A power greater than ourselves
By Mykel P.
The second step of AA reads as follows: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”.
Perhaps a sensible approach would be to break down the statement into its component molecules and to define key words in the understanding that this step is meant to guide the suffering alcoholic to a path that leads inexorably toward recovering from a hopeless state of mind and body brought on by chronic alcoholism.
The first few words of this statement, “came to believe”, implies to me that this is not an event but rather a journey, a part of a process. It does not state that one must immediately have an epiphany that provides an instantaneous and miraculous “conversion” but rather involves a gradual expedition, an evolution of one’s core belief system which enables alcoholics to solve their drink problem, and to transform their lives for the better.
Secondly, the necessity of “a power greater than ourselves” is of great importance, something which many an alcoholic of the hopeless variety (such as myself) will understand all too well.
Over the years I have heard many times that “will power” is inadequate to provide the necessary leverage for the cessation of the uncontrollable consumption of alcohol. A personal favorite that I have heard and even utilize in my own repartees is the use of will power in the midst of an uncontrollable fit of diarrhea.
The concept of “a power greater than ourselves” is often understood as a supernatural, hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional being often referred to as some sort of a god. In our 21st century western culture this implies the existence of the trinity of YHWH (Yahweh), Yesu han-nostri (Jesus the Nazarene) and the Holy Spirit/Ghost as being a single entity. How this is not polytheism, especially coupled with all the angels and saints, confounds me. But people are entitled to their beliefs and I would even encourage this if it assists the individual in recovering from the hopeless state of mind and body that is alcoholism as long as they are peaceful about it and do not condemn every other faith – or lack of faith – to an eternity of torturous existence in hell. In fact, there are times when I envy people of faith such as my father, but it would seem that such blind faith is something I am incapable of.
As Richard Dawkins quite poignantly put it in the opening remark of chapter 2 in his book The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction; jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Professor Dawkins actually intended to open this chapter with a bit of wit and humor, but the multitudes of believers in the mythology contained in the Old Testament did not find this statement very humorous at all. That being said, I have studied the mythological literature of the Arabian Peninsula region of the early centuries of antiquity in depth for roundabout a decade, and after close study of the literature known in our modern society as the “Old Testament”, I find Professor Dawkins to be completely correct in his analysis.
That being said, the Jesus figure, whether he actually existed or not (there is compelling evidence on both sides of the debate), miracles aside (such as a virgin birth), was given credit for important comments concerning morality and how we should live our lives and treat our fellow homo-sapiens. The relationship I have developed with this historical Jesus figure and his moral teachings (which closely resemble the moral teachings of the Buddha) have had a great impact on my life.
Obviously, when it comes to the god of the Bible (YHWH) I am not only an outspoken atheist, but I am proud to be one. As many atheists, when I came out of the closet it did irreparable damage between me and many of my family members as well as with my other relationships, both personal and professionally.
As a person with an inquisitive mind who subscribes to the steadfast truths birthed out of the scientific method, I cannot possibly be one hundred percent atheist; I mean who really knows for certain? I believe that it is highly improbable that there is a creator god, especially one who bothers to interact with our tiny little species (likely soon to be extinct) on a miniscule piece of rock hurling through the vastness of our galaxy which itself compared to the vastness of the entire cosmos, is but a single drop of water in comparison with the oceans on this planet.
And to anthropomorphize this god as a “He” is inexcusably egocentric and misogynistic. The entire concept of a being who created the universe leaves me astonished. Not only do people believe they know the one true path, but they have historically murdered one another over such differences in this belief on a scale that would make Hitler envious. Stalin said that the death of a man is a tragedy, but the death of a million is merely a statistic. So the “statistics” of those murdered in the name of religions of all types throughout history is prodigiously in the starring role of such sadness.
I have gone into some detail as to why I do not subscribe to the god YHWH any more than I do unicorns, fairies or leprechauns in an enchanted forest. But I do respect that if belief in such notions as supernatural beings helps a person toward a better path, then I am all for it regardless of which god(s) they choose to pledge allegiance to and blindly worship.
My higher power is the literature (a lot, but not all) in AA; the program that has developed as a result of the pioneers that assisted in the creation of this solution for alcoholism, a program which has helped millions; and especially the people, those that would not ordinarily mix, who come together usually in love and solidarity that we may solve our common problem.
