Last month, we revealed the start of a new feature in which we are to outline each of the Twelve Steps at the beginning of their corresponding months of the year. Naturally, we began with Step One. As February is the second month of the year, we will now be covering Step Two. We will outline what it is, some of the deeper meanings behind it, and some of the best methods by which Step Two may be practiced.
Those who wish for a formal understanding of Step Two would do well to read its corresponding chapter in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. However, the following breakdown should prove useful for those who are new to sobriety and perhaps a bit unclear regarding the best method for working the steps. A bit of guidance will especially be helpful for Step Two, as this is the step during which we begin to explore the spiritual side of recovery. Many people struggle with the concept of spirituality, primarily because they have trouble differentiating it from religion. You should most certainly consult with your sponsor and seek their opinions on this matter, but the following should prove somewhat enlightening in the meantime.
What Is Step Two?
Step Two, whether you are following Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, is a fairly straightforward idea. In the aforementioned Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (also known as the 12&12), it is worded thusly:
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Those who do not approve of religion will immediately go running for the hills upon reading this, especially when they see the word “Power” capitalized and immediately assume that it is meant as a synonym for God. As pointed out in the 12&12, there are at least three different kinds of people who will have trouble with this idea.
The first type of person who might struggle with Step Two is the person who will not allow themselves to believe in God. Some will not like what they read about this type of person described in the 12&12, for it describes them as savage and belligerent. The type of person who will not believe in a deity as their Higher Power is described as someone who resorts primarily to stubbornness, refusing to accept any believe that stands in the way of their pride.
In some ways this is true, but not for the reasons you may think. The issue with refusal to believe in a Higher Power has nothing to do with religion. This is simply an assumption that many newcomers make, and some do not stay sober as a result. In truth, Step Two is really more about sheer open-mindedness and the willingness to admit that we are not in control of everything. If we cannot make this admission, then we have not truly completed Step One.
If you decide to view “a Power greater than ourselves” as a reference to AA, family, friends, or even the vast and glorious scientific world, then to some extent you have at least admitted that you do not have control over everything around you. This is a pretty big step toward long-term recovery, as open-mindedness allows us to take suggestions. When we approach AA or NA with an open mind, we realize that some of our scientific beliefs may be wrong, and that we have to put our faith in others if we are truly to remain sober.
The second type of person who struggles with Step Two is the person who used to have faith in something greater, but has found that faith shaken. They may have simply grown apathetic over the course of their addiction, or they may have suffered some tragedy. Having found themselves unable to remove themselves of their grief, they blame their anger and depression on the skies above. They blame the Higher Power that did not listen to their bargaining. Those who feel wronged by the world will trudge a very difficult path in their 12 step recovery program.
The introduction to Step Two notes a third type who “can’t” believe in anything greater. This group is never cited directly, although they may be said to fall into two mentioned categories—those who pride themselves on intellect and those who simply believe that religion is wrong. Again, religion and spirituality are not the same thing. More importantly, neither of these two subcategories of alcoholics and addicts is doing much to benefit their open-mindedness. If they cannot get past their need to be right, they will never be able to put their faith in anything greater than themselves.
A fourth category of person who might struggle with Step Two is also noted, but this type stands apart from the other three. This person does not struggle with spirituality at all, or at least they do not perceive themselves to do so. And it is through the examination of this fourth type that we may discover what it actually means to practice Step Two.
What It Means
The fourth type of person who may struggle with Step Two is the individual who believes themselves to be quite spiritual, yet continues to struggle with alcoholism and addiction nonetheless. This person may pray for sobriety quite frequently, yet it always seems to elude them despite their best intentions. Of this type of alcoholic, the 12&12 states:
“To clergymen, doctors, friends, and families, the alcoholic who means well and tries hard is a heartbreaking riddle. To most A.A.’s, he is not. There are too many of us who have been just like him, and have found the riddle’s answer. This answer has to do with the quality of faith rather than its quantity. This has been our blind spot. We supposed we had humility when really we hadn’t. We supposed we had been serious about religious practices when, upon honest appraisal, we found we had been only superficial. Or, going to the other extreme, we had wallowed in emotionalism and had mistaken it for true religious feeling. In both cases, we had been asking something for nothing. The fact was we really hadn’t cleaned house so that the grace of God could enter us and expel the obsession. In no deep or meaningful sense had we ever taken stock of ourselves, made amends to those we had harmed, or freely given to any other human being without demand for reward. We had not even prayed rightly. We had always said, ‘Grant me my wishes’ instead of ‘Thy will be done.’”
