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 |
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.