Big Book Recovery

Working the 12 Step Programme

Step Two

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
Reading: Chapter 4

Ask yourself: Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe that there is a Power greater than myself? (p47)

If you have difficulty with the idea of an Higher Power, here are some things that helped us. Ask yourself, as the Big Book tells us, “Am I even willing to believe in a Power greater than me”? Then you can adopt what you think that a Higher Power might be, and make a start. Many people adopt the power of AA – whatever you think might be helping all of us in our AA group now to stay sober.
Something else that is true for some of us is that we had a faith when we came to AA, but struggled to accept that the God we believed in was interested in us and really does, as the Big Book promises, want us to be sober and happy, joyous, and free. What we did was to abandon this old conception of a harsh God and find a new Higher Power that does care for us – again, perhaps you could try the power of AA. It’s helping us!  So, ask yourself, as the Big Book tells us: “Do I believe, or am I even willing to believe that there is a Power greater than myself that can restore me to sanity?” If you can say yes, then you have taken Step Two.

Now That You Have a Higher Power
When we had taken Steps One and Two, we were now in a position to take action. These have been placed after Step Two, for the simple reason that most require a trust in the programme and specifically a Higher Power for you to be able to do them. Step Two is the step in which we formerly acknowledge the Higher Power. The experience outlined in the Big Book makes it clear that it is not enough to believe that there is a Higher Power that can help us. We have to cooperate, to do certain things that will allow a Higher Power to help us follow spiritual principles. What do we do now? The following actions are all consistent with the principles of the Steps and represent the best start we can make. We found that they laid the foundation, but to stay sober and happy we had to build on this foundation by going through the steps.

The Daily Suggestions
First of all, we begin the practice of the Daily Suggestions that come under the headings Trust God {p68}, Clean House {p68, p98}, Help Others {p90} (see next section). We tried to do each one. By doing these Daily Suggestions and there is hope, whatever our situation. Note: some will have had that faith even on coming to AA so will have been able to do these things earlier than this point.

Trust Our Sponsors
As mentioned earlier, we had to find someone who had done the steps and seemed happy in his sobriety who could guide us through the steps. One of our daily suggestions is to find a sponsor, and when we had one, to phone him or her daily (at this early stage of recovery).
There is a good reason for daily calls. Now that we have a Higher Power, we have to learn to trust Him, and as the literature says, "follow the dictates of a Higher Power". Now, the sponsor is not God. But in many situations in our lives, the application of the principles of the programme is not clear or very new to us. The sponsor is the greatest help to us; someone who has direct experience of applying spiritual principles to stay sober. So it will be very difficult for us to trust in the programme and the Higher Power unless we can trust our sponsors first. The daily calls help us to develop that trust through regular contact. We needed someone from whom we wanted to hear the whole truth, even if sometimes it was difficult to accept. By following our sponsor's suggestions, we develop a trust in their source the AA programme and ultimately the Higher Power. There is another reason for us to have regular contact with sponsors: as alcoholics, our abilities to rationalise dishonesty and selfishness seems at times almost unlimited. We are very good at hiding a bad motive behind a good. The sponsor can very helpful in showing us when we are doing this. This is why it is worth being open about what is going on in all areas of our lives, so we can be helped to live according to spiritual principles.

Do The Right Thing (And The Right Thing Happens)
It is vital that we start trying to live our lives in accordance with spiritual principles immediately. "We must find a spiritual basis of life, or else." {p44} Although we are not in a position yet to carry out all of the practices that are introduced in later steps, we do have to start behaving in the right way. If in doubt we can ask ourselves if what we are doing is right, just, good, loving etc.
In the early days of AA they used the four absolutes as guidance in daily living: honesty, unselfishness, love and purity. Dr. Bob, for example, spoke about how he used them (Dr Bob and the Good Oldtimers, {p54}): Almost always I measure my decision carefully by the yardsticks of absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, absolute purity, and absolute love and if it checks up pretty well with those 4 then my answers can't be far out of the way.

