Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Many who contemplate this process or embark on the Twelve Steps take issue with this particular Step. One, they don’t believe in God or Divine Intelligence. Two, even if they do believe in something greater than themselves, how do they know it will restore them when they don’t yet feelrestored? Admittedly, it’s difficult for us to believe something unless it has already happened. People collectively believed that man would never fly and the next day Orville Wright flew over the beach at Kitty Hawk. To make matters worse, we don’t like believing things that we can’t see, hear or touch right in front of us. Show me it works, and thenI’ll believe. Third, we’re not so sure that we really need to be restored to sanity. Just because we are powerless, does that mean we are actually insane? Isn’t insane someone in a nightgown and hospital slippers, locked up in an asylum getting shock treatments twice a week?
The 2ndStep also means that we have to talk about God and spiritual concepts, which can easily rub people the wrong way, but it doesn’t have to. For our purpose of personal growth and healing, there is no need for it to get too rigid or fundamental. It doesn’t have to be so hard and absolute. It also doesn’t have to be someone else’s conception or belief system. It is personal, and each of us is left to establish our own understanding and relationship with God and the greater powers that be. Truth be told, I really don’t believe our limited and largely untapped human minds can even fathom the totality of God. I’ll be the first to admit that I cannot fully understand this mind-bending power, nor do I especially care to try to bottle it up neatly in my own man-made conception. Who are we to know the secrets of the Universe? So I wouldn’t worry about it too much.
In my personal memoir about addiction, I wrote that anybody who has taken a 1st Step has already taken a 2nd Step by extension. By taking a 1stStep, we acknowledge there are forces more powerful than ourselves – the compulsion to drink, the temptation of sex, the lure of money, the need to control… anger, depression, grief, food, violence… and the list goes on and on. If we’ve already admitted that certain things have power over us, why is it so hard to believe there is also something more powerful but that can get us better?
Let’s face it, many things exist that are more powerful than we are. Anyone who denies this is surely suffering from some sort of delusion of grandeur, but we can simply call it denial. Many of us who want to ignore the fact that we’ve lost control will instead fill the gap with self-worship and grandiosity, with the false belief that we can do anything, that we know everything, that we are all-powerful. That’s interesting. I would simply question this frame of mind and beg of us to answer but one simple question I had to ask myself years ago: Why, if we have the power to do anything, are we currently powerless?
It reminds me of a relative who called me while he was in detox to ask me why he needed treatment afterwards. He said it wasn’t necessary because he had power over drugs and alcohol. So I asked him, “Then what are you doing in detox if you have power over drugs and alcohol? Chances are you don’t you drink and use normally if you find yourself locked up at an inpatient facility, wouldn’t you say?” My relative was so convinced he knew the truth about himself and then a single question turned his entire world upside down. In a moment of clarity, he responded, “Yeah, that’s a good point. I guess I don’t use in a normal way, especially considering I’m here in detox. Okay, I’ll go to treatment.” The question helped him to step back, open his eyes and see things from a higher perch. In doing so, he saw the greater reality of life. This process is asking us peel back the layers of a lifetime of preconceived beliefs, notions and attitudes. Sure we may have always thought of life and the world in a certain way, but does that mean it is always so? Are we open to the idea that we may have been wrong all of these years? Are we even willing to be wrong? These are important questions to ask ourselves from time to time.
The fact is there are many things far greater and more powerful than we humans. Exhibit A = Mother Nature. No one can deny we stand at the mercy of the forces of nature. Our very existence lies in the delicate balance of our solar system and atmospheric conditions. We think and believe we are safe because we have always been, but nobody really knows what might happen. Are not our very lives at the mercy of nature and her powerful storms, tornados, tsunamis, wildfires or sudden lightening strikes? Or how about the simple yet inescapable cycles of nature, such as night and day, life and death, or the fluctuating output of the sun’s energy? The point is that it is really not so hard to admit a host of forces and phenomena that are more powerful than we are, so why is God so difficult?
One reason is because science has been able to explain the workings or dynamics of many such physical forces, but not so much with God. But are there not several tangible things that we cannot fully explain as well? I know, for instance, that our Universe exists but certainly cannot explain why it exists, how it came to be, what existed before, what lies beyond, or how dark matter can literally bend time and space. People say that nothing existed before the Universe but what is nothing and what are nothing’s boundaries? I also know that cells divide and that our physical bodies involuntarily heal themselves upon injury, just as nature rebuilds itself, but I can’t explain how or why that happens, at least not without Divine Intelligence. I know that we humans are more than the sum of our parts but who can explain or even describe with any justice this intangible part of ourselves that makes us who we are, that drives us to create, and that allows us to glow with love and spirit. Think for a moment about the miracle of life and the sheer beauty of the natural world, let alone the mind-blowing immensity of the Universe. Sure science has been able to explain some of this, but isn’t science really just explaining an endless pile of miracles? Doesn’t science only prove the existence of God by showing us how amazing it all is?
