Step 2: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.”
I had been given many wake-up calls that it was to surrender and to seek help for my alcoholism and drug addiction. About a year before my publicized arrest, I had an incident with the Sylvania Township police. My son, Lucas, was planning on spending a Friday evening with me after he went to a High School basketball game. He usually just walked to my house after school events, as my home was just down the street from his school.
The night before I got totally wasted on booze and cocaine. I was frustrated when Lucas called and woke me up to asked me to come pick him up, and to drive his friend home from the game. I reluctantly agreed. After dropping off Eddie, Lucas and I stopped a popular Mexican restaurant named Ventura’s. We ate some nachos and I tossed down a couple Margaritas. On the drive home, I went through a yellow light turning red and was pulled over for a stop light violation. Had I kept my big mouth shut that would have been it, however I needed to argue with the officer that the light was yellow. My overt objection prompted him to give me a field sobriety test – which I failed.
The police drove Lucas to his mother’s home (which went over like a lead balloon), as they hauled me to the police station for a Breathalyzer. I only blew a .06 BAC, which was .02 below the legal limit. The officer than stated he wanted a blood test. Knowing it would be positive for cocaine, I called my attorney. He informed the officer that the law was that they could only administer one test, and they chose the Breathalyzer. My attorney, not being aware I used cocaine, kept questioning me why I didn’t want to take the blood test – he finally figured it out. Long story short, I end up with a reckless operation conviction.
Since the FAA monitors all pilot arrests, and I already had a DUI on my record, I procured the ALPA (Pilot Union) attorneys to stave off the FAA from requiring a substance abuse evaluation. I thought I dodged another bullet, when in truth, had just prolonged the inevitable – the reality was that I was a drunk and a drug addict.
I actually sought help and took $5000 cash into an outpatient treatment program in Toledo. I announced upon my grand entrance that I wanted them to fix me, and I wanted no record of it. I made up a name and told them that they could never know whom I was.
When they told me that wasn’t how it works, I arrogantly grab my cash and stomped out the door. I remember hearing the counselor say upon my exiting the door state; “Pay me now or pay me later!”
My arrogance was only overshadowed by my ignorance, however after my arrest the following year, I was finally ready to surrender. From surrender came hope. There was a glimmer of hope that some day, some how, I could become whole, and that maybe God would finally smile upon me.
“The Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek”. ~Alcoholics Anonymous
“Under each cornerstone of fear on which you have erected your insane system of belief, the truth lies hidden.” ~A Course in Miracles T-14.VII.26
My misdirected desires were self-designed to fill the terms of my perceived worldly needs. Pleasure and stimulation were high priorities; I perceived to be requirements. My broken belief system produced an illusion in my mind that I was completely entitled to my egotistical wants. The ego constantly desired another dose of temporary pleasure, whether it was from chemical substances, sexual gratification, a gambling victory or approval from others. But these and other short-term pleasures never brought happiness. In fact, they delivered nothing but misery.
We all want happiness, however the means through which we seek that happiness is what really matters. Authentic happiness is the opposite of what our ego says it is. Seeking gratification and approval from others on similarly dark paths blinds us to our real purpose in life and interferes with our ability to actively experience God’s love.
I am now aware that as long I am attached to human desires and worldly outcomes, I cannot achieve God-consciousness. God-consciousness is not an attachment but a state of awareness derived from living in the present. Faith and belief eventually become attached to our vision, and our previous means that once served the ego now serves the Spirit.
In step 1 we admitted powerlessness, which ultimately resulted in our surrender. We waved the white flag of desperation as we moved from the unconscious state of unmanageability (level 1) to the conscious state of unmanageability (level 2). The wreckage of our pasts still exist, as does the pain we have caused. Shedding our denial is the first step in the right direction, but it does little to nothing to correct our incompetence and current existence.
In step 3, we make a decision to have faith; to get there, step 2 serves as the bridge of hope between surrender and faith. Step 2 is a tall order for most alcoholics, addicts and codependents to digest because many have lost faith in the traditional beliefs that they were taught as children. Some never held spiritual beliefs, while others had faith but were unable to conquer the power that alcohol, drugs and obsessive thinking had over them.
I classify hope in two ways: blind hope and authentic hope.
Blind hope is an expectation that something you desire will come to fruition. Since expectations are merely resentments in the making, blind hope has no positive significance. This is hope without a plan of action. The expectation that life on earth is fair is one of the greatest errors humans can make.
I think of time as what humans do from conception until death of the body. Time for each of us is only an invisible speck compared to eternity. Time is not equal or fair, but eternity is as fair as it is real. Blind hope is misdirected time: it has no correlation or relevance to eternity.
“Time and eternity are both in your mind, and will conflict until you perceive time solely as a means to regain eternity.”~ACIM7
Authentic hope has real substance and a foundation based on the experiences of our brothers and sisters before us. Authentic hope has a track record of proven results and provides a plan of action based on those results. There is no mystery in authentic hope – the only requirement is an open mind.
Step 2 begins with the phrase “came to believe.” This is a brilliant way to introduce a power greater than us. “Came to believe” temporarily lets off the hook the suffering person. At that moment, there is no huge commitment to symbols such as God, Divine Intelligence or a Higher Power. This phrase shows us that God is patiently waiting in the wings for us to become honest, open-minded and willing. When we become ready to change the door to authentic hope will automatically open. This willingness is the primary principle behind 12 Step recovery.
