Taking Step Two

Version I 6/9/2000

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Here are the steps we took:  2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

That is what the authors of the Big Book and millions before you did.  To personalize the step for your study and action in the here and now, however, you may wish to rephrase it in the two halves that appear below.


Big Book: Chapter 4. We Agnostics
Appendix II. Spiritual Experience
12&12: Step 2

Step 2 is also separated into its first and second halves:

STEP 2a. Came to believe in a power greater than myself...

Having taken Step 1, you have already admitted the existence of a power greater than yourself. Think about it. Isn't alcohol a power greater than yourself? And, having also admitted that your life has been insanely unmanageable, your goal is to find some other power (besides alcohol), which is greater than yourself, and will produce saner consequences.

Your Higher Power should:

  • Not be alcohol

  • Not be you

  • Be greater than alcohol and yourself, and

  • Contribute to sobriety and sanity in your life.

A.A.s who eventually achieve some time sober invariably acknowledge that their Higher Power is a spiritual power. Anticipate that yours will be, too. However, for the time being, your power may be any power that meets these four conditions.  If you haven't noticed already, the word God is used in AA. In fact, the name appears in four of the twelve steps, but in two instances it is followed immediately by the expression "as we understood Him". (meaning, according to your present conception of a Spiritual Power). A.A.'s use of the term, God, does not necessarily mean that we believe in "God", and it does not mean that we have a common understanding of what we do believe in. The term, God, is used only as a convenient way of referring to the Spiritual Power of our respective choices. And, have a Spiritual Power, we must!
When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book. [Big Book page 47, line 1]
Later in this document we will discuss the way that many of us have come to have conscious contact with a spiritual power of our own conception.

A.A. literature makes it clear that Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religion. It possesses no theology or dogma to be swallowed by anyone. In addition to using the term, God, the Big Book also refers to our Father, our Creator, the Spirit of the Universe, the Great Reality deep down within us, our Power, and many other names. When AA literature is translated into other languages, the name of God is translated also. He is called Dios, Gott, Yahweh, etc...

Please forgive our authors, too, in using the masculine pronouns, He, Him, etc... There is no intent to suggest that God is masculine, or that He possesses gender at all. A.A. has simply followed this age-old convention—until a more enlightened manner of speaking might be adopted.

Be assured, though, that God knows what His name is. You don't need to be so arrogant as to tell it to Him. Perhaps you might ask Him directly which name is best for you to use. Whatever name seems right to you is the one you should adopt for your intimate relationship with your Higher Power; but, when it comes to discussing your Spiritual Power with others, you also may wish to use the term, "God", strictly as a matter of convenience in communicating with your fellow alcoholics.

Writing for Step 2a: Make a list of powers greater than yourself within the following three classes:
  1. Physical: (Examples: alcohol, pistols, policemen, bosses, cancer....)
  2. Mental: (Examples: alcohol obsessions, greed, anger, pride, lust...)
  3. Spiritual: (God...)

STEP 2b. Came to believe that the Power selected as greater than myself could restore me to sanity.

When A.A literature refers to insanity it is not using the dictionary definition of insanity. The Big Book is talking about the insane thinking of an alcoholic when he decides to ingest alcohol. In this sense, we all, without exception, have been insane. Moreover, our plight was hopeless. It is necessary, therefore, that our Higher Power be sufficiently able and willing to restore us first to the sanity of total abstinence.

Writing for Step 2b: Review the powers you listed in the writing above. Place a check mark to the left of each one that meets the condition of being able and willing to keep you from taking the next drink on a continuing basis. Your choices just became narrower.

Notice, too, that we come to believe. Your ultimate belief is unlikely to be obvious to you right away. We just keep at it. Be as persistent in promoting belief in your Higher Power as you were in justifying your drinking. In fact, why not ask your Higher Power to affix in your consciousness the certainty of His Reality. He will, if you let Him!

If you are not yet at the stage of talking to (let alone hearing from) a spiritual being, you may wish to follow A.A.'s suggestion that you begin with your favorite A.A. group as a power greater than yourself. Then, by following the A.A. spiritual starter kit, you will come into conscious awareness of an even higher Power.

