. 22
"Many less desperate alcoholics tried AA, but did not succeed because they could not make the admission of hopelessness." -- pg. 23
"Alcoholics who still had their health, their families, their jobs, and even two cars in the garage, began to recognize their alcoholism." -- pg. 23
"Since Step One requires an admission that our lives had become unmanageable, how could people such as these take this Step?" -- pg. 23
"It was obviously necessary to raise the bottom the rest of us had hit to the point where it would hit them. By going back in our own drinking histories, we could show that years before we realized it we were out of control, that our drinking was no mere habit, that it was indeed the beginning of a fatal progression." -- pg. 23
So it goes like this then:
It feels unnatural to admit that you are completely beaten by something -- even when you're diagnosed with a powerful illness (cancer, diabetes, alcoholism) we fight the admission.
The more I think about my own First Step, the more I listen to people in meetings talk about being powerless, about hitting bottom, about what brought them to AA and how they "worked" the First Step -- the more I believe that the famous Five Stages of Grief -- first proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance -- are a fair reflection of what someone first really confronting their alcoholism may go through. After all, aren't we grieving the loss of an illusion? The illusion that we can control our drinking? Grieving the loss of our best friend, alcohol? Grieving the loss of that most Western of ideals: The image of ourselves as unbeatable, as able, with enough grit and determination, to achieve any goal, overcome any obstacle?
But the fact is, if you believe that alcoholism is a disease, something that, just like any other disease, has powerful symptoms (a lack of "all will to resist its demands" for example) and, like any other disease, powerful, toxic, and even potentially fatal consequences ("bankruptcy as going human concerns" is not just poetic, it's chilling, when you consider what it can really mean), then you begin to acknowledge that on your own you cannot treat this illness, just like, on your own, you could not successfully treat a tumor or a broken bone.
And if you don't fully admit this state of hopelessness, then you won't be able to successfully treat your illness. Just like being diagnosed with cancer and deciding that you know better than the doctors how to treat it, and will in fact do so completely on your own, with your own ideas as to how to go about it and get the best result.
Imagine the conversation one might have, explaining that to someone:
DUMPLING: I just found out that I have a spot of skin cancer. It's pretty bad, they say.
GIBLET: Oh my God! That's terrible! What are you going to do? Surgery? Some kind of radiation? What? Do you need me to drive you anywhere? Oh my God!
DUMPLING: No, they recommended surgery to treat the cancer, yeah, but I'm just going to move to a different city. I think the problem is where I live.
GIBLET: I'm sorry ... what?
DUMPLING: Yeah, I figure if I move then this thing will just clear itself right up."
Insane, when framed in that way, but if you substitute "alcoholism" for "skin cancer" and put the dialog in someone's mind instead of aloud, it's not that far off from what some alcoholic's treatment strategy may be. They're going to "figure out" how to "handle this on their own."
Thus the admission of hopelessness is the admission that on my own I am unable to treat the illness. There is no hope of a successful treatment without help.
But what if I can catch the illness before it becomes malignant? What if I can see the symptoms of a disease's progression and believe the evidence based on many other people's experience that my symptoms match theirs, but I am a bit earlier in the downward trajectory they suffered.
That's raising the bottom. That's what can happen in Open AA meetings, or with an intervention, or even harsh consequences (jail, loss of a job, etc.)
That's why it is important for people in AA meetings to share their drinking history, to talk about their own experience in the downward spiral of real and chronic alcoholism.
Yet even with all that, one of the most profound symptoms of alcoholism is its ability to convince you that it does not exist, that your case is different, that it's not so serious... the biggest symptom of alcoholism is its ability to get you to ignore the symptoms of alcoholism.
No wonder if you can't admit complete hopelessness and helplessness you can't get sober -- who could overcome that?