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Second StepA Measure of Hope
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., February 1970
the First Step is a measure of our despair, the Second is
a measure of our hope. The First Step is the admission and
acceptance of our defeattotal, absolute defeat. With
all our resources, we cant stay sober; with the best
intentions and with the utmost determination, we still find
our lives crashing down around our heads. Indeed, we are
powerless over alcohol, and our lives are unmanageable.
if we are powerless over alcohol, then who or what will
keep us sober? And if we cannot manage our own lives, then
who or what will guide us, help us return to some sort of
answer to both questions, the Second Step says: a power
greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
that single, simple statement, the Second Step lays the
spiritual cornerstone of AA: If we are to recover from the
physical, mental, and spiritual disease called alcoholism,
we must come to believe in and rely on a force outside ourselves.
is not easy for most of us to do, and for many it takes
time. Fortunately, the Step is very careful to use the wording
Came to believe. Some of us come to believe
almost instantly; others take weeks or months; still others
take years. There is no set timetable, and there is no reason
to feel guilt over inability to accept the Second Step immediately,
with all its ramifications. On the other hand, though, if
we do not work toward an acceptance of the Step, if we ignore
it or kick it under the rug and hope it goes away, we cut
the spiritual heart out of the program.
by hook or by crook, we come to believe. But believe in
three things: the existence of a force outside and
greater thanourselves; the fact of our own insanity;
the ability of the greater power to take care of that insanity.
reasons which someday someone may explain far better than
I can, many or even most alcoholics seem to have trouble
with the word insanity, though the track record
of any practicing alcoholic even the part we remembershould
be proof enough that we are at this stage somewhat different
from the normal. To many, the word conjures up visions of
men in white coats, or patients chasing butterflies across
Happydale, or any one of a dozen forms of psychotic behavior.
But a word is only a word, and insanity can
refer to any kind of behavior that is at variance with what
is generally accepted as normal.
obsessive, compulsive behavior in relation to alcohol can
hardly be termed normal. Nor can the things we do while
drinking. Nor can many of the habit patterns, mental processes,
or just plain hangups we have after we stop drinking.
discussion of the Second Step will show that the word insanity
means, to different people, that we were insane while we
drank, or before we started drinking, or at all three stages.
These d i f f e rences of opinion become unimportant in
the light of this statement: If we were insane while we
drank, the craving to return to that life must be equally
insane, and if there was or is some problem that adds fuel
to the craving, then the problem must be eliminated.
the solution offered by that statement is not as easy as
it looks. To put it crudely: A truly sick mind cannot repair
itself; in fact, many times it cant even see whats
human mind has a marvelous ability to protect itself from
outside influences. Although the conscious portion of the
mind may have a sincere desire to find out whats wrong
and to fix it, the subconscious part will block any such
effort by putting up a bewildering variety of misleading
motivations, misinformation, and misdirections. The more
importantthe deeperthe particular hang-up is,
the higher and thicker this wall will be. If the problem
is big enough, the conscious, thinking mind will not even
be aware of its existence, and the mind that does become
aware will still be powerless to do much about it.
knowledge of that helplessness in trying to cope with our
own problems by ourselves is an integral part of the First
and Second Steps. The Second Step states very clearly that
our insanity can be taken care of, our sanity restored,
by a power greater than ourselves. Once we have become aware
of our own irrationality and our inability to cope with
it singlehanded, it then becomes a question of searching
out a solution that is outsideand greater than
would be hard to overemphasize the importance of this search
for an acceptance of a power, a force, an influence that
is outside ourselves. The Step refers to a power greater
than ourselves. Obviously, if we are unable to solve our
problems alone, the power must be greater than we are in
order to bring about anything much worthwhile. However,
babies have to creep before they can walk, and walk before
they can run. It is tough merely to begin to look outside
ourselves for any kind of force or power, let alone a greater
power. In fact, it is hard for some of us to accept the
idea that there is anything outside ourselves.
last statement deserves some explanation. A rational, thinking,
conscious mind has no trouble with the idea that each person,
thing and force has a separate and distinct existence. We
can say (and believe), I am. You are. He is.
