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Step 2 Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Oh, this step! The savior for so many and the downfall of so many more. The capitalization of Power seems to imply a deity, yet we are told it needn’t be a specific deity or God, a thought that on the surface seems absurd to many of us.

How many people have walked out of their first meeting and never returned because of this very sentence? We have no way of knowing. That’s one of the downsides of a decentralized, anonymous organization. But I’d wager the number is staggering and that the percentage is only increasing as our society becomes more and more secular.

If you’re a newcomer and struggling with these words, I’m going to share a little secret with you. Many of us in recovery struggle with the concept of a higher power and many people use the words “God and “prayer” either because that’s what we know or that’s what we’ve been told to do.

There are many reasons why we might struggle with this step. Maybe it’s because we don’t believe. Maybe it’s because we aren’t sure if we believe. Maybe we were hurt by someone who was exuberant in their beliefs. Maybe the only Higher Power we’ve ever known was a vengeful, fear inspiring God.

Doubt is part of the mystery. We don’t know for certain that a God exists, or not.

But we do know that there are questions. Questions which have not or cannot be answered by human experience. Why is there life on Earth? Are we alone in the universe? What happens when we die?

So, we struggle. I struggled. And that’s okay.

Over time I realized that I was struggling with the deity of someone else’s understanding. I realized that my visceral reaction to the God talk in the rooms had nothing to do with my understanding of a deity, but rather my rejection of others’ understanding of their deities. And I realized that putting energy into these feelings wasn’t helpful.

So, I spent time considering the difference between religion and spirituality. I have always been fascinated by the notion of connection. I know that there is something that connects all life in the universe.  And over time, I came to understand that this is, in fact, the very essence of Spirituality. As Brené Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are:

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us , and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion . Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective , meaning , and purpose to our lives .

I won’t necessarily name this something, and it’s okay by me if you disagree with me. I’m more interested in a thought I recently had about whether one could substitute the word purpose for power. What if rather than talking about a power greater than one’s self, we focused on a purpose greater than one’s self?

Now, I’m not looking to re-write the Big Book, or change the language of the steps. They are what they are. They are instructive of one way to live a good, contented, and useful life.  They have helped millions to recover from all sorts of addictions.

I am, however, interested in how to help people who, like me, struggle with the language of the Big Book.

What is a good and useful life if not a purposeful life?


When I was in 11th grade, we studied Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning in which he tells of his time in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwits and how he came to believe in what he called logotherapy — therapy based on finding meaning in life. I’ve written about this before, and so I won’t go into great detail here, but the book had a huge impact on me and also introduced me to the Nietzsche quote “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

As, I’ve mentioned before, I went to Catholic school. As one might imagine there are times in Catholic school when little boys are asked to consider whether the priesthood may be a suitable calling for them in life. And so at an early age, I was introduced to a very big word:

vocation | vōˈkāSH(ə)n |

noun
a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation: not all of us have a vocation to be nurses or doctors.

Suffice it to say, I did not feel a calling to become a priest, at least not for very long after the initial sell-job. I did however feel a calling to become a father. I knew in my heart of hearts that one day I would become a father. I had no idea that becoming a father would trigger a huge psychic shift in my life that would lead to me down a very dark path.

When I got sober, I discovered that I had a lot of work to do to become the father I’d imagined myself to be. I discovered that feelings I had about my birth father and my step father and both of their deaths were at the root of the trauma that lead to my addiction to alcohol.

And yet, here I was, a father to a seven year old son. A son who I love dearly but who can be challenging. Gradually, I learned to let go of my pre-conceived notions of what being a father meant. Gradually, I let go of the self-judgement that I harbored. Gradually, I realized that I’m human, and both my fathers were human as well.

And gradually, I began to understand that for now, my purpose in life, in fact my higher purpose, is to be the best father that I can be. That doesn’t mean perfect, it means being honest. It means being caring. It means guiding my son into his adulthood as best I can. And it means that there will be plenty of opportunity for growth, and plenty of failures.


Today, there are times when things get too heavy. Times when the idea of a drink sounds appealing. Times when the idea of a whole bottle sounds fantastic. Because, that’s how my lizard brain operates. When the going get rough, my lizard brain screams for a potent elixir to numb the pain.

