Most addicts, no matter their addiction (alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, etc.) find that they key to lasting sobriety is working the twelve steps of recovery. As discussed in this space a few weeks ago, step one explores the depth and consequences of the addict’s problem, helping him or her break through the denial that justifies and supports his or her addiction. Step two is designed to prepare the addict for the solution to come in steps three through twelve. In other words, step two introduces the general nature of the long-term solution: that the addict will need to accept outside help.
Step two asks the addict: Was your behavior out of control, causing negative consequences, and, if so, did you continue with it anyway? Did you try and fail to stop the behavior? Did those attempts and failure happen on an ongoing basis? If so, the solution to the problem will involve something beyond yourself, because your best thinking did not solve the problem.
Sometimes addicts struggle with the words “restore us to sanity,” which they think implies that they were insane. Addicts rarely think they’re crazy. If someone else was engaging in the same behaviors as them, sure, that person would be insane, but somehow they feel that they are not. Sometimes explaining the “addict’s definition” of insanity helps with this: Insanity is doing the same things over and over but expecting different results. In other words, the last hundred times you drank you couldn’t stop drinking and you kept drinking until something bad happened (hangover, wreck, fight, arrest, etc.), but this time you think you’ll have just one or two cocktails and toddle home unscathed. Yes, good luck with that.
Other addicts struggle with the words “power greater than ourselves,” interpreting that language to mean “God” or “organized religion.” This is not what it means. Instead, these words typically refer to a mix of things like 12-step recovery groups, supportive friends and family, therapy, and the like. For some people, religion enters the mix; for others, not so much. In the end, the definition of “power greater than ourselves” depends as much on the addict’s personal belief system as anything else. So this step is less about God/religion/spirituality and more about admitting that help is needed. Step two is a realization and admission by the addict that he or she cannot maintain sobriety on his or her own.
The easiest way to work step two is to actually begin accepting help. Sometimes this process starts with a written job description for the addict’s higher power. What does the addict want from that entity (or entities)? How can the addict learn to trust that higher power? What sort of interactive give and take between the addict and his or her higher power should occur? Some addicts write this as a Help Wanted ad so they know exactly what they are looking for.
Sought: A power greater than myself to help me stay sober. Must be readily available and care about my health and wellbeing. Must understand the nature of my addiction. Must be nonjudgmental about my past. Etc.
Once the addict’s higher power has been hired, the addict can begin the process of accepting help from that power, be it a 12-step fellowship, a sponsor, a therapist, friends in recovery, or whatever. Oftentimes this starts with simple accountability. For instance, the addict agrees to attend a recovery meeting five times per week and check in with his or her sponsor on a daily basis, and the addict agrees to immediately call someone anytime he or she has thoughts of relapse. Usually it takes very little time for addicts to reach the conclusion that, indeed, accepting help from a power greater than themselves is a very good idea, and once they do reach this conclusion, maintaining sobriety becomes much, much easier.