Continuing our series on the 12 Steps. with Step Two of the 12 Steps
Step Two of the 12 Steps: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Although Alcoholics Anonymous first popularized the term “Higher Power” in the 1930s, few people then could have foreseen the exponential multiplication of religions and philosophies that would come in decades following. Today, a person can publicly admit to being an agnostic or an atheist, a Muslim or a Buddhist or a witch, without everyone else immediately shrinking away or making “but you look so White Anglo-Saxon” remarks. Even people who claim the same religion—even the same church—are hardly in unanimous agreement on all theological, ethical, and societal issues.
However you, personally, define “Higher Power”—whether as “God” or “the Universe” or “the Force” or an untapped potential somewhere within yourself or even something as down-to-earth as the “many are stronger than one” nature of an organized support group—there is, nonetheless, at least one aspect that all 12-Steppers should understand clearly.
The Higher Power is Benevolent, but Not Indulgent
Many people, usually due to harsh childhood influences from parents or other authority figures, do struggle with a mental picture of “God” that resembles some demanding tyrant who brooks no mistakes, tolerates no deviations, and stands ready to “zap” anyone who steps out of line. It’s hard to hold much hope for restoration from a Power like that, especially if, like most people considering a 12 Step recovery program, you’ve already made a major mess that will take months or years to clean up.
One variation on the less-than-benevolent HP is the “Chief Pharisee” whose favors are reserved for those who have their rules and theology exactly right; everyone else, however benign or indirect their disagreement, is an “evil enemy” and free game for vicious public criticism and worse. (The problem is hardly exclusive to religious fundamentalists; public insults and “shut them up” attitudes are frequently exercised in the name of tolerance, which is why “politically correct” is rarely used as a compliment.)
Unlike followers of the perfectionist Higher Power, who routinely berate themselves for never getting things right, believers in this version are all too sure they are right. While this attitude would seem less likely to manifest in a substance abuser, it does show itself frequently among those in the denial stage: they’re doing all the right things with life in general, so they can’t really be heading in the wrong direction; it isn’t them, but those piling on the pressure, who are really at fault; the people hinting they have a problem aren’t so perfect either, or are just trying to impose their own systems of coping.
The Abusive Higher Power
Another version of what might be called the “abusive” Higher Power is, surprisingly, the one who will give you anything you want if you just have enough faith, pray enough, and keep your attitude right all the time. On the surface, this sounds good; after all, prayer, faith, and the law of attraction are perfectly valid concepts. The trouble comes when one tries to turn them into a 100 percent guarantee of specific results every time, completely according to our preferred plans and “sooner-the-better” schedules. Things rarely work quite that smoothly; sometimes they don’t work at all, not in the way we expected. When that happens, “name and claim” quickly turns into blame: it’s my fault; I did something wrong; I didn’t do it well enough. Ultimately, making it all about “enough faith” is simply another way of laying the full responsibility for “getting it right” on one’s own shoulders. If I relapse, or don’t lose the craving instantly, I didn’t get my attitude right; and if that seems impossibly hard, it proves I’m a hopeless case and might as well just keep using.
If we feel that the Higher Power is standing aloof somewhere and leaving us to get everything right on our own, never offering help when we need it most, we have a faulty picture. The Higher Power of the 12 Steps is benevolent, wants us to find the better way of life even more than we do, and is always ready to help when asked.
That said, I reiterate that the HP is not indulgent: that is, not about to let us completely off the hook by removing all temptations to frustration from our lives or by giving us what we want just so we won’t cry, nor by removing all repercussions for our actions the moment we regret them. We are still expected to take responsibility for our share of the work—and to accept that much of our share will be hard, painful, even impossible-seeming at times.
Embracing Your Higher Power During Step Two of the 12 Steps
Remember, the Higher Power’s role in recovery is to “restore us to sanity”—and that doesn’t happen by making it easy for us to continue in the delusions that led to the substance abuse in the first place. No, we do not have a right to do things just because we “feel like doing them.” No, we are not entitled to claim exemption from every responsibility because we worked harder in one area or suffered more in another. No, we are not helpless victims: the decision to take what seemed the easy way, by using “just a little,” was ours alone; and so is the decision every time we face any “use again, or not?” situation. Responsibility and perseverance are the keywords of real sanity; without them, we remain emotional children at best.
Even though the road to sobriety is a long hard walk by any method, there’s a freeing aspect in recognizing your Higher Power as the source of help. Your own capabilities are not the limit of your resources. Your failures are not the death of your hope.
Especially when facing the stress of a major transition—and the path to sobriety is as stressful and major as they come—having outside help you can count on strengthens your faith and courage for a successful journey.
About Kemah Palms Recovery
- Individual therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Group therapy
- Family addiction treatment program
- Dual diagnosis treatment program
For more questions about Step Two of the 12 Steps, call Kemah Palms Recovery today at 866.604.1873.