But, I don’t succumb to that lizard brain temptation. I take a few minutes to think through the idea. I take a few minutes to remember what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. I remember my purpose.

And when I remember my purpose — to be the best father I can be and to guide my son into adulthood — I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can’t do that as a drunk. I’ve already tried that and failed.

Strangely, the exact thing that drove me to the bottle has become the thing that I see as my higher purpose. Perhaps, it’s divine providence. Perhaps, not.

I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

10 comments on “It’s a Mystery

  1. bgddyjim says:

    Growth, baby. I LIKE It! It’s a higher power of your understanding. Maybe your higher purpose is also to help those still sick and suffering know they have a better place to start than an ashtray. Your “higher purpose” is a vastly better place to start than the old ashtray.

    Btw, and I read the post anyway, but your unwillingness to capitalize the G reflects more on you than you might think. You don’t have to, of course, but I don’t know if the little g has the effect you intend. Just a thought. Do with it as you will.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. damien says:

      Thanks. I was taught in my Catholic schooling that God was used to refer to the Christian God and “god” was used to refer to other gods. As in “you shall have no gods before me.”

      My use of the little g is not meant to belittle any specific deity but to refer to all deities in a general way.

      I do recognize that it may be off putting to some readers. I’m now sure to to maintain the distinction that I’m intending.

      Thoughts?

      Like

      1. bgddyjim says:

        That’s fair. We always capitalized in the broader “God”, but used the lowercase when talking about the Greek or Aztec gods… same idea, I just never thought of the HP that way. Definitely interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Damien!
    I love the idea of using purpose for power!
    I know my life and day goes better when I have a purpose. It goes better when I am kind, caring and compassionate.
    I think we all meed to find our own HP. I pray to the universe, to all the people in the world, to something beyond me.
    But I don’t think I need to have it all nailed down.
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hearon (HD) says:

      I agree, Wendy! I happen to believe in god (or God 😜)….but what that really means for me is believing that there is “something” out there bigger than me and that most IMPORTANT things are out of my control. It is not important to me to understand it.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Very insightful post. I have a lot of friends who struggle with the whole “power” question. I did not, but that didn’t mean that a mysterious power then intervened and caused me to stop drinking. It was always up to me. So I think that the universal consciousness or spirit or God or whatever you’d like to call it helped me when I asked for help. But ultimately, it was my choice to accept that help or use my free will to choose to drink.
    What should have been my purpose, parenting, did not supersede my desire to drink. Maybe I needed to focus more on my purpose instead of continually asking a higher power for relief. You’ve given me a lot to think about, Damien. ; )

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bruce says:

    I never had a problem. However when I speak, I uasually give examples of a power greater than ourselves. Electricity, nature as not only a great power but also an intelligence.orentated toward a porpoise outside our understanding. The power that moves the solar system. In such precision. Also with a purpose outside our understanding. Can we tap into these natural phenomenon we have to first be willing to try. Not know. But willing to accept. That puts us in the correct mind state to move to the other step. There is more but I have such a short course.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Paul S says:

    Great post, Damien. Seriously.
    I was told that “God” is just a placeholder name for whatever works best for you. It’s almost shorthand. It doesn’t have to be the guy with the white beard in the sky.I know it’s a challenge for those who were hammered in catholic school with heavy handed stuff about God, etc.
    I know many atheists and agnostics who are able to work around that stuff with the steps.
    I love that you did this post because I know you have struggled with the concept of a HP / God for some time, but it sounds like you are finding what works for you, and that’s the most important thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. damien says:

      Thanks Paul. I have struggled, but more importantly, I hear from people all the time who are struggling with the god talk. Many of my posts have been an effort to show others that there is a way to make it workable if they are struggling with this.

      Like

  6. I love the power of that thought. What lead you to the drink is the same power you are using to keep from future drinks because of a deep abiding practice of spirituality. I think I got that right. Looking at it that way, it’s easy to move past regret. Move past the weight of shame and into something new entirely. I love coming to Sober Boots to get some insight into my daily life. It’s like hitting a five minute meeting!

    Liked by 1 person

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