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

In the previous post when describing Roland Hazzard’s interaction with Carl Jung, and Bill’s “Lobby Moment” we were introduced to the concept of step 2 (Anonymous 1939 pp 26-27; pp 153-154). Prior to proceeding, it is suggested that you read and fully understand step 1.

When faced with step 2, people often encounter conflict. Its meaning is conceptual and therefore open to misinterpretation. The first thing newcomers find objectionable is the notion that they are insane. Invariably they are introduced to step 2 by reading “the writing on the wall” and thus experience a reaction to what is written rather than a measured and proportionate response inspired through understanding. The second contention prospects are faced with is a Power greater than themselves. Initially, many of us think we can somehow manage to stay sober on our power and thus we assume we only require a little support rather than totally relinquishing power to something else (Anonymous 1939 p 46).

If you recall from my last post, we are only powerless and effectively insane, at “ certain” unpredictable “times” when the “alcoholic mentality” returns (Anonymous 1939 p24; p 42; p 43). However, the erratic nature of relapse, implies we must regard ourselves as powerless and insane at all times

“At some of these we balked”

(Anonymous 1939 p 58)

The above statement suggests, at some point we will experience a revulsion to one or more of the 12 propositions contained in the 12 steps. If you or your prospect ever exclaim to any part of the 12-step work, “I am not doing that!”, then as a sponsor, you can revisit the two questions you asked your prospect at the beginning of your relationship. If you have digested/understood my two previous posts, prior to entering into a sponsorship role, you will have asked:

Are you prepared to quit the drinking (or drugging) game for good and all time?

Are you prepared to go to any lengths to do so?

(Anonymous 1939 p 181, final paragraph)

If the prospect answered no to either or both of these questions, then you could go no further. “You may spoil a later opportunity” (Anonymous 1939 p 90). In the aforementioned circumstances, a sponsor need only remind his/her “sponsee” that he/she answered yes to both the above questions and affirm you are just trying to ensure the person performs the work thoroughly with no “half measures” (Anonymous 1939 p 59). If that is insufficient, and the person is still unwilling to progress through the work at your pace, then there is most definitely a problem with step 1.

Why would someone have objections to performing a step if they had fully understood and admitted to their inner most self that they were powerless in accordance with the definition presented in the previous post? (Anonymous 1939 p 59). Conceding to being the big book definition of an alcoholic ensures we are on a journey to “oblivion” the outcome of which is certain death (Anonymous 1939 p 30; p 19; p 24). 

A prospect that continuously baulks at steps and has been presented with all aspects of the correct definition of alcoholism, is either not a real alcoholic or drug addict or does have alcoholism, albeit they have not experienced a moment of clarity necessary to be able to see the reality of their circumstances. In other words “they are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves” (Alcoholics Anonymous 1939, p 58). The only conclusion to is that they have broken the initial contract to which they agreed and therefore you can go no further. Historically in these circumstances, a sponsor would suggest that the prospect went for a drink (or use), and the sponsor would pay for the first one… (Peter, G. UK). Regardless, these people are not going to have the necessary “moment of clarity” sat in a dusty old room mostly full of nongenuine alcoholics and addicts talking, for the most part, nonsense (Anonymous 1939 p 42). A “moment of clarity” is a God-given thing and is not under any person’s control. For me, it was the beginning of a spiritual experience that had to be expanded upon to gain freedom from my drug of no choice.

Regarding the second objection, the “G” word: one of my previous sponsors used to share “God is a three-letter word beginning with “G”; so is gin”. “I’ll wager none of you had a problem with gin” (Peter G UK). It is not uncommon for many of us to feel uncomfortable when reading, hearing or uttering the word “God” (Anonymous 1939 p 12). The word is evocative of many emotions invariably put there by the misconceptions of our primary caregivers and/or their religious leaders (Anonymous 1939 p 10). “Faced with alcoholic destruction” our attitude has to be one of open-mindedness and willingness (Anonymous 1939 p 48). To understand the trap of alcoholism one realises that we are trying to achieve the impossible: to stop a real alcoholic or addict from drinking or using themselves to death is humanly unobtainable!

“…deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God”

(Anonymous 1939 p 55).

The turmoil and disbelief some of us experience when we think, read or hear of God is often the result of the ideas we were exposed to as children. An image of a judgmental heavenly being that abhors sin and rains down punishment or casts out those who do not behave in godly or accepted ways. Why would we not, especially as children, instinctively know that these godly attributes are erroneous and controlling. The above quotation informs us that we are naturally a spark of the divine; in essence spiritual (Anonymous 1939 p 55). It follows, therefore, to hate God is to dislike ourselves. A circumstance that is all too common in newcomers. It would be unnatural for us to take on a concept of God that does not adhere to reality or that we intuitively know is spurious (Anonymous 1939 p 46). My experience of God is intense love, bliss and joy in the absence of judgement and fear.

I would like to make it clear that before walking into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous the last thing I thought I required was a spiritual experience. During my childhood I was expected to attend church and “Sunday school” yet during adulthood, I chose not to have anything to do with the church. The point I am trying to make is that if this works for me, you need not be “discouraged” this will also work for you (Anonymous 1939 p 28; p 47; p 49; p 51).   

I must emphasise that for me, God was never “a bloke with a beard on a cloud”.

It still isn’t. The keystone of my recovery was and is, the freedom to choose my own concept of God (Anonymous 1939 p 12). Initially God as I understood ”It”, was based on the Spirit of the Universe. My conception of God, has evolved throughout my recovery. Unless I relapse, it will continue to do so until I die. God to me or “Spirit” as I like to refer to it, is an energy that has direction and flow. Something I can align myself to in order to achieve a more meaningful and successful life (Anonymous 1939 p 8p 63). The word Spirit does not conjure up the same antipathy as God. For step 3, “the first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success” (Anonymous 1939 p 60).