Many of us have been downright confused about the idea and nature of God. Here's a discussion that has been helpful in sorting things out:

theists: First, we find the theists, those who worship one or more deities (God). Nearly all theists believe in a theology (their approved set of religious beliefs) espoused by one of the many religious institutions. These institutions often rely also upon antigods (devils) or a book alleged to be a faithful rendition from antiquity. Too, most claim exclusivity in the correctness of their system. Throughout human history (and certainly true today) some theists have been known to fight with each other. Yet, many wonderful people, including a great many A.A. members, attend church regularly and worship its deity successfully.

atheists: The letter prefix A means not or against . Atheists are believers that there is no God. They tend to take issue with all the theists.
From the diagram you just saw, and based upon the opinions of the theists and atheists, there seem to be only two choices for you to make—their way or the wrong way. It often appears to the AA newcomer that he must pick one of the churches (on the left above) or join the anti-church church (on the right). While some of these may be valid options, you might also resolve that you just don't feel comfortable being on the theist-atheist scale at all. After all, once you have picked a belief system, you have, as a consequence, rejected all the other systems you didn't pick. Maybe you feel you don't have any business making decisions about God's business.

Fortunately, you have at least four options, not just two. You could even opt to be agnostic, as the next diagram shows.
Agnostics: The agnostic cannot buy into the theologies (both pro and con), and he simply says, "I just don't know." The agnostic is on a wholly different plane. The theist-atheist plane is based upon the head or intellect. The agnostic is a(without)-gnosis(knowledge). And, with only modest imagination, we can remove the a and conceive of—you guessed it—the Gnostic, or knower. Moreover, the gnosis (knowledge of the existence and will of the Higher Power) is of the heart rather than the mind. You may have heard it said in an A.A. meeting that the longest journey in the universe is the one from your heart to your head. One of the meanings of this expression is that you need not play the mental and emotional game of the churches at all. Deal directly, instead, with the Spiritual Power that reveals itself to you.

The spiritual starter kit. All of this theology stuff can seem downright confusing. It can even appear to be a barrier in the path of sobriety. We A.A.s are fortunate in having a spiritual starter kit, so to speak, in chapter 4 of the Big Book. It is suggested as a sure fire method of coming to know a spiritual power. Here it is (we have supplied the bold style to selected characters):

Step 2.1. We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and...[Big Book page 46, line 15]

Step 2.2. even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God. [Big Book page 46, line 16]

Step 2.3. Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you...we had to begin somewhere, so we used our own conception, however limited it was. [Big Book page 47, line 4]

Step 2.4. ...As soon as a man can say that he does believe or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way. [Big Book page 47, line 16]
In short form the kit might read: a) Set aside all prejudice (both belief and disbelief about God and religions), b) Become willing to believe, c) Study all spiritual concepts, and formulate an initial—even conditional or tentative—conception of God, and d) Be persistent in testing the state of your belief and knowledge.
It has been repeatedly proven among us that upon this simple cornerstone a wonderfully effective spiritual structure can be built. [Big Book page 47, line 19]
Notice that our step 2.3 above quotes that we used our own conception...of a Higher Power. Some of us were so spooked by the thought of a spiritual power that we had to begin with something more tangible. We have actually heard of newcomers using a door knob, a light bulb, a tree, or a moving van as their Higher Power. Such material objects, even animate ones, are not recommended. Two interim powers, however, seem to be effective for starters:
1) The A.A. group. Your A.A. Group is certainly a focal point of spiritual power, and it and its individual members can provide counsel and direction to straighten out your life if you wish.

2) A borrowed Power. You may know an A.A. member who seems to be comfortable with an effective Higher Power. It's quite acceptable to ask him or her to describe their Power to you, and if it is not offensive to you, you might ask to borrow their Power until you have your own. We are sure they will be delighted to comply.
Many of us have adopted schemes like these for a quick start in step 2. But, of one thing you may be sure—your own conception of a Higher Power will change with time as long as you are actively willing for Him to manifest Himself within you.

In our discussion about step 3 we will talk more about your right—actually, duty to yourself—to find a spiritual power of your own personal understanding. If that deity happens to be worshipped within a church, that is perfectly acceptable. However, do not accept statements from well-meaning A.A.s that so-and-so is the real and original Higher Power in A.A, and that you are short-changing yourself with any other. They are dead wrong! Take your A.A. spiritual counsel from those who follow the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. Ultimately, you will find that your spiritual counsel will come directly from God himself.

(We have made)....clear three pertinent ideas: 

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. 
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. 
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.
[Big Book page 60, line 15]

We are fortunate in having a summary of the first two steps directly from the Big Book:

Notice that no non-spiritual power could have relieved our alcoholism, and that God could and would! This is a very comforting guarantee, provided we meet the condition, if He were sought. And, what a relief. He does not need to be found, only sought.

And, take further comfort in these promises:
He humbly offered himself to his Maker—then he knew. Even so has God restored us all to our right minds. To this man, the revelation was sudden. Some of us grow into it more slowly. But He has come to all who have honestly sought Him. When we drew near to Him He disclosed Himself to us! [Big Book page 57, line 8]
The principle of Step Two is ________________________. (It's time for you to uncover the principles of the steps on your own. We will compare notes when we discuss your writing.)

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