One of the simplest ways we can challenge our human conceit and the illusion of power is by asking ourselves but one simple question, and I take this right from the Big Book, page 56. “Who are you to say there is no God?” Fine, I may not be able to prove God exists but you cannot prove that He doesn’t. Why do we humans presume to know the secrets of life and the mystery of all existence? Seems like we might be getting a bit ahead of ourselves, does it not?
Finally, let’s say we have had some abusive or insane experience with organized religion growing up and simply refuse to let go of our stubbornness or obstinacy. No one can deny the number of deviants and sociopaths that infect certain traditions, but don’t worry because there is also a way for those who bristle towards organized religion. For one, we can simply try suspending our disbelief temporarily. Take all of your opinions, beliefs and prejudice and just put them up on the shelf for a while. In the meantime, jump in and begin doing the work involved in these upcoming Steps and just see what happens. Something may hit you on the way. You may be surprised to experience things that are mystical, things you cannot quite explain scientifically. Having real, actual results or even miraculous things occur both within and without can instantly restore our faith in the Great Unknown. If our spiritual experience becomes palpable, perhaps you will reconsider the existence of a power much greater than all of us that runs through everything – a divine thread, if you will.
Another way around atheism or agnosticism is to assess your own condition. How badly are you suffering? How bad is the pain? How miserable are you? What is your degree of agony? If you are hopeless or seemingly beyond repair, you may not have much of a choice. You might eventually reach the point where you have to ask yourself, Hey, why not? What the heck? I’ve tried all of these other things and have failed repeatedly, so I might as well give this spiritual solution a shot, despite my protestations. What have I really got to lose? My pride? Exactly. Is swallowing our pride and trying something new really going to kill us? The worst-case scenario is it might CHANGE us, and for the better. Perhaps change is what we are afraid of after all, but the irony is that what might in fact destroy us is nottrying it, not believing, not trusting and not having faith that a Greater Power can restore us.
Isn’t the idea of something other than ourselves helping us and guiding us in fact a tremendous relief? We have been trying to manage life and the world all on our own. We have been relying on self-will (self-exertion or force) and our limited human power to try to direct and control everything. What a relief to know that we don’t have to go it alone anymore. We don’t have to worry about everything, fix everything or try to control each and every outcome. We don’t have to rely on our messed up heads to direct us through life. Let’s admit it, we get confused. Sometimes life throws us challenges and curve balls that seem insurmountable and impossible to decode, so why pull your hair out trying? Just to protect and nourish our pride or to feed our ego? Haven’t we already suffered enough? So let us try letting go instead. Try believing and trusting and see what happens. You never know until you give it a shot.
To be honest, I personally used to think praying and having faith was a cop out, but then I realized it had nothing to do with a conscious failure to take responsibility and do the tough work for ourselves. It simply meant that we ask for help, wisdom and divine guidance along the way. It means that we ask for some extra power to do all of those things we have been unable to do for ourselves. It did, however, take me a quite a while to understand this.
I actually used to accost born-again Christians in the subway stations of Boston as they stood on the platforms with a couple of ply-boards hanging from their necks, passing out cartoons about the end of the world. I’d also roll down my window sometimes and scream “Save Yourself!” to people as they poured out of church on Sunday. I once stared down my great uncle with one of my famous ‘death glares’ as he lovingly delivered the sermon at my grandmother’s funeral. Why the fuming lunacy, you may ask?
For one, I was infuriated these people were refusing to take responsibility for saving themselves, despite the almost comical hypocrisy of me doing absolutely nothing with my own life except getting jammed out of my skull all day long. Second, I was convinced that I was easily the smartest guy on earth and I burned inside to convince them how brainwashed, stupid and misguided they were, and again, all this coming from an arrogant, do-nothing drug addict who was living off of Daddy and whining about everything one could possibly think to whine about. The truth is that I was the ignorant one, completely misunderstanding what it meant to pray and rely on God, which I eventually learned has nothing whatsoever to do with absconding oneself from personal responsibility.
I was delusional to judge these people, people who actually got out of bed in the morning and took care of themselves and their families as they courageously trod off to work and confronted life, people who could engage, listen and give of themselves without first requiring a bag of dope or a bottle of booze. I thought going to work in the morning was a tremendous feat, one deserving of a trophy, and one that most certainly necessitated peeling the time-release coating off of a few OxyContins, crushing them up and sniffing them in my car as I sped down the highway. I felt similarly about coming home at night to a wife who selfishly requested a five-minute conversation about her day. With such enormous and out of the ordinary pressures following a brutal day of work, a near fifth of vodka had to enter my bloodstream before the insufferable task of talking over dinner could take place. Kidding aside, the point is that I was judging people who also have bad days and feel awful sometimes, yet walk through it stoically and soberly. I was bashing people who simply had some humility, some deference to God, and who didn’t take credit for every single accomplishment or blessing in their lives, let alone taking them all for granted.
