Every 12-step / 12-tradition fellowship has slogans to help addicts; all of whom struggle with forgetfulness. Nearly all of us forgot we were addicts, and the results were almost always disastrous — if not for us – for the ones we loved. One of the first slogans people coming to meetings are introduced to is the “HOW” of recovery. Recovery requires “Honesty, Openness, and Willingness.” Honesty corresponds to the 1st step; openness to step 2, and willingness to step 3.

We admitted we were powerless, and our lives had become unmanageable.
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

While it seems straightforward, the first step requires a level of honesty with which most addicts struggle. There are two things to admit:

I can’t stop, and

My addiction has beaten me and will continue to do so.

Most users can acknowledge one of those two statements. The trouble is that while we admit our powerlessness one day, and then, the next, admit our unmanageability. Acknowledging them both at the same time feels impossible. It requires reaching the end of ourselves to accept that both are true. And only after we have done that can we resume our climb the stairs.

Unlike a normal staircase, recovery steps are too high and wide to take two or three at a time. You can’t skip recovery steps. Lots of people come to recovery rooms knowing either that their life is unmanageable or that they are powerless. Then they leave because they can’t take that first step. They are not that broken. Once you take the first step, however, if you don’t take a second you become a nihilist.

The second step is about openness — being open to something outside of ourselves that can set us free.

symington book coverNeville Symington wrote a book he titled, Narcissism. The book shook the foundations of the psychoanalytic community. For Symington argued that narcissism is at the root of all pathology. That is a big statement and creates a huge paradigm shift. Symington believes that narcissism develops in infants when their needs are not met. So they turn away from something Symington labels  the “Lifeforce,” and choose to rely on themselves to find relief.

Adapting his construct is helpful. It explains how choosing to turn inward and isolate leads to pathological behaviors. The choice certainly leads to addiction and death. The second step responds to our narcissism. It asks us to repent, turning back to the lifeforce, and in so doing, overcome our pathologies.

The second step is addressed in many ways in 12-step rooms. Invariably, if you stick around long enough, you will hear, “First, we came… Then we came to…. Then we came to believe.” Most addicts who grew up in the church think this is going to be the easiest step. It isn’t. On the contrary, my reformed, evangelical, fundamentally-sound, biblically-based God; created by some of history’s greatest theologians could not help me get sober. Though I tried for over a year. I drove my sponsor and friends nuts. Finally, after learning how to work the second step on paper, I disregarded my impeccably crafted, reasonable, all-powerful God who I was unable to

Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson

trust, and I got sober. I’m in good company, for I’m not the only one that gets stuck on this step. Bill Wilson addressed us in the Twelve and Twelve on pages 29-33. It is worth reading. (The link takes you directly to the short chapter on the 2nd step, and you can read for yourself what he had to say.) The second step was the hardest step for me to take. Probably, because I thought it would be the easiest. I wasn’t as “open,” as I assumed I was. It took me a long time to realize that fact.

The third step in this recovery three-step dance is, “Willingness.” If you make it this far, someone will ask you, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get clean and sober?” and, you’ll have to decide; for step 3 says, “We made a decision…” It doesn’t say that we “Turn our will and our lives over.” Rather, it means that we make a decision to do so. If the step said, “turned our will and our lives over,” it would become something we do once. It isn’t. Instead, we make a decision, “to continually turn our will and our lives over.” When we realize this simple truth, we start to understand why another slogan, “One day at a time,” is so important. For, it is too much to say that I will turn my will and my life over tomorrow or the next day. I can’t be sure I will want or be able to. I can only say that I’m making a decision to do so today. And, frankly, if you are like me, you have to make that decision much more than once each day. However, when I commit to doing so daily, my friends remind me of my decision, and I get to live.

It is important for those of us raised in the church to notice that the third step also has two-parts. When I grew up, right before the altar call, preachers used to beseech us to turn our lives over to Christ. Because we’ve heard about, “surrendering our lives,” so often, it almost became part of our DNA. Turning our wills over to God, however, wasn’t anything I heard in church. I’m glad because I don’t like doing it. Turning my will over became my sticking point. To be willing to do so required me going back to my second step again and again, until God became trustworthy.

I couldn’t do it alone. We are not supposed to. All these steps are “we,” steps. My sponsor used to say to me, “Remember, we don’t have to do any of this alone.” My addiction made me isolate. It was created and flowed out of shame, and shame is the destroyer of relationships. Shame pushes us further from others and deeper into isolation. We find recovery to rediscover relationships. We go to recover our relationships. And, as we do, we live into our Imago Dei. When all is said and done, we go to 12-step rooms to recover the Imago Dei.

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