The absolutes are still publicised and widely quoted at AA meetings in the Akron-Cleveland area. Some try to use the guidelines given to us by the major religions as indicators of right action (for example, Christians and Jews might use the 10 Commandments). Whatever approach we use, it is going to be difficult to reverse the habits of a lifetime in a moment, but we should try. Spiritual principles are time-honoured principles.
Most of us are unused to this approach and in many of the situations we face, are unsure as to just what is the right thing to do. This is why phoning your sponsor daily is such a helpful thing to do. He has an objective viewpoint as well as more experience of trying to put these principles into practice. We found it most useful on our daily calls to our sponsors (one of the Daily Suggestions) to describe our plans for the day, so inviting our sponsors to comment on the whether or not what we are doing sounds like right action. As we progress through the steps we learn more about ourselves and our true motives; this illuminates more brightly our path ahead. The insight gained in doing the steps is taken into account in a more complete discussion of this topic in the chapter on Step 12 (relevant to practising "these principles in all our affairs").

We find that if we are trying to do the right thing, that is, trying to apply these principles in our daily lives, then "the right thing happens". We develop a sense that we are being looked after. Sometimes events do not go as we would choose, but in hindsight we can always see the reasons for their occurance. This experience leads us to believe that "God wants us to be happy, joyous and free." {p133}.
Before coming to AA, some of us relied upon regular dishonesty in such a way that to stop suddenly would itself incur risk of prosecution or worry for some other reason. For example those who rely on crime in combination with benefits to support a family, would hesitate to stop the crime if their family suffered as a result. Similarly, some have occupied the world of state benefits and black-market, cash-in-hand jobs. Those who have never paid tax might worry that if they suddenly started to declare it there would be questions about what they were doing in previous years. We must stop the dishonest behaviour. We have no option. But in these cases it is wise to seek the advice of someone who is aware of the experience of others who have faced a similar situation, usually our sponsor. No two cases are the exactly the same so it is almost always wise to talk to someone to see how we can best approach the situation. Ultimately, once again, we must strive to eliminate dishonesty, habitual or not and there are often ways to do it wisely. (For example, we often find that the authorities will not prosecute if we demonstrate complete transparency in our financial affairs and they see a genuine desire to right the wrong. We explain past difficulties and our alcoholism.)

Physical Withdrawal From Alcohol
If there is any risk of strong physical effects from withdrawal then we sought medical advice before stopping.

Alcohol In Solid Form
Illegal drugs? We should not be taking any illegal drugs. If we had difficulty stopping taking them, some found Narcotics Anonymous helpful (see later section: Other 12-Step Fellowships.)
Prescribed mood-altering drugs? Drugs that are mood altering (eg "antidepressants") are often prescribed for the symptoms of the alcoholism. This is true even when alcoholism is not named by the doctor as the condition for which he or she is prescribing the drugs; for example, many of us are diagnosed as having a variety different sorts of psychoses and types of depression, which turn out to be the symptoms of alcoholism. (We cannot blame doctors for this for, as it says in the Big Book, we seldom tell doctors the full truth about our condition.) If they are prescribed for the symptoms of alcoholism, then they are to be considered as alcohol in solid form: we must be willing to come off these "chemical mood-changers", which we are taking as a substitute for alcohol and in our experience are likely to lead to drinking in the future. Some people will suffer from mental illness and conditions that have nothing to do with alcoholism. For those of us in that situation it is important that we keep taking drugs as prescribed. The task then is to distinguish between the two; the Steps will replace the drugs treatment in the first case, but not in the second. As AA members, we are not qualified to make such an assessment. So how do we proceed?

Our approach is taken from another AA booklet, Living Sober, which offers practical suggestions based upon the experience of many members. In the section entitled Avoiding All Chemical Mood-Changers the following paragraph appears that seems to summarise the relevant approach: As AA members, not physicians, we are certainly not qualified to recommend any medications. Nor are we qualified to advise anyone not to take a prescribed dosage under proper orders. What we can do responsibly is to offer only our own personal experience. {Living Sober, p53}

So here is what we did. We started doing all the Daily Suggestions. We approached the doctor again and explained that we were alcoholics and were now going to AA, and have made a start on the programme. We ask the doctor: "Would it be alright if I came off the drugs if I go to lots of AA meetings?" It is a good thing to keep a doctor informed of any major changes in our life situation that might affect the treatment. This is what we are seeking to do by approaching the doctor in this way.

