Step 2: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.”
I had been given many wake-up calls that it was time to surrender and seek help for my alcoholism and drug addiction. One evening while driving with my son in the car I was arrested for arguing with a police officer over a yellow traffic light that I plowed through.
Since the FAA monitors all pilot arrests, and I already had a DUI on my record, I convinced the ALPA (Pilots Union) attorneys to stave off the FAA from requiring a substance abuse evaluation. I thought I had dodged another bullet, when in truth, had just prolonged the inevitable – the reality being that I was a drunk and a drug addict that desperately needed help.
My arrogance was only overshadowed by my ignorance, however after my arrest the following year, I was finally ready to surrender. From surrender came a glimmer of hope that some day, some how, I could become whole, and that maybe God would finally smile upon me.
“The Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek”. ~Alcoholics Anonymous
“Under each cornerstone of fear on which you have erected your insane system of belief, the truth lies hidden.” ~A Course in Miracles T-14.VII.2
My misdirected desires were self-designed only to fill the terms of my perceived worldly needs. Pleasure and stimulation were high priorities that I perceived to be requirements for my existence. My broken belief system produced an illusion in my mind that I was completely entitled to my egotistical wants. The ego constantly desired another dose of temporary pleasure, whether it was from chemical substances, sexual gratification, a gambling victory or the approval from others. But these and other short-term pleasures never brought happiness. In fact, they delivered nothing but misery.
We all want happiness, however, the means through which we seek that happiness is what really matters. Authentic happiness is the opposite of what our ego says it is. Seeking gratification and approval from others on similarly dark paths blinds us to our real purpose in life and interferes with our ability to actively experience God’s love.
I am now aware that as long I am attached to human desires and worldly outcomes, I cannot achieve God-consciousness. God- consciousness is not an attachment but a state of awareness derived from living in the present. Faith and belief eventually become attached to our vision, and our previous maladaptive belief systems that once served the ego is transformed into an authentic value structure that now serves the Spirit.
In Step 1, we admitted powerlessness, which ultimately resulted in our surrender. We waved the white flag of desperation as we moved from the unconscious state of unmanageability (level 1) to the conscious state of unmanageability (level 2). These levels were discussed in the October issue of Sober World. The wreckage of our pasts still exists, as does the pain we have self-created. Shedding our denial is the first step in the right direction, but it does nothing to correct the incompetence of our current existence.
In Step 3, we make a decision to have faith: To get there, Step 2 serves as the bridge of hope between surrender and faith. Step 2 is a tall order for most alcoholics, addicts and codependents to digest. This is because many have lost faith in the traditional beliefs that they were taught as children. Some never held spiritual beliefs, while others outwardly exhibited strong faith and still were unable to conquer the power that alcohol, drugs and obsessive thinking had over them.
I classify hope in two ways: blind hope and authentic hope.
Blind hope is an expectation that something you desire will come to fruition. Since expectations are merely resentments in the making, blind hope has no positive significance. This is hope without a plan of action. The expectation that life on earth is fair is one of the greatest errors humans can make.
I think of time as the period between conception and death. Time for each of us is only an invisible speck compared to eternity. Whether death occurs in the womb or over 100 years later – it’s an illusion compared to eternity. Time is not equal or fair, but eternity is equal, fair and real.
Blind hope is misdirected time: it has no correlation or relevance to eternity.
“Time and eternity are both in your mind, and will conflict until you perceive time solely as a means to regain eternity.” ~ACIM7
Authentic hope has substance and is based on the human experiences of our brothers and sisters before us. Therefore, authentic hope has a track record of results. Authentic hope includes a plan of action and commitment to follow through. There is no mystery in authentic hope – the only requirement is an open mind.
Step 2 begins with the phrase, “Came to believe.” This is a brilliant way to introduce a power greater than ourselves. “Came to believe” lets the suffering person off the hook from making a huge commitment to a Higher Power. This phrase indicates that God is patiently waiting in the wings for us to become honest, open-minded and willing. When we are ready for change the door to authentic hope will automatically open.
This willingness is the primary principle behind the12 Step recovery process. The 12 Steps are not the only tools available to find hope in recovery. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) also provides practical aid to the suffering person. Think of CBT as providing practicality for spiritual results, and the 12 Steps as providing spirituality for practical results. CBT is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, maladaptive behaviors and cognitive processes through a number of goal-oriented, explicit, systematic procedures. CBT is problem-focused and designed to replace maladaptive coping skills with functional ones. CBT and the 12 Steps seek the same goals with similar methods.
Recovery is a willingness to make profound changes in belief structures, value systems and daily protocol. We must reinvent how we live life from the moment we awaken until we place our heads on the pillow each evening. In seeking personal growth, we must recognize that we are not our thoughts. By continually examining our thoughts for truth and honesty, we will gradually move toward reality.
