“We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
~ Alcoholics Anonymous, The Big Book
Continuing the journey of recovery from alcoholism and addiction, we come to the first step that embraces the spiritual aspect of recovery. For many individuals who have been lost to substance abuse, Spirituality and Belief have been sorely neglected in their lives. Some may have once had Faith but have now come to reject it. Some lost their faith somewhere along the road to perdition. Others are hard-and-fast nonbelievers.
And all of these belief systems are okay within recovery. Acolytes, agnostics, and atheists all can fall victim to the insidious disease of addiction, and all of them need help from something that is both outside of and greater than themselves.
The Basics of the Second Step
At its most basic core, the Second Step is all about Hope. It suggests to all in attendance, particularly the person new to recovery, that in spite of every failure they have suffered in their life – resentment, disappointments, broken vows, shattered relationships, hatred, destructive behaviors, fear, guilt, depression, and shame – there is still Hope for a better day and a better life.
The Second Step is also about Realization. In Step One, the addict/alcoholic admitted that they were powerless over the abused substance. In essence, this is a firm declaration that they cannot overcome their addiction by themselves – i.e., they have no power.
However, when they attend 12-Step meetings, it will slowly begin to dawn upon them that they do not even have to attempt to get clean and sober by themselves because they most certainly aren’t alone. There is loving help and accept its outside of their own person and abilities that can give them what they need to succeed.
Finally, the Second Step is about Faith. This faith can be sparked by interaction with other members of the 12-step group. These are people who “get it” because they are just like the newly-recovering individual. They have seen, experienced, and then the same things that the newcomer has, and in some cases, much worse.
Yet, here they are.
They are happy, healthy, active in their recovery, and they seem to have found the secret of everyday serenity and joy. For perhaps the first time, the just-clean and sober person can see the fulfillment of the promise of recovery. Simply by being around others in the group, they are reassured that the process can indeed succeed when a sincere effort is made.
Or, as an old-timer would say, “It works when you work it“.
Common Objections to the Second Step
All of that may be well and good, but Step Two can still cause many newcomers to balk, for a number of reasons:
- “I don’t like being told what to believe.”
- “God has no interest in helping someone like me.”
- “I don’t believe in God.”
- “I don’t participate in any religion.”
Reconciling Personal Beliefs
First off, like all of the Steps, the Second Step is just a suggestion, albeit a suggestion that has provided a positive answer for millions of people around the world. A person is free to “take what they need, and leave the rest“, just like the slogan read at the end of many meetings says.
If a person truly has a personal problem with conceiving of a Power greater than themselves, they are free to work the other Steps.
Similarly, the philosophy behind 12 Steps does not subscribe to any religion, let alone a specific one. The most common definition for a Higher Power used by a recovering addict or alcoholic is “God as I understand him“. This takes into account every manner of religious belief because a person’s understanding of and relationship with their Deity/Higher Power is an intensely personal one.
This Higher Power of one’s own understanding also can work for the atheist or agnostic. The Second Step does not require that the person believes in an actual deity – only that they believe in something greater than themselves. This Power can take any form, as long as it has meaning for the individual.
Some examples of non-religious Higher Powers might include human nature, the power of music, or the rhythmic sureness of the universe itself. It can be anything from which a struggling alcoholic/addict can draw strength and encouragement.
The Power of the Group
Most newcomers to 12-step recovery arrive spiritually broken, with no virtually no belief or faith in anything and totally bereft of hope. Hope is a terrible thing to be without, so the ability of the Second Step to restore that hope makes it an intensely powerful and important part of the recovery process.
Because of the condition, they arrived in, many people tightly cling to the common consciousness of their 12-Step group as their personal Higher Power. At the beginning, they “white knuckle” their sobriety and attend as often as they can, until the message starts to seep in.
As they start to get to know other members of their group, they form friendships and relationships that they may call upon in their moments of greatest weakness. Although a person might call their sponsor in an ideal situation, faithful adherents of the 12 Steps understand that all addicts and alcoholics in recovery have a moral obligation to assist their suffering brethren whenever possible.
In other words, even someone who is agnostic or atheist can use their group as their own personal Higher Power that is greater than themselves from which to draw strength, comfort, inspiration, and support.
It’s a Process
When viewed as a whole, the 12 steps are a continual work-in-progress. A truly humble recipient of the blessings of recovery will work their 12-step program for the rest of their life. Even when the process has been completed, they will often start over again at the beginning, in order to maintain and improve upon their sober life.
That this is progress is evident in the Step’s actual words – the steps says “we came“, about the beginning of what is most important. A person may have stumbled in the first time, or even arrived still mentally and emotionally crippled, but the important thing is – they came.
The Step expands to read that “we came to” – as in “woke up” from the substance-addled existence of an alcoholic and/or addict. For the first time in a long time, clear thinking starts to become possible.
Next, it grows to read “came to believe“, demonstrating the knowledge that most addicts and alcoholics don’t come through the door already possessing a complete understanding of any Higher Power or the role that belief can play in recovery.
As a person grows more confident in recovery, that relationship with their Higher Power will naturally grow, and as that relationship grows, so will understanding.
Why It Works
The Second Step greatly adds to the recovery process because it gives the recovering addict/alcoholic the hope and support that they cannot provide for themselves. Also, by acknowledging that there is a Higher Power greater than themselves, recovering individuals learn the value of humility and how to overcome the hubris resulting from their stubborn attempts to beat the disease unaided.
Hope can be a powerful weapon in the battle against addiction. The Second Step works because it restores the hope that the active addict/alcoholic lost they went through the door of their first 12-Step meeting – hope for peace, hope for serenity, hope for sobriety, and hope for joy.
Patrick Meninga, the author of the book Spiritual River, expressed the transformation from hopelessness to joy eloquently when he wrote:
“What’s truly amazing is that I enjoy this life today, and when I was still using, I hated the idea of sobriety. I could not picture myself having fun or being content with this life that I am now living. But somehow, I transformed, and it did happen.”