By Steve K.
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Step Two is referring to the insanity of addiction and its mental obsession. In other words the lack of whole thinking or truth that precedes taking the first drink or drug, regardless of past experiences that would prevent a sane person from doing so.
On a deeper level, AA understands addiction to be a spiritual illness with self-centredness at its core. This self-centredness expresses itself in various forms of character defects, which manifest in insane thinking or a lack of whole thinking. The result being harmful consequences to oneself and others.
In AA, it is often suggested in relation to Step Two, that members only require willingness and an open minded attitude. A closed minded, literal attitude can often be a barrier in relation to this Step, and I have found that a little imagination really helps.
A great quote from the Big Book (p. 570 3rd edition) sums up the effects of a closed mind:
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
Attributed to Herbert Spencer
When listening to AA member’s experience of the mental obsession to drink despite past consequences, it is easy to hear the common insanity that rationalises taking the first drink. The addiction denies the truth. The common experience in AA is that the alcoholic is powerless to control this mental obsession, and once commencing to drink, the compulsion to keep on doing so. The alcoholic, at certain times, seems to lack the will power not to drink, and therefore needs help or power beyond themselves.
Step Two suggests believing in a Power Greater that oneself that can restore the alcoholic/addict to sanity or whole thinking in relation to alcohol and other drugs. Willingness and an open mind is all that is needed for this Step, and I suggest that being willing to believe in the collective power of the AA group, and principles contained within the Steps, are a good place to start.
Atheists, agnostics, and humanists can have difficulty with this Step, if they are closed minded and lacking in imagination. I myself am an agnostic/humanist and have managed to adapt my views to this Step in accordance with reason. The collective therapeutic power of a group of people, coming together for a common purpose, can definitely inspire change within the individual.
I also believe in the transformative power of the moral, philosophical, and spiritual principles contained within the Twelve-Step program. Virtues such as honesty, willingness, humility, courage, acceptance, unselfishness, love and kindness are essential to and products of working the Steps. When practised regularly these virtues bring about deep changes in awareness and attitude towards oneself, others, and the world. They restore the will to wholeness or sanity by diminishing self-centredness.
This view accords with the theory of cognitive-behavioural psychology (CBT) and Aristotle’s “virtue ethics”.* By adopting certain beliefs (moral principles) and practising them regularly, one’s thinking and behaviour changes.
Belief in the power of the group and the principles contained within the Steps, can be understood from a humanistic or spiritual perspective, dependent upon one’s own beliefs or philosophy of life – the nature of which is a personal matter. The freedom to choose one’s own understanding of a Power Greater than oneself is the subject of Step Three.
* As Aristotle argues in Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics, the man who possesses character excellence does the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way.