Step Two: The Power of the GOOD

STEP TWO:
The Power of the GOOD

BY: D. S. | HONOLULU, HAWAII
May 1977

THERE WAS a time when I blitzed through the Twelve Steps because I wanted to get well in a hurry. I reasoned that if these Steps were the program for recovery, well, I’d just recover that much sooner and stop hurting.

That was several years ago. I still feel despondent and hurt from time to time. I also still have my moments of insanity, during which I seem deliberately to do each one of the items on my checklist of no-nos, even though I know better. For instance, I take myself far too seriously, try to change the things I can’t, try to do everything by yesterday, believe I can do it alone, hang on to resentments, put first things last and generally procrastinate, seek out and dwell on the negative aspects of events or persons, expect too much, and accept too little. You get the idea.

Just now is such a time. But despite all appearances (and as I was told in AA meetings but never quite believed), my worst moments sober are still far, far better than my best moments drunk. At least, today I know I’m not going to have to lie about my drinking, mouth off to a friend or employer, pass out, or black out, any of which would make tomorrow impossible to face and would require another day of anesthesia, ad infinitum.

I don’t have to cringe from the future these days, thanks to AA. More than the physical retching, throbbing headaches, and all, I remember the paranoia. I skulked around avoiding family, friends, associates, and neighbors, wondering what I had done the day before and absolutely certain they were all talking about my drunkenness and conspiring to put me away. I’m plenty grateful to be free of that!

At the moment, there are three facts of life I am trying to learn to accept.

First, recovery comes slowly for good reason: to teach me persistence, perseverance, and patience, all qualities I lack. Blitzing through the Steps before I was mentally and emotionally competent was just another sign of my impatience. I need to work on the Twelve Steps continually, for as my head clears, my emotions stabilize, and my self-honesty improves, I find more garbage I need to rid myself of.

Second, hurting is part of getting better. I had anesthetized myself from feeling real emotions, from experiencing painful situations, and from developing any solid relationships with family and friends. Now, resuming an emotional and spiritual growth interrupted early in my teens with the onset of alcoholism, I am finding that this growth is sometimes painful. I need to learn to accept these growth pangs, along with whatever else life throws my way, as necessary for my growth.

Third, understanding that there is a Higher Power active in my daily life is necessary to my continued sobriety and serenity. I thought I had no problem taking the Second Step. As a youngster, I’d been given a good religious background, and I did not need to come to believe. I already believed (or so I thought). In a later study of the Steps, I paused at that one and pondered it: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” I hadn’t really taken that Step. Just to be safe, I turned to Chapter Four in the Big Book, “We Agnostics.” I’d skipped that part before, since I didn’t consider myself an agnostic.

Then I realized that had my belief in a Higher Power been stronger and viable before, I probably never would have followed a style of life that made it possible for me to become an alcoholic. So I needed to work Step Two. I saw that the phrase was “came to believe,” not “already had a belief,” or some such misreading.

The “sanity” part of “could restore us to sanity” was no problem. I had persisted in drinking in the face of overwhelming and painful evidence that I couldn’t drink normally–what else but insane?

My mind fixed on “Power. . .could restore. . .,” and I perceived that I had only to come to believe in order to receive active help from this Power greater than myself. Through this Step, the founders of the AA program were telling me a simple truth: Those successful in AA had developed, as an active part of their recovery, a belief in a Power outside themselves that was evident and active in their daily lives.

The wisdom of the founders in not being more specific about the form of this belief had once been lost on me but now became quite clear. This belief has to be arrived at individually, often through a gradual spiritual awakening of the type William James called “educational,” in terms of one’s own needs and experience, and in a way that is practical for each individual. This power of the good, which I choose to call God, is not my earlier abstract concept, taken down from the shelf from time to time and dusted off when things got rough; it is a useful, practical, and active force for good in my life.

Having come to this point with Step Two, there was no turning back. Step Three followed logically: If God as I understood Him was an active force for good in human affairs, I should have no fear of turning my will and my life over to His care. And Step Eleven, reminding me to actively maintain this newfound awareness, suggested that I could improve this consciousness by praying to know and do His will.

