What I Am Not


By Joe C.

My name is Joe and I am an alcoholic and a proud member of AA. Step Two is stated, restated and defined several different ways:

  • Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity (Big Book)
  • Came to believe that a power other than self could restore us to wholeness
  • Came to believe and to accept that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity (Secular Twelve Steps)
  • I have found a power that is greater than I am which can restore my sense of peace (Teen Addiction Anonymous – 2008)

There are more. Search the net and help yourself, or write your own. It’s all the same to me. There are different ways to interpret AA’s Step Two. Some freethinkers resist the idea that power is external or supernatural; some resist the idea of powerlessness or the label or the amateur diagnosis of insanity or unmanageably in Step One.

I have heard that as an alcoholic, I walk in the shadows of my twin towers of inferiority complex and ego-mania, or stated another way, fear and grandiosity. I have heard the Steps broken down into triads of four steps, the first four Steps are to discover who I am, the second are to accept who I am and the third are to act like I am. That resonates with me. So self discovery has four stages. What I am was discovered in the simplest of ways in Step One when I discovered and admitted I am an alcoholic. What I am not is the theme of Step Two for me: I am not omnipotent, I am not all-powerful and I can’t control everything, everyone or every situation. Maybe I will even be happier if I let go of my desire to control and my need to not be controlled.

Thank Dog I wasn’t asked to write the Big Book. It still wouldn’t be written yet because I tend to take forever to find the right words. I don’t think I “come to believe.”I think the beliefs I have are unexplainable and inherent, just like a favorite colour. You could explain the merits of your favorite colour and I might agree with you but I don’t think I would change my belief about what my favorite colour is. I treat people who have an absolute belief in god as someone with a different favorite colour than me. To steal from the first one hundred alkies, “They are not at fault. They seem to have been born that way; they are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of” believing that is in line with mine, just as I am naturally incapable of feeling or experiencing faith in the way they do, because I don’t believe there is a god.

I can learn from their experiences and they can learn from mine. But neither of us has a legitimate chance of changing the other’s belief. I can come to understand but I don’t see how I could come to believe. If they meant “come to understand” when they wrote “came to believe” then I am just wrestling with semantics. I won’t presume to know what these dead people meant so I am left to take what they said and see what is true for me. Really, it comes down to how I describe this process because I believe we all have to make it our own to make it infallible. And maybe it is fallible because no matter how sober I am today, relapse could happen tomorrow. This may be true. I am incomplete and I always will be.

I had the great pleasure to talk to someone I will call “Marya” about a book she wrote that I will call, “Waiting: A Nonbelievers Higher Power.” She sees waiting, or praying to nothing if you will, as a spiritual experience. In waiting I understand that I am without all knowledge. I am incomplete and in coming to terms with this truth, I am humbled.

She said this to me: “I think humans are wonderful creatures but we certainly don’t know much. I think that accepting, and not knowing is a spiritual practice. What our minds would like to do is give us the notion that we know everything, we are in control of everything that we can will our way through life and that has certainly not been my experience. My experience has been that if I wait, sometimes the answers come and sometimes they don’t but the exercise of waiting teaches me patience, humility. In my waiting I grow more willing to see where life is going to go, where spirituality grows where connections get made, to see how the world connects or disconnects – that’s what it means to me.”

She also speaks to the idea that striving for wholeness is futile. “What does wholeness mean to you? Do you need to feel attached, complete, saved, well, and perfect? I don’t need to feel that way. I know many people in recovery who accept their incompleteness and the completeness that we do find, or to the extent to which we can find it comes from a spiritual life.”

So if my first four Steps are processes that bring awareness, how do I know I have done Step Two? Well to use the twin towers that leave me in the shadows analogy, they should both be three-story walk-ups by now that let more light through in the course of the day.

In Step One, my tower of fear or inferiority should be smaller; My addiction to alcohol isn’t my fault and it isn’t a moral failing. I have a disease. To put it another way, I used alcohol as a medicine to cure that fear or inferiority complex and I got addicted – that’s not my fault. I need not feel inferior or fearful to the same extent.

In Step Two, I need not be grandiose or egotistical. I don’t have to know all or be all-powerful. I can be incomplete and I can find power or resources beyond my wit and integrity. The journey of understanding is mind expanding. A binary mind only allows me to see good or evil, if it’s not one, it’s clearly the other. If I am inferior than the answer to that is overcompensation. “Either god is everything or he is nothing; what shall it be?” That is binary thinking. Choose sobriety or choose death or institutionalization; that’s binary thinking. Black and white thinking is elementary and maybe sometimes there is a place for it. I expect some of us are hardwired to see life in right and wrong ways. In this state we can still choose healthy over unhealthy, giving over taking etc.

I think pluralistic thinking is healthier for me. Not only are there 360 degrees of possibilities; two realities can coexist, as well. You can be right and I don’t have to be wrong. At the Step Two stage of my recovery, I am seeing that there are more possibilities and that many of them are beyond my view or understanding. It is healthy to accept my limits; I can come to understand that so long as I don’t pretend to know it all, I can learn and do more, including the improbable and maybe the impossible. At Step Two I don’t know I can stay sober. I don’t know how to do that, but I accept that there are answers and if I seek them I need not be afraid of what I will find. In a world of less blame and less self-reliance, I find more sunshine getting through.

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