the subconscious or unconscious mind often rejects this
idea. It says, I am, but you exist only as I think
about you. Extreme? Hardly. One of the most powerful
tools in AA is the process by which one alcoholic identifies
with another. First, this identification consists merely
of recognizing that there are people who exist independently
of our own minds. Then the process goes further: It identifies
another alcoholic as a similar human being. But the basic
identification is with another human being as a separate
that log jam has been broken up, the rest of the process
is relatively easy. Once we become aware that there are
other people and thingsand forcesoutside ourselves,
it becomes a matter of searching until a power that does
some good is found. Eventually, through any one of a wide
variety of spiritual experiences, the power is recognized
as the basic driving force of the universe.
of the whole concept of acquiring a greater power in one
or two sentences may seem abrupt, but is anything else worth
saying? Those who have had a spiritual experience already
know all about it, while for those who have not yet had
one, an outpouring of words would have no real meaning.
search for a higher power and the nature of that power,
when found, are very personal matters. Many of us have no
trouble in accepting God as our Higher Power; many others
shy away from the word God, but have no trouble
accepting the presence of some sort of universal force;
still others look upon our AA group or all of AA s a power
greater than ourselves.
all these cases, though, we have acquired a belief in some
force that is external, more powerful than we are, and capable
of helping us return to sanity. This implies that the external,
more powerful force is a force for good, an orderly force
capable of making sense out of the chaos of reality, and
bringing order to our own chaotic lives.
final stage of a full acceptance of the Second Step is to
come to believe that this greater powera good and
orderly greater powerwill indeed actually help us.
We have already accepted the idea that this force can do
the job. Now we must become convinced, completely convinced,
that the power will do it.
again, words are hardly an adequate method of trying to
express belief. Those who have thrown themselves on the
mercy of the court, so to speak, know that the higher power
will do exactly as the Step says. But that statement is
no help at all to those who havent.
may help is a very brief description of one members
struggles with the Second Step.
came into AA as an agnosticor, rather, I didnt
believe in anything much, but I wanted to. Although I couldnt
begin to accept the concept of God, I certainly liked the
serenity and obvious peace of mind I saw in those who did
my time in the program grew, this desire grew. Also increasing
day by day was my painpure, unrelieved painnot
physical pain, but a longing inside my brain and my heart
for something above and, most important, beyond me.
group and the whole AA program helped, and as time went
by I began to perceive some sort of order where there had
been only confusion, some sense of guidance where there
had been only a labyrinth of blind alleys.
one day (on the Garden State Parkway, as unlikely as that
sounds) all the pieces fell into place. Whatever barrier
had blinded my vision, preventing me from seeing the true
nature of things, was gone. For the first time in my life,
I became aware of the allpervading presence of an incomprehensibly
too, I became aware that I was only one infinitely smallbut
vitally importantpart of the universe. Infinitely
small because I was one tiny soul on one planet going around
one sun in one galaxy of countless billions, but vitally
important because the entire, immense universe would be
very, very, very slightly different without me, as it would
be different without any of us.
vision, if I may call it that, was momentarily staggering,
but only momentarily. The essential rightness of my vision
sustained me, and still sustains me. If I am a part of the
wholeeven a tiny partI belong here.
if I belong here, all I have to do is find out exactly what
I am supposed to be and do. For me as an alcoholic, part
of this answer is obvious. The universe has the ability
in fact, it makes it a ruleto elimi- nate the bad
and the sick, and since the alcoholic is indeed a sick person,
the uni- verseor societywill eliminate him.
Therefore, to drink is for me to deny my higher power.
that is only part of the problem, although perhaps the most
important part. I personally conceive of the universe as
a very orderly place; to achieve a serene and happy existence,
all that is required of me is to be aware of this order
and fit myself into it. This is a lot easier said than done,
of course. So, in AA, after the Second Step there are ten
more designed to help accomplish this.
once we have accepted, as ineluctable fact, our powerlessness
over alcohol, and once we have come to believe that a greater
power will give us all the help we need, we have made two
giant steps along the road to recovery.
S., Greenwich, CT
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., February 1970
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