Usually the doctor will be pleased and either stop the prescription immediately or start a controlled tapering-off. If so, we could proceed happily through the rest of the steps once the have come off them altogether. If the doctor refuses, saying that the drugs are not for alcoholism, then provided we are willing to come off the drugs should the doctor ever alter his or her opinion, then we make a start on the rest of the programme. Periodically we asked the doctor again if we could stop taking the drugs in the light of recent improvements accepting the doctor's decision each time. It is very important that if the programme is to be a substitute for these drugs then we really must follow all the suggestions of the programme. If we do not then the doctor is making decisions based upon incorrect information and we are taking a grave risk.

Many people who do not have experience of prescribed drugs are reluctant to sponsor those who do not stop taking them reasonably quickly. In the end all any sponsor can offer is his or her experience. For a sponsor/sponsee relationship to work, both parties need to go into it freely and to feel comfortable that it is going to work. No one person is going to be able to help every type of alcoholic and if a potential sponsor feels that something seems far from his or her own experience they might be advised to leave this particular sponsee to others whose experience is better suited to help them.

Counsellors, Psychiatrists
The general approach for the majority of cases is for us to discontinue seeing psychiatrists and counselors if you are seeing them for treatment of the symptoms of alcoholism eg alcoholic depression (remember that the Big Book tells us that alcoholism causes manic depression in some people). There is a reasonable chance even if alcoholism is not discussed specifically that the difficulties being discussed with any counsellor are connected with the disease. Also there are likely to be contradictions between the two courses of treatment. AA is a spiritual solution, not a psychological one. We found that the best approach is to decide to do one type of treatment at a time, and see which one worked. We chose between the two. If we chose to do the AA programme, we stopped seeing the counsellor/psychiatrist until we had done the first nine steps. When we had completed the first nine steps, the alcoholism was dealt with and so anything left must be something other than alcoholism and could be dealt with efficiently by the professional (many discover through this process that in fact all our problems whether linked to alcoholism or not are dealt with by the steps).

There are exceptions, when therapy groups or counselling sessions are a condition of the provision of a home (as often happens with halfway houses), or of a job. These should be maintained until the situation arises where we are actually prevented from doing the programme, or are forced to do something that contradicts the programme. At this point we will have to decide between the two. If the counselling is by order of a court, then we must abide by the court's ruling completely. We are all subject to the law.

In carrying out any of the above, we should always remember that other alcohol services do lots of good for alcoholics; any alcoholic who chooses a form of treatment other than AA may be making the right choice for them, certainly it is not for us to say that anyone is not; even if the alcoholic chooses to drop other forms of treatment and follow the AA programme until they have completed the Ninth Step, it is wrong to say that the other form of treatment has failed: it has performed an invaluable service in helping the alcoholic to understand his alcoholic predicament and so enabling many of us to begin the programme. Always we should be grateful that these other services exist to help us and it is often appropriate for the alcoholic who is choosing to cease treatment to express that gratitude to them directly.

Treatment Centres and Detox
Many of us have found treatment centres are excellent first ports of call for those alcoholics for whom medical supervision during detoxification from alcohol is necessary. The general form is that after undergoing detoxification under medical supervision, the centre counsels the alcoholic through part of a 12-step programme (usually the first five or the first three) before discharging them with a strong recommendation that they attend AA meetings regularly. Many people in the Fellowship were introduced to AA by a treatment centre and so there is great gratitude for that.

Although they often work closely with AA members and can even house AA meetings, the treatment centres themselves are not AA. And most are quite open in making this distinction. For example, AA has no medical expertise and so in this respect they are doing something that AA cannot. There is another distinction to make. Although they use the same 12 steps, their application of them is often not as it is in the Big Book. This should not be a matter of surprise, after all if they offered exactly the same programme as AA, why would they carry on paying a treatment centre for something they could get in AA for free? This difference in the application of the principles of the Steps is neither good nor bad. If an alcoholic can find useful help anywhere then it has to be a good thing, ultimately it is the result that counts, not where you get it.

However, it does mean that we should be aware that there is a distinction in deciding which route to take in treating our disease. If we want to go through the AA programme the sensible thing would appear to be to go to AA, get a sponsor and do the steps. If we want to go through the treatment-centre programme, it makes sense to go to a treatment centre and take direction from their staff. They are two different choices.

