Gary S. Fisher, Psy. D., C.A.D.C.

healing, integration, authenticity

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

Principles: Open-mindedness vs. Arrogance

Anyone who has been closely involved with a practicing addict/alcoholic understands the reason for a discussion about a restoration to sanity because the behaviors associated with this illness look insane to the outside individual. Back in the 1930’s and even into later decades, alcoholics/addicts had few choices for help other than what were called sanitariums, fancy psychiatric hospitals, if they had the resources to pay for it, or were sent to psychiatric wards in hospitals if no resources were available. Aside from the extreme mood swings and personality changes associated with the actual use of different substances, the decision to return to use of chemicals after a series of consequences seems unbelievable to their friends and loved ones.

The admission of powerlessness in the first step leaves the individual between Scylla and Charybdis (i.e., a rock and a hard place). Faced with the dilemma of knowing that their behavior may be literally killing them, and at the same time being powerless to stop their own self-destruction, the addict either seeks help, or retreats behind a wall of arrogance and defiance.The principle of openmindedness as it relates to this step is practiced every day by millions of normal, healthy individuals, as well as the vast majority of addicts. Whenever someone goes to the doctor, the auto mechanic, the electrician, the plumber, or enters therapy, they are “working” this step. Many times the individual does not know what is really wrong with the car, lights, themselves, and can only describe the symptoms. They have generally, by that time, admitted that they are incapable of fixing whatever problem they are experiencing, be it medical, automotive, etc., and they have come to believe that this power greater than themselves, e.g., the doctor or the mechanic, has the ability to tell them what is wrong and how to correct it. The return to sanity is conceptualized as a return to healthy thinking, which then translates into healthy behavior.

This is not, however, just an intellectual exercise. As the addict begins to practice honesty in the first step, he or she begins to reveal the thoughts, feelings, and motives behind their behavior. Paradoxically, by admitting many of the ‘insane’ thoughts, etc., the addict is restored to ‘sanity’ and does not need to act out on the thoughts or feelings.

For example, a person begins to talk about feeling as though they want to drink. As he or she becomes open to process that thought, and attempts to find what underlies it (e.g., feeling unappreciated at work), they get in touch with the emotions of hurt, rejection, etc. As the addict gets in touch with those feelings, as well as the pain of many other unresolved rejections and slights from their past, and is able to feel and express his or her emotions, the desire to drink begins to dissipate.

On the other hand, the addict may not become openminded at all, and may instead retreat behind a defense of arrogance. Arrogance, defined as presumptuous, haughty, self-important, (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984) in this context, refers to the individual who, upon realizing in the first step that they have a problem which they themselves are incapable of fixing, maintains that since it cannot be fixed by them, it cannot be fixed, period. Here lay the rationalization for continuing the behavior to its inexorable conclusion. Even if the individual should achieve some abstinence from the addictive behavior, not much else will change. This individual may talk constantly about their problems but will always come up with their own solution. They do not ever get to the real heart of the problem, nor do they ever reveal their innermost thoughts, emotions, or motives. They never truly listen to anyone else because there is always too much chatter going on in their own head to hear anything else. Eventually they are left alone and feel justified that the problem could not be fixed.

These people are like the individual who attempts to fix his car by himself having had no training or education in auto mechanics, and no willingness to read any books on the subject. As he continues to fail in his attempts to fix the problem, he exerts even more effort, becoming angry when anyone suggests that he can’t fix it and should seek outside help, until finally, what started out as a rather minor problem, now results in a complete engine overhaul.

Once again, it is the clinician’s role to help the client realize his or her inability to resolve this addiction by themselves. This is again accomplished by mirroring the folly of their past efforts. Workbooks are also available for Step 2 to help with this realization. It is the failure to understand and practice the essential principle of this step that has lead people in 12-step programs to believe that members do not need to seek help from professionals, do not need medication, etc. and that all their needs can be met, all their problems resolved, simply by going to meetings and, ironically, working the steps. It is also what keeps clinicians from investigating and making use of 12-step programs for their patients.