THERE WAS a time when I blitzed through the Twelve Steps because I wanted to get well in a hurry. I reasoned that if these Steps were the program for recovery, well, I’d just recover that much sooner and stop hurting.

That was several years ago. I still feel despondent and hurt from time to time. I also still have my moments of insanity, during which I seem deliberately to do each one of the items on my checklist of no-nos, even though I know better. For instance, I take myself far too seriously, try to change the things I can’t, try to do everything by yesterday, believe I can do it alone, hang on to resentments, put first things last and generally procrastinate, seek out and dwell on the negative aspects of events or persons, expect too much, and accept too little. You get the idea.

Just now is such a time. But despite all appearances (and as I was told in AA meetings but never quite believed), my worst moments sober are still far, far better than my best moments drunk. At least, today I know I’m not going to have to lie about my drinking, mouth off to a friend or employer, pass out, or black out, any of which would make tomorrow impossible to face and would require another day of anesthesia, ad infinitum.

I don’t have to cringe from the future these days, thanks to AA. More than the physical retching, throbbing headaches, and all, I remember the paranoia. I skulked around avoiding family, friends, associates, and neighbors, wondering what I had done the day before and absolutely certain they were all talking about my drunkenness and conspiring to put me away. I’m plenty grateful to be free of that!

At the moment, there are three facts of life I am trying to learn to accept.

First, recovery comes slowly for good reason: to teach me persistence, perseverance, and patience, all qualities I lack. Blitzing through the Steps before I was mentally and emotionally competent was just another sign of my impatience. I need to work on the Twelve Steps continually, for as my head clears, my emotions stabilize, and my self-honesty improves, I find more garbage I need to rid myself of.

Second, hurting is part of getting better. I had anesthetized myself from feeling real emotions, from experiencing painful situations, and from developing any solid relationships with family and friends. Now, resuming an emotional and spiritual growth interrupted early in my teens with the onset of alcoholism, I am finding that this growth is sometimes painful. I need to learn to accept these growth pangs, along with whatever else life throws my way, as necessary for my growth.

Third, understanding that there is a Higher Power active in my daily life is necessary to my continued sobriety and serenity. I thought I had no problem taking the Second Step. As a youngster, I’d been given a good religious background, and I did not need to come to believe. I already believed (or so I thought). In a later study of the Steps, I paused at that one and pondered it: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” I hadn’t really taken that Step. Just to be safe, I turned to Chapter Four in the Big Book, “We Agnostics.” I’d skipped that part before, since I didn’t consider myself an agnostic.

Then I realized that had my belief in a Higher Power been stronger and viable before, I probably never would have followed a style of life that made it possible for me to become an alcoholic. So I needed to work Step Two. I saw that the phrase was “came to believe,” not “already had a belief,” or some such misreading.

The “sanity” part of “could restore us to sanity” was no problem. I had persisted in drinking in the face of overwhelming and painful evidence that I couldn’t drink normally–what else but insane?

My mind fixed on “Power. . .could restore. . .,” and I perceived that I had only to come to believe in order to receive active help from this Power greater than myself. Through this Step, the founders of the AA program were telling me a simple truth: Those successful in AA had developed, as an active part of their recovery, a belief in a Power outside themselves that was evident and active in their daily lives.

The wisdom of the founders in not being more specific about the form of this belief had once been lost on me but now became quite clear. This belief has to be arrived at individually, often through a gradual spiritual awakening of the type William James called “educational,” in terms of one’s own needs and experience, and in a way that is practical for each individual. This power of the good, which I choose to call God, is not my earlier abstract concept, taken down from the shelf from time to time and dusted off when things got rough; it is a useful, practical, and active force for good in my life.

Having come to this point with Step Two, there was no turning back. Step Three followed logically: If God as I understood Him was an active force for good in human affairs, I should have no fear of turning my will and my life over to His care. And Step Eleven, reminding me to actively maintain this newfound awareness, suggested that I could improve this consciousness by praying to know and do His will.