“…God as we understand Him”

It is widely accepted that as humans, we unable to comprehend/understand what is God (Anonymous 1939 p 46; Tolle 2020). I have learnt that what I think and know about God, can prevent me from experiencing It. However, the Big Book authors conceded we needed to commence somewhere and our own concept of a Power greater than ourselves was required (Anonymous 1939 p 46).

Your own conception of God, not a god of your conception!

It is crucial that people understand that the 12-step work suggests we choose a concept of God; an understanding of something to believe in that is our own view of God. Not a god of our creation. Someone could decide that they are going to manufacture in their mind what they think god should be and make that their higher power. For example, “group of drunks”. It is quite obvious to me that if I am not willing to believe in God as I think God exists, then there is a problem with step 1.  Recovered alcoholics do not suddenly acquire power over alcohol, no matter what they say, they are powerless until the day they die. Hence zero power of an individual drunk adds up to be zero power collectively (zero multiplied by zero; Riley 2010). Group of drunks is a god of someone’s conception, not a conception of God.

It is my personal experience of others and myself that even staunch atheists that fully understand step 1 and have completely accepted viscerally, they are real alcoholics or addicts will be prepared to do anything to recover. This also includes believing in God. So-called recovered alcoholics or addicts that proclaim they are atheists, still pray to something and hand their will and their life over to something other than themselves. Therefore, it is simply intellectual pride that these people have failed to overcome. This is in direct contradiction of the message in the final paragraph of Dr Bob’s Nightmare, one of the founding fathers of AA (Anonymous 1939 p 181). On page 25 the Big Book states: “Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the levelling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation (Anonymous 1939 p 25). If my life depended on getting my recovery correct, which it does, why would I risk changing the original way things were done? Why would I potentially jeopardise my life in this way? Why do these people think they are so different that they do not need to “level their pride”? It is the poor unfortunate’s charter: “my case is different!” (Anonymous 1939 p 58). Any prospect of mine will have to believe in God or I will regard them as baulking at the steps.

The big book authors are suggesting that there is one God and it is your understanding of that God that you are free to choose. If your belief system involves multiple Deities, I am not suggesting that the 12 steps will not work. Neither is this post suggesting that “a bloke with a beard on a cloud” would not work either. However, it is your conception of God(s) that is required.  Not what they look like or how many there are. When choosing I suggest we bear in mind that it is impossible for the human brain to fully comprehend God (Anonymous 1939 p 46 ; Tolle 2020).

Some Guidance

It was explained to me that your higher power cannot breathe or die. For example, a tree, a fly, or a cake is manifested in the material, so it is subject to impermanence. It will either eventually die and decay or it will simply degenerate and vanish. Your higher Power cannot be manifested in the material world. Unlike “group of drunks”, it must possess permanence. My first sponsor told me a tale about an entire AA homegroup of six people that went out and got drunk together.

If you have conceded that your power is no good in combating alcohol and/or drugs and that stopping a real alcoholic or addict from drinking or using themselves to death is impossible, then it would be a good idea for your higher Power to be all-powerful. A second attribute you might consider is that your higher Power is all good. That way any solutions that the God of your understanding manifests in your life, are going to be positive and pure. Early on in sobriety I was forced to confess as a human being I was incapable of perfection. God, in theory, should be unrestrained by the limitations that govern man, and hence any life-solutions a Deity can offer, should be flawless. I suggest to my prospects that it would be advisable to choose a concept of God that is permanent, all-powerful, all good and perfect. Notwithstanding, the choice is absolutely up to you.

“Lack of Power was our dilemma…it had to be Power greater than ourselves. Obviously.”

(Anonymous 1939 p 45)

“At certain times” when the “alcoholic mentality” re-emerges, we become temporarily “insane”. At such times, our power becomes ineffectual. During those moments we require a Power to “restore us to sanity” (Anonymous 1939 p24; p 38; p 42; p 43; p 59). In reality, trying to “manage our own lives” – or “playing god” – including attempting to not use our drug of no choice,  will get in the way of our recovery (Anonymous 1939 p 60; p 61; p 62). At this juncture, people often are terrified to “relinquish perceived control”, being subject to the misapprehension – or “delusion” – that their power is working (Anonymous 1939 p 30; p 61; p 62).  An idea conceived from the ability to ordinarily resist the temptation of having a drink or use (Anonymous 1939 p xxix). Not until I had the complete understanding that I had to “let go and let God” deal with my alcoholism, did I have any chance of survival and finally find some degree of peace (Anonymous 1939 p 58). 

Before proceeding, it is suggested that you read pages 44 to 47 of the Big Book (Anonymous 1939 pp 44-47).

“Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?” 

(Anonymous 1939 p 47).

The two questions above are regarded as the step 2 questions (Anonymous 1939 p 47). If you have had a step 1 experience and are entirely willing to do anything to recover from this fatal illness, your approach should be one of: do I now hope or am I even willing to hope, there is a Power greater than myself? (Paul L.). “As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way.” (Anonymous 1939 p 28; p 46; p 47).


Riley, L. (2010) Alcoholics Ambiguous: Unravelling the Message of Recovery.

Anonymous (1939) The “Big Book”. Alcoholics Anonymous Fourth Edition (first printing 2001). Alcoholics Anonymous World Service Inc.[last accessed 1 May 2020].

Tolle, E. (2020) Looking for God. Awaken to a Life of Purpose and Presence. From the video: The Tao Te Ching, Part Two. [last accessed 2 July 2020].

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