The definition of insanity has become a cliché: doing (and thinking) the same things over and over and expecting different results. Interestingly, this characterizes the behavior connected to every form of addiction and cognitive distortion. The word sanity is Greek for wholeness.
Step 2 suggests having the belief that a power greater than oneself can restore sanity. Becoming whole is necessary to recover. Restoring sanity begins to happen when we lose the mental obsession to drink or use. How we become whole is unique to each of us, but the more we truly internalize the meaning of each step determines how quickly we recover from the hopeless, insane state of mind created by addiction and codependency.
I can distinctly remember a moment in my life when I felt whole. I was 12 years old and sleeping in my parent’s backyard in the country with no one around. I was lying on my back for what seemed like hours, staring at the black, starlit sky. On this warm and incredibly quiet, dark evening, I was mesmerized, thinking about the enormity of the universe that I had learned about in science class. The millions of stars glowing in unison instilled both feelings of humility and empowerment. I thought about all the people in history who looked up at the same stars and wondered what they were thinking as they gazed at this collection of heavenly artwork. I felt the amazement of the universe and intimately close to the simplistic God I knew at that time, the God of love and truth. In those moments of profound peace, I wanted for nothing. This happened to be the same God with whom I later reacquainted myself with in recovery.
Some of the individuals with whom I have worked in recovery have claimed that they never felt whole. They say they came out of the womb broken and cannot relate to the peace and comfort I felt sleeping under the stars. I tell them, “You do not need a reference point to experience wholeness; you only need to believe that a power greater than yourself can deliver you to sanity.” Those without a reference point for wholeness can undergo an amazing spiritual awakening when the miracle of recovery comes to them. I have experienced my own spiritual awakening and I have witnessed it in others
Let Go and Let God
The words “Came to believe” signify that the 12 Steps are a process. The 12 Steps are not orders for what not to do, they are positive suggestions for what to do and when followed, they lead to a spiritual awakening.
To know something, to believe something and to have faith in something are all different thought processes. Faith is a belief that cannot be proven. Faith is not knowledge, nor is it a feeling. Faith is a choice, a decision, a function of will. At this point, open-mindedness becomes important as we adapt to the concept that “more will be revealed.”
For those who suffer from addiction and have lost all faith, the message of Step 2 has to do with being open-minded enough to recognize that we don’t have all the answers. In fact, perhaps we should challenge every belief that we hold dear – especially our beliefs about ourselves.
Chemical addiction had caused my belief system to break; subsequently my faith was shattered. My sick thinking alienated me from God and my fellow man; I truly had become morally, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. My low self-esteem was well hidden under a mask of egotistical arrogance. For me, the second step was an opportunity to get to know myself and my brothers and sisters of this world. Step 2 provided another chance at a relationship with the God of my understanding – which, in turn, taught me the truth about myself.
My early childhood memory of God was radically changed by religious teachings. Religion taught me that God was a wrathful entity waiting to judge and punish. Some religions imply that God is fear based and shame based.
The God of my understanding gives me free will to think and act anyway I choose. As one of my sponsors stated, “You can do any damn fool thing your desire, however every choice you make comes with a consequence. I suggest you choose your consequences first, then determine your choice.”
God does not interfere with the choices I make; He patiently waits for me to align my will with His. I now comprehend, that in the long run, only God’s will can prevail, therefore it’s utterly futile to try to force my ego-driven desires onto this world.
The spirit of God is within each of us in the form of a Higher Self. This is a quiet, consistent voice that opposes those ego-driven thoughts. Ego-driven thoughts speak first and speak loudest, so truthful answers and solutions come from quiet moments of solitude. Prayer, and, more importantly, mediation, will eventually reveal that God’s will is our will.
Once we are aware that we are the problem, we may allow hope to enter the picture. Hope without honesty, open-mindedness and willingness is meaningless. Hope is a baby step; the courage and determination to take action, and the decision to have faith, are truly the pivotal traits required to secure long-term sobriety.
Larry Smith is the founder and CEO of Get Real Recovery, Inc. He is a certified addiction counselor, lecturer, public speaker and author. He has published a goal setting and journaling book for people in recovery, Captain Larry Smith’s Daily Life Plan Journal. When Larry is not counseling, he flies 747s for a major international commercial airline. He is a retired Air Force Fighter Pilot and has accumulated over 20,000 hours of flying time. Larry is an Airline Pilots Association Rep and volunteers with his airline’s Employee Assistance Program. In that capacity, he works with the FAA and medical doctors to assist pilots with addiction problems through a rigorous re-certification process. GetRealRecoveryInc.com