At the same time, I felt as though I was the only one on Earth who really knew God, who understood the mysteries of life. Religious doctrine and symbols like church, temples, crosses and pipe organs evoked a profound sense of skepticism. I was convinced these were simply instruments and concepts of the world, of deception and manipulation. I never felt the presence of God sitting in church. I couldn’t identify with the language and the history of our tradition, given how long ago it all occurred.
Instead, I felt the presence of God out in the woods, on top of a mountain, sailing on the ocean, watching a sunset or taking in the golden hue of the afternoon sun as it splashed off the leaves. I had moments of rapture or the euphoria of an empty mind while in the flow of playing music or camping alone in the mountains. But even these brief moments of the Divine, as real as they might have been, were fleeting and soon vaporized as the world crept back in and infected my serene mind. I became depressed after realizing that belief alone was not enough. I knew deep inside that no symbol, text, building, belief system or even the healing power of nature could truly fix me or fundamentally change who I was, nor could it alter my primary mission in life of making myself feel better and achieving maximum comfort.
If you come to find, as I did, that belief alone is insufficient, that it doesn’t contain or is not able to harness the needed power to change you from deep within, it may be time to add some action to the mix. Remember that over time, our minds can become quite damaged, if not altogether re-wired. Thus, a few rituals, a belief system and a once-a-week trip to church or the monastery may not cut it.
However, we do need to believe in a power greater than ourselves because we need to understand where the power we have lost is going to come from. We are missing a chip, a key ingredient to our recovery, and yet cannot seem to procure it organically on our own. So the idea behind this 2nd Step is to help us understand that power must come from outside of ourselves. It must come from a source far beyond the scope of human faculty. When we suddenly gather the strength and courage that we’ve been unable to gather for our entire lives and then go out and accomplish things we’ve been unable to accomplish, what is that other than divine intervention and grace? What is that other than divine power?
Faith gets a bad rap. Just the word, God, makes some of us red with anger and judgment, but what is faith? Isn’t faith just trust? And don’t we have to trust in the unknown all throughout life? What’s so bad about that? In fact, it is quite necessary to take a blind leap of faith, to embark on this work without truly knowing the result. Sure we’d all like to know exactly how everything works and what the precise outcome will be. We want to know with certainty if these Steps will work before making the effort, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.
The beautiful irony is that it won’t work UNTIL we let go. Why? Because taking a leap of faith and trusting in the unknown is an act of courage. Stepping into the darkness unsure of where we will land is a spiritual act, and when we walk through our fear, that is when God reaches out and touches us. Faith, you see, is the name of the game. Think of a trust fall, where you close your eyes and fall backwards. You must let go and trust that the people behind you will extend their arms to catch you. And that’s just a trust fall. Shouldn’t we trust when it comes to our recovery as well, when it comes to freeing ourselves from our deepest form of pain and suffering? So when it comes to your growth and healing, do a trust fall! Take a leap into the unknown. Trust, in no uncertain terms, and you may come to witness great things.
Some of the most obstinate fellows I know have some of the strongest faith and firmest resolve in God after consummating this process. I know others who took Steps out of spite or atheistic pride just to prove the Steps wouldn’t work, and guess what? They gave themselves to this program and bang! Lit up and restored, they now have a living, breathing fire inside of them. They will stop at nothing to continue growing, serving and helping others to recover just the same.
This is powerful stuff, so beware. If you don’t want to enter mystical territory or have a spiritual experience that may change your life forever, the Steps may not be for you. However, if you suffer from anything at all, the potential relief is something you might not want to miss. During my own experience, I was often lifted up by a comfort and contentment I’d never known before. The feeling was intense and the power behind it was unmistakable, and I believe that this reservoir of peace is available to anyone, regardless of circumstances.
As we continue through this process, we learn how to pray. At first, prayer may not mean much to us. It may sound like meaningless words that have no real ability to effect change. Believe me, I completely understand why you might be discouraged, especially when nothing is happening. It’s difficult to convince with words on a page something we really must experience for ourselves, but the fact remains, when we let go and earnestly ask for help, things will start to happen. The power of prayer is indeed REAL. So jump in with both feet and don’t be afraid. There is no place for fear when we embark on our new life of spiritual evolution.
And yes, our fears may naturally continue to haunt us, but don’t worry. We will get to that in our 4th Step and onward. All will be addressed in due time. We do one Step at a time, not all Twelve, so remember to stay where your feet are and just do what’s right in front of you.
*When we become at least willing to believe that there exists a power greater than ourselves that can heal us and restore our willpower, our power of choice, we have taken a 2ndStep.