Other Addictions, Other Fellowships
Quite a number of us have other problems that qualify us for other 12-step fellowships. We have found that there is no difficulty in going to other fellowships as well as AA. However, it is wise just to have one sponsor. The application of the programme is the same (the only distinctions are in the first and twelfth steps: we ask the HP for help with our particular problem and we have to help others with this particular problem) although, contrary to what you hear many say, they are not treating the same disease. The different fellowships share a common solution, but they are treating different diseases otherwise they wouldn't exist as distinct fellowships.

Often other fellowships are attended for a limited number of meetings and once identification has been gained the main focus usually shifts to one fellowship. Some, however, do share their time between one, two (or even three) fellowships on a permanent basis. It seems to be different for different individuals. Some come in thinking that they have a number of problems and find that they are all part of the same disease. So for example, some of us thought that we were both an alcoholic and a drug addict. We discovered after attending meetings that we took drugs even though alcohol was our drug of first choice. For some of us it was because we could drink more once we had taken drugs, and for others it was because we wanted to change our mood without suffering the physical effects of alcohol. Those of us in this situation found that everything cleared up by going to AA alone.

Troubled Relationships and Marriages
The general principle is outlined in pp98-99 in the Big Book. The following describes how we have tried to put this principle into practice and why.

If we are in a relationship then we should stay together making no decision to change the situation until after the first nine steps have been completed.

If persisted in for a few months, the effect on a man's family is sure to be great. The most incompatible people discover that they have a basis upon which they can meet. {p99}

If in the meantime our partner wishes to leave then we could not oppose it; they had to be free to make that choice and leave. However, if they subsequently wish to return to the home before we have completed the first nine steps, we resisted. Remember that it needs two people to be willing for a relationship to form but only one needs to be unwilling to continue for it to break up.
If there be divorce of separation, there should be no undue haste for the couple to get together. The man should be sure of his recovery. If their old relationship is to be resumed it must be on a better basis, since the former did not work. {p99}

We are considered restored to sanity after Step Nine, so this is a point at which it is assumed that we can resume a relationship, "on a better basis." {p99}

The same principle applies to those who are already when starting the programme divorced or separated. In this case the status quo is maintained until the alcoholic has completed the steps. Then there may be a reconsideration.

For all those of us who are single when we come in, the same principle applies. We can be considered, in effect, separated from any partner. The status quo is maintained and we do not get involved in any relationships until we are capable of pursuing them, "on a better basis." Sometimes you hear it said that one should not get involved in a relationship for a year. This time constraint was applied on the assumption that the steps had been completed before the year was over to ensure that there was a minimum period of stable sobriety as an additional safeguard. It does not replace the condition of having completed the first nine steps. So, even if a year of sobriety has elapsed, if we haven't completed the first nine steps, we are not yet in a position to start a relationship "on a better basis" and so should not do so.

Many of us can see that there is a good chance that someone who drinks heavily is going to have problems with relationships. So, we might think that as soon as we stop drinking we are in a better position to start tackling these areas better. Well, the truth is that we might be. The Big Book does say that some alcoholics are perfectly well balanced apart from their attitude toward drink. So if you're single it really could be that you just haven't met the right person yet. However, bitter experience for many has shown us that if it does go wrong in these areas before we have done the steps, it can go badly wrong. It's not the relationship that is the problem, very often, but our inability to cope with its break-up. If these things go wrong for a non-alcoholic they just feel bad, but if it goes wrong for us before we have done the first nine steps there is every chance that we will drink again as well. When we have done the steps we can handle the disappointments of life far better. In fact we often find that we use such experiences to be helpful to others.

It is our experience that a common reason for people drinking again (possibly the most common) is disregard for suggestions regarding relationships.

Avoid Major Decisions
The principle used in consideration of relationships can be extended to all major decisions. Wherever possible, we avoided making any major decisions until we were through the first nine steps. We are talking about things such as career changes, buying houses, moving, starting to go to church or becoming a member of a religion. The logic is fairly clear. In going through the steps we become very different and most of us feel better people with changed outlooks and changed interests. So it makes sense to avoid getting ourselves doing anything that we might later regret. Sometimes circumstances force us into making decisions earlier than we would like. If that is the case we should do the best we can, seek advice, and trust in God.
There is another reason to be wary. We would rather avoid anything that causes upheaval in our lives at this time when we are vulnerable. It is always preferable, when going through the programme, to have a stable work and home life (though not always possible, of course).

 

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