In short, character defects such as selfishness will often stand in the way of developing the sort of open mind we require in order to stay sober. When we acknowledge that there exists something greater than ourselves—whether that “something” is based in religion or in something else—we are able to see that our own wants pale in comparison to the wants of those around us. This realization then causes us to make amends so that we may let go of our resentments. It allows us to perform service work so that we may let go of our selfishness. And it forces us to perform a daily moral inventory, so that we may become better people over the course of time and enable ourselves to begin working in the service of something greater. In this way, Step Two becomes about something more than just faith in something greater. It becomes a stepping stone to everything upon which our sobriety is resting.
Step Two also dictates that this belief will restore us to sanity. Some may find this concept mildly insulting, an issue which the 12&12 addresses directly.
“Few indeed are the practicing alcoholics who have any idea how irrational they are, or seeing their irrationality, can bear to face it. Some will be willing to term themselves ‘problem drinkers,’ but cannot endure the suggestion that they are in fact mentally ill. They are abetted in this blindness by a world which does not understand the difference between sane drinking and alcoholism. ‘Sanity’ is defined as ‘soundness of mind.’ Yet no alcoholic, soberly analyzing his destructive behavior, whether the destruction fell on the dining-room furniture or his own moral fiber, can claim ‘soundness of mind’ for himself.”
This definition of sanity is integral for understanding why it is so important that we build up the proper tools to become sober. If faith happens to be one of them, so be it. As we have discussed at length already, no one is trying to convert you to any particular religion. The suggestion posed by Step Two is merely that you learn to embrace a more spiritual mindset, and accept that this will help to replace your less rational ways of thinking. This may still sound difficult to some, but putting these principles into practice is actually a relatively straightforward process.
How to Practice
In order to practice Step Two, we must first begin with the preliminary element of every step—meeting with our sponsor. Everyone’s sponsor may have some different views regarding the best method of developing spirituality, and it is important to get their two cents. Some sponsors may simply have you read the corresponding chapter in the 12&12, while others may have a more hands-on approach. Either way, Step Two is about open-mindedness. This means that it cannot be completed unless you have shown a willingness to take suggestions. Furthermore, if you find yourself lumped into any of the categories mentioned above, you must demonstrate your honesty by admitting this to your sponsor up front.
Assuming that you have some kind of block that is keeping you from achieving any belief in something greater than yourself, it may help you to write this down. It’s one thing to think about the things that are troubling you, but putting pen to paper can be incredibly therapeutic. Once you begin writing, you may discover things that had not crossed your mind before. If you need to, try an exercise such as Zen sitting meditation before you begin writing. This will help you clear your mind of fog, ensuring that everything you write down is mired in truth. When your mind is clear, it is always easier to be honest with yourself.
Once you have identified your major roadblocks, it is time to devise a plan to work on them. If you are the kind of person who cannot take spirituality without religion, then find ways to get in touch with your religious roots. If you feel as if your Higher Power should be found in your support group, or in the sheer acceptance of the fact that you are not in control of the vast universe in which you are living, then Step Two will revolve largely around self-reflection. You will have to analyze the source of your resistance to a spiritual remedy, and you will have to learn how to ask for help every so often from those in your support network.
Step Two is a step with which you may struggle from time to time. This does not mean that you must take Step Two fully before moving forward. At its very basis, the practice of Step Two is the willingness to make a simple decision. And in this case, that decision is to look outside of yourself for the answers to your problems. That decision is to accumulate a sense of understanding in regard to your own lack of control. If you can do this, then you will be well on your way to achieving long-term recovery.
Remember, however, that you must sometimes reacquire the tools that Step Two has granted you. Whenever you find yourself lacking in faith, you must reach out to someone you trust and let them in. If those around you do not know of your struggles, they cannot do anything to help you. And while we may like to think that we are strong enough to handle life on our own terms, this delusion of self-will is not what landed us in recovery. Instead, it was the willingness to give up our self-will altogether. Once we do this, we are truly living in tune with our Higher Power, whatever that may be. Once we do this, we have been truly restored to sanity.