The 12 steps are not the only tools available to find hope in recovery. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) also provides practical aid to the suffering person. Think of CBT as providing practicality for spiritual results and the 12 steps as providing spirituality for practical results.
CBT is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, maladaptive behaviors and cognitive processes through a number of goal-oriented, explicit, systematic procedures. CBT is problem-focused and designed to replace maladaptive coping skills with functional ones. CBT and the 12 steps seek the same goals with similar methods.
Think of recovery as a willingness to make profound changes in belief structures, value systems and daily protocol. We must reinvent how we live life from the moment we awaken until we place our head on the pillow each evening. In seeking personal growth, we must recognize we are not our thoughts and by continually examining our thoughts for truth and honesty we will gradually move toward reality.
The definition of insanity has become a cliché: doing (and thinking) the same things over and over and expecting different results. Interestingly, this characterizes the behavior connected to every form of addiction and cognitive distortion. The word sanity is Greek for wholeness. Step 2 suggests having the belief that a power greater than oneself can restore sanity. Becoming whole is necessary to recover. Restoring sanity begins to happen when we lose the mental obsession to drink or use. How we become whole is unique to each of us, but the more we truly internalize the meaning of each step determines how quickly we recover from the hopeless, insane state of mind created by addiction and codependency.
I can distinctly remember a moment in my life when I felt whole. I was 12 years old and sleeping in my parent’s backyard in the country with no one around. I was lying on my back for what seemed like hours staring at the black, starlit sky. On this warm and incredibly quiet, dark evening, I was mesmerized thinking about the enormity of this universe that I had learned about in science class. The millions of stars glowing in unison instilled both feelings of humility and empowerment. I wondered about all the people in history who looked up at the same stars and what they were thinking as they gazed at this collection of heavenly artwork. I felt the amazement of the universe and intimately close to the simplistic God I knew at that time, the God of love and truth, and for those moments of profound peace, I wanted for nothing. This happened to be the same God with whom I later reacquainted myself in recovery.
Some of the individuals with whom I have worked in recovery claimed they never felt whole. They say they came out of the womb broken and cannot relate to the peace and comfort I felt sleeping under the stars. I tell them, “You do not need a reference point to experience wholeness; you only needs to believe that a power greater than yourself can deliver you to sanity.” Those without a reference point to wholeness can undergo an amazing spiritual awakening when the miracle of recovery comes to them. I have experienced my own spiritual awakening and I have witnessed it in others. Nothing is better than to share life’s experiences with others on “the road to that happy destiny.”8
There are many people in recovery that do not wish to seek a Higher Power and avoid the topic of God, but still believe they can find an awakening of some sort, while maintaining sobriety. We tend to label ourselves as believers, agonistics or atheist.
The Greek word agnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. The prefix “a” means “no”. Therefore, an agnostic is a person who says the existence of God in unknowable.
The word atheist comes from the Greek word theos, which means God, so an atheist believes there is no God. I mention agnostics and atheists here as a reminder that we alienate no one, that we accept everyone exactly as they are when they come to us. We share our experience, strength and hope in order that others might witness our failures and success. But we do not preach, we simply teach by example.
Let Go and Let God
The words “came to believe” signify that the 12 steps are a process. The 12-Steps are not orders of what not to do, they are positive suggestions of what to do and when followed lead to a spiritual awakening.
To know something, to believe something and to have faith in something are all different thought processes. Faith is a belief that cannot be proven. Faith is not knowledge, nor is it a feeling. Faith is a choice, a decision, a function of will. For the atheist or agnostic, the term “came to believe” should not be threatening. It reminds us that the steps are suggested actions. They are not intended to demand that anyone has to immediately believe in anything. At this point, open-mindedness becomes important as we adapt to the concept that “more will be revealed”.
For those who suffer from addiction and have lost all faith, the message of the second step has to do with being open-minded enough to recognize that we don’t have all the answers. In fact, maybe we should challenge every belief that we hold dear – especially our beliefs about ourselves.
Chemical addiction had caused my belief system to break; subsequently my faith was shattered. My sick thinking alienated me from God and my fellow man; I truly had become morally, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. My low self-esteem was well hidden under a mask of egotistical arrogance. For me, the second step was an opportunity to get to know myself and my brothers and sisters of this world. Step 2 provided another chance at a relationship with the God of my understanding – which, in turn, taught me the truth about myself.
My childhood memory of God was radically changed by religious teachings. Religion taught me that God was a wrathful entity waiting to judge and punish. The God of my understanding gives me free will to do anything I can humanly imagine while He patiently waits for me to align my will with His. I now comprehend that only God’s will can prevail, so it’s utterly futile to try to force my ego-driven desires onto this world. The spirit of God is within each of us in the form of a higher self. This is a quiet, consistent voice that opposes those ego-driven thoughts. Ego-driven thoughts speak first and speak loudest, so truthful answers and solutions come from quiet moments of solitude. Prayer, and more importantly mediation, will eventually reveal that God’s will is our will.
A Course in Miracles teaches that we are part of God. God is not complete without us. Understanding this is the ultimate boost to self-esteem that man can enjoy.
Once we are aware that we are the problem, we may allow hope to enter the picture. Hope is a baby step; the courage and determination to take action and the decision to have faith are truly the pivotal traits required to secure long-term sobriety.