STEP 2: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
While the First Step left me in a position of defeat and subsequent surrender, it is in the Second Step that I am given the opportunity to embrace the hope of recovery. It is now that I can begin to shift my beliefs from reliance on self to reliance on a way of living that has proven to bring peace and happiness in the lives of others. Taking the Second Step gave me the opportunity to explore the insanity of my addiction, the concept of belief, the potential for my own restoration to sanity, and to begin to conceive of a power, or powers, greater than myself.
The Insanity of Addiction
In order to believe that I can be restored to sanity, I must first accept the insanity of my addiction. The word “insane” might seem unduly harsh, but in the context of addiction it is entirely appropriate. The basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous draws an analogy between the insanity of addiction and a passion for jaywalking. It states:
Our behavior is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull. Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.
On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he come out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?
Alcoholics Anonymous — Chapter 3
While the analogy may seem extreme, I have to admit that with respect to drugs and alcohol my thinking and attendant behavior were as ridiculously insane as that of the jaywalker.
Like the jaywalker, in the beginning I thought that drinking and using drugs was thrilling. Like the jaywalker, I ignored the stern warnings about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. Like the jaywalker, I began to experience minor injuries (physically, mentally, and emotionally) but continued to ignore these warning signs. Like the jaywalker, as my injuries progressed, I sought treatment only to engage in the same behavior upon my release. Like the jaywalker, I made promises that I would stop hurting myself and others. Like the jaywalker, I drank and used again in spite of my promises to the contrary and in spite of having experienced great pain in the process. Like the jaywalker, I lost the ability to work, to maintain relationships, and I was held up to ridicule. I was locked up like the jaywalker, and yet I got out and used alcohol and drugs again — experiencing more pain, more harm to myself and others, and more despair. I made the decision to drink alcohol and use drugs even though I knew from experience that I was harming myself and others in the process and that nothing good would come of it. I was thinking and acting in ways that were contrary to my own instinct to survive. I was killing myself.
While in active addiction, my thoughts and the attendant behaviors were insane because I continued to take the same course of action that had repeatedly resulted in great harm to myself and others.
Coming to Believe
As I mentioned in My Personal First Step, this is not my first exposure to the 12 Steps. In fact, my first 12 Step meeting was in 1990. It is tempting, as someone who readily engages in “all-or-nothing thinking”, to say that my prior experiences in recovery were all for naught. But this is not true. If I’ve learned anything from my prior exposure to the rooms of recovery, it is that there are people like me who felt just as hopeless and full of despair as I did. For many years, I have heard the stories of their experiences in active alcoholism and addiction. Most of them thought and acted just as I did. I also know that they have recovered and that they have done so by taking suggestions from other recovering addicts in the context of the 12 Steps. They are happy, joyous and free. They have what I want — a sense of purpose in life and a true measure of serenity. If they can recover, then why can’t I?
The fact is that I can also recover. I believe. Therefore, while the Second Step rightfully infers that coming to believe is a process rather than an overnight experience, my belief in my own ability to recover from addiction is strongly based upon my prior exposure to hundreds of recovered persons. These are people who are clean and sober to this day because, according to their credible testimonials, they relied upon the principles of and practiced the 12 Steps. In this respect, I am using my prior experiences in a logical and sane way to conclude that “if I want what they have, I should do what they have done and what they continue to do.”
I have come to believe that I, too, can recover.
A Power Greater than Myself
To this point, I have admitted that I am powerless over my addiction. Once I start using, I cannot stop. Furthermore, as it pertains to drugs and alcohol, I am possessed of an insane urge to use again in spite of the negative consequences. Left in this position without help, I am doomed to a miserable end. In this respect, drugs and alcohol represent a power greater than myself — albeit a negative power. Therefore, what I must find is a positive power greater than myself — a power greater than the power which drugs and alcohol exerted over me.
My inclination is to immediately turn to the popular notions of the judeo-christian “God” which were taught to me in childhood. But this notion of “God” is one against which I have spent many years in rebellion and which seems ill-suited to my particular needs. Fortunately, my thinking does not have to be so cramped and narrow-minded in this regard. On the contrary, it is in exploring the nature of a power (or powers) greater than myself that I must be the most open-minded. In fact, my open-mindedness in this regard allows me to develop my own conception of a power (or powers) greater than myself. According to the Narcotics Anonymous Step Working Guides:
There are many, many understandings of a Power greater than myself that [I] can develop. [I] can think of it as the power of spiritual principles, the power of the NA Fellowship, “good orderly direction”, or anything else of which [I] can conceive, as long as it is [the source of caring and love], and more powerful than [I am]. As a matter of fact, [I] don’t have to have any understanding at all of a Power greater than [myself] to be able to use that Power to stay clean and seek recovery.
And even though my conception of a Higher Power is far from concrete and anything but typical (note my unwillingess to even commit to monotheism at this point), I do have a strong sense that if I will at least adhere to the spiritual principles exhaulted by the program and taught by the Steps that I will be freed from the bondage of addiction and restored to sanity.
Restoration to Sanity
According to It Works: How and Why, published by Narcotics Anonymous, the phrase “restoration to sanity” is explained as “changing to a point where addiction and its accompanying insanity are no longer controlling [my life]”. Of course, this too implies that achieving sanity is a process just the same as was my becoming increasingly insane in active addiction. The first obvious sign of my restoration to sanity in early recovery is the fact that I am no longer using drugs and alcohol. Additionally, my taking positive steps towards my own recovery each day — regularly attending meetings, doing service work, having daily contact with my sponsor, working Steps — these are all outward signs that the process of restoration to sanity is well under way and will continue so long as I stay on this path.
I believe that if I will follow the suggestions of the 12 Steps, as taught to me by those who have recovered before me, I will be restored to sanity.
In working each Step, I am given the opportunity to experience spiritual principles in a meaningful, practical way. It is in working the Steps that I learn to ultimately put these principles into practice in my life on a larger scale.
In the Second Step, I experience open-mindedness. I do not allow any prejudice that I may have against spiritual (or even religious) ideas deter me from seeking out what it means to me to believe in a power greater than myself.
I experience willingess by continuing to take the suggestions of the people in the program — including my sponsor. I attend meetings. I speak to my sponsor regularly. I work Steps. All of these things will help ensure that I am restored to sanity so long as I remain willing to do the work.
In believing that the power of the program can work for me, I demonstrate the principle of faith in my life. While some would define “faith” as believing in something that is not tangible, in my view, “faith” is more practically defined as believing that I can recover.
Even though my way of thinking and doing things brought me to the brink of death on several different levels, there is still a sense of comfort with the familiar. To this extent, when I act against my old ideas with the goal of recovery in mind, I am demonstrating that I trust the process of recovery.
Finally, I first experienced humility in the defeat of my addiction. However, this is a defeat that I can ultimately turn to victory so long as I humbly acknowledge that I need help and that I cannot recover alone. By reaching out for help from others, I am putting the humbling experience of addiction to positive practical purpose.