Finally, as for the last part of the step, the “restoration to sanity”, I haven’t the slightest clue what sanity means exactly. A simple definition comes from Merriam-Webster which I can relate to:
Sanity (from Latin: sānitās): the condition of having a healthy mind: the condition of being sane: the condition of being based on reason or good judgment.
Although my “reason or good judgment” is not on par with the most responsible and together persons I have ever met in my life, my parents, I can relate to it this way and especially in the exemplary example they set for me.
I have been down the path of many alcoholics of the hopeless variety, living on the streets, sleeping in homeless shelters when I was lucky enough to get a bed, standing in lines at soup kitchens to get a meal, plenty of time in jails and prisons, and drinking/drugging myself nearly to death. Worse yet, a severely underweight and malnourished shell of a sick person, when I would get my hands on a few dollars it went to buy alcohol or drugs rather than a hot meal.
That is total and complete insanity.
Right now as I type this essay, I do not have a swanky nice home, but a decent 5th wheel trailer in a quiet neighborhood (a far cry better than a park bench). All my bills for the month are paid; I have enough food to get me through the month and can even afford food for my dog and enough gas to get me through the next few weeks (I hope). And even though this month’s bills have cost me nearly every penny I have, I am learning to do something I have not ever been able to do in my entire life’s history while staring at the bottom of a bottle – and that is to live on a budget and within my means.
There is still, I believe, quite a bit of effort and guidance for me to follow in order to improve my situation further – so I do not know if I am becoming sane but even though I cannot afford to go out to a movie or a steak dinner, I have a bed to sleep in, a pot to piss in with a shower right next to it, a small living room with a TV (no cable or even local channels), and a couple of computers with high speed internet where I get my entertainment, a small kitchen with a fridge and freezer with a little food in it, and even a telephone.
And without what I refer to as my “higher power”, none of this would be possible. It has been work on my part, but mostly a gift given to me by the grace of the love of the support groups I have, people of differing belief systems, blue and white collar workers – without a doubt groups of rouges who most definitely would not mix in their old lives but it is through the love and solidarity of these beautiful motley groups of wonderful people who come together that I have been given the gifts I so enjoy at this stage in my life. And even the times, the many times I have relapsed in the past three decades, I keep coming back to open arms.
Those people have helped me to rid myself of shame and, as time goes by, when I stand in front of a mirror I find myself slowly becoming less disgusted with the person I see staring back at me. Perhaps I remain ninety percent disgusted with the image staring back, but the eradication of the ten percent is a testament to the remarkable power of love and kindness that can often be found in those circles of hope that draws me as a moth to a flame, not to burn in the fiery pit of alcoholism, but so that I may have a chance to live, to become a better person and to loathe myself a little less at periodic intervals.
In closing, I can honestly state that “I have come to believe in a power greater than myself that can restore me to sanity”. Even though I am still not certain what sanity is, it is this power that is greater than myself that leaves me with a passionately grateful sense of appreciation that I am not living the life I experienced in the past and I can be hopeful that I will never have to return to the demoralizing existence and the self-loathing person I was in the past. To sum up, most simply put: the higher power for me is the program and the groups as well as the service work I am able to take part in from time to time in the facet of 12 step calls, chairing meetings, giving other alcoholics a lift to a meeting or sharing in our fellowship afterward.
Mykel is an alcoholic who has had the compulsion to consume alcohol virtually taken from him. There were many years of relapse back and forth, treatment centers galore, prison, and he has even died, and been resuscitated, in hospitals. There was one occasion when he was in a coma and his fundamentalist young earth creationist family members (three of whom are Pastors) were told to make funeral arrangements.
Mykel could not fake his way into believing in any sort of anthropomorphic type of a god pulling our human strings, and that belief drove him away from AA many times. As an atheist through and through, the secular 12 steps he discovered on AA Agnostica assisted him greatly in finding a way to navigate the program simply by a change of semantics, and that is now working for him wonderfully. His past professional life included doing television production work and he was also a skydiving instructor for many years; he has over 4,000 skydives. Even though he has retired from that vocation, Mykel hopes sobriety will ultimately get him back into the air for some fun one day. At a time.