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By Kristin Snowden MA, LMFT

Step Two of the Twelve Steps
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The twelve steps are a program for change for everyone, even those who might not identify as an addict. The steps are a list of thought-provoking and challenging suggestions that, if taken purposefully and with the right support, can dramatically shift the way we think, live, and behave. As a non-addict (a ’normie’), I have been radically and positively impacted by my exposure to the twelve steps.

My initial exposure to twelve-step recovery was riddled with misconceptions and confusion. However, after observing and learning from those who’ve experienced quality recovery from addiction and similar issues by utilizing the twelve steps, my knowledge expanded and clarified, and my reality shifted for the better. In recognition of this, I’ve dedicated my previous post and my next several posts to exploring the twelve steps through the lens of a non-addict, in hopes that non-addicted readers may benefit as I have.

In my previous article, I shared my interpretation and application of step one: We admit we are powerless over some aspect of our lives and our lives have become unmanageable because of it. With step one, we determine we are struggling and things are no longer working in our life.

Once the problem or problems have been defined and laid out, we can move on to step two: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. This seems relatively logical. After all, owning the fact that our life has become unmanageable would hopefully lead us to seek help from a source outside of our own ‘best thinking.’ Our best efforts and attempts to limit our exposure to harm have led us to our current state of struggle, and it no longer makes sense to go it alone.

Unfortunately, we humans don’t always do what makes sense, especially when we’re faced with crisis and suffering.

Step two sounds basic, but allowing it to seep deep into our soul is a complicated process. Our default state is to control, predict, and protect ourselves (and our loved ones) from the uncertainty and chaos of the world. The idea of trusting another source for help in a time of crisis is counter-intuitive. After all, we’re highly adaptive creatures. We spend most of our lives using our traits and talents to survive and thrive in an uncertain world. These traits and talents allow us to gain attention, connection, success, and more.

As long as things appear to be working for us (pre-step one), we’ll continue to use our traits and talents to create a false sense of control in an uncontrollable world. It is only when we can own that our life (or some important aspect of our life) has reached a level of powerlessness and unmanageability—despite the use of our best traits and talents—that we are compelled to seek another source to restore sanity: a Higher Power.

At this point, you may ask: Why does it have to be a ‘Higher Power’ (i.e., a divine source or deity)? My answer is that it must be a Higher Power because we need something more than another flawed human being or an external, inanimate source like drugs, alcohol, food, money, success, looks, etc. The Higher Power we turn to for help must be higher than our own power and our own will to control and manipulate our lives (and the lives of others).

Worldly power and will power are fleeting and broken. A Higher Power is consistent and whole. Finding grounding in a Higher Power brings us a sense of security that allows us to navigate the insecurities of life. In other words, a foundational spiritual practice (whatever that looks like for each of us) provides us the stability needed to weather the storm of uncertainty, shame, and suffering.

Inviting a Higher Power into our healing process can prove difficult, depending on our level of spiritual exposure throughout our life. It can take many years and great difficulty to overcome our defenses, get in touch with our ‘shame voices,’ and give up attempts to control, manage, and perpetuate the cycle of our insanity (our tendency to do the same thing over and over while expecting different results). But we must do this work if we hope to reach a deeper, soul-level change.

I can appreciate the complexity of step two as much as anyone because I was pretty anti-Higher Power when I was in my personal crisis. I was angry and felt let down by my version of God, and I didn’t want to ‘need’ a Higher Power. However, my pain and discomfort were extreme enough for me to acknowledge my powerlessness and unmanageability. It became abundantly clear that everything I had done to that point was not working. I was making surface, behavioral changes, but nothing was penetrating my soul deeply enough to change the way I viewed the world and my problems, and my ability to find relief from my misery.

As you explore step two, it’s important to identify the great disparity between behavioral changes (I call this ‘The Grocery List of Things I Should be Doing’) and deeper, more meaningful, soul-level changes. Behavioral changes are like band-aids on a wound. Yes, the band-aids serve a necessary function, but they are not the most important part of the healing process. Band-aids are a surface fix that can assist in the healing process, but the bulk of the work occurs from within over time. Richard Rohr beautifully explains that behavioral changes are for those avoiding hell, while deeper spiritual/emotional changes are experienced by those who have been through hell. Step two is for who’ve been through hell.

I would encourage you to explore step one and two with a professional or a person who’s found healing by working the twelve steps. You need an educated guide for this process. All step work is rigorous, challenging, and at times confusing. But incredibly worth it when done right. A knowledgeable, empathetic guide through this process can help you keep your heart, mind, and body open to the process.