Second Step

The Higher Power as the “Spirit” of Transformation

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

That power for me is the power of transformation arrived at through service, self-reflection (4th and 10th steps), shared recovery stories in the rooms, silence, human connections, trust, surrender, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, community, listening, surrender, and humility.

Silence can take the form of meditation, or for traditional believers, it can be whatever kind of prayer works. My form of prayer is the Tibetan Buddhist practice of “tonglen,” which is a breathing exercise of breathing in somebody else’s pain or suffering (even my own) and breathing out relief and kindness. It is an altruistic, humanitarian, compassionate extension of love.

When I’m at a meeting where the Christian “Our Father” is recited, I stand silently to absorb the mantra-like connection I internalize from the group in that prayer. I find it very nurturing.

And I say the “Serenity Prayer” to remind me to balance my behavior between doing the right thing and acceptance when I can’t change the inevitable, an outcome, or somebody’s behavior ( I”m right now in the middle of trying to accept somebody’s need to proselytize and control in a group I’m in)

That acceptance is also a form of surrender. But I have to know that surrendering to dysfunctionalism, tragedy, or the inevitable doesn’t mean I get off the hook. I have to also surrender to the pain that comes from that surrender.

Surrender can also mean I can’t always control some of my faults and inadequacies. Sometimes I need guidance from others and/or a counselor. And I also need patience in accepting the process of an active Step Program and sponsorship to do their “Refiner’s-Fire” work on those faults.

That power greater than myself I often refer to as the “Spirit” of transformation. In my experience it is expansive, loving, engaging, and inclusive.

The Higher Power is not Theology But Resisted by the “Calamities”

In addition, that power, for me, is not theology. It is not an anthropomorphic deity. It is not based on a co-dependent relationship with a supernatural, but arbitrary gift-giver.

And that power, IMO, is devoid of any heresy that dooms me to be ostracized, condemned, or karmically punished.

That power’s absence can be felt when I replace it with what I call the “calamities”: isolation, rage, paranoia, envy, victimization, excessive judgment and criticism, envy, craving of all kinds, control, addictive behavior, any form of exhibitionism, co-dependency, pride, self-driven fear, self-pity, self-will, lack of trust, or repeated psychological pain I choose to sink into (chronic depression, however, is not something I choose and needs to be treated by a professional).

I know when that power of transformation and expansiveness is gone or has been abandoned because of the self-driven “calamities” I choose to descend into. Those calamities drive out any possibility of growth.

Ego-less Transformation and the Need for Withdrawal

I also have to remember that healthy transformation is sometimes mistaken for my own high-energy driven changes or my own brand of changes I try to inflict on the world in order to exhibit how much I’ve been transformed. That is an ego-driven process of manufactured changes as opposed to those gradual changes that arrive in their own time, without hysteria and without my trying to “make” them happen.

When I choose to repeat my pain, to isolate myself, to live in a state of psychological stasis (the opposite of expansiveness), I negate myself and give up any movement forward in spite of all the healthy exits and alternative entrances in front of me.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t need to withdraw from the frey, occasionally, and engage in alternative forms of catharsis (self-reflective writing, a short trip to feed my soul, visit a museum, see a film on the big screen, watch a movie at home, start reading a new book, write a poem).

Serenity and Sanity Without Dogmas or Mandates; Recovery as a Loose Garment

Sometimes, that transformative state of mind arrives without my knowing why. And when I do know why, trying to repeat or act out what I think is the cause doesn’t often work the second time around. I have to allow those changes their own time frame.

I also believe that psychological transformation can’t occur without serenity (calmness, contentment) which, IMO, is not emotional neutrality or indifference or condescending smugness but a loving, gentle, and expansive connection to others.

Part of that transformative process will help me understand more deeply why Tradition 3 is so radical that the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking.

That means there are no AA dogmas I have to believe in; there are no do-or-die mandated ways to do the program; there are no specific stages I have to be at any given time on my journey; and once all the steps are gone through the first time (superficially, for sure), I have the luxury to return to the steps, non-sequentially if I chose to. (In all the years I have been in the program, I am not even convinced that the steps have to be first done in order, other than avoiding 2 stepping my recovery by accepting my alcoholism and my unmanageability and then jumping to 12th step sponsorship.)

After an intense early immersion in the steps, I later have the luxury to focus on specific steps, hit Big-Book or other niched content tables like Emotional Sobriety. Or I can even mix it up with Beginner’s Tables.

So, about this power-greater-than-myself, it is essentially transformative in nature and a direct result of doing the steps, resulting in all kinds of spiritual and psychological benefits and changes.

There are many who adhere to Bill Wilson’s heavy focus on a 1930s American orthodox Christian God (as “creator,” as “grace” giver, as “miracle worker,” as the total source of all the transformations we experience in the program). That was the only God he knew.

And that was the God of my childhood and adolescence.

Today, as an adult on a spiritual journey, I interpret God as a metaphor for transformation, not just “Good Orderly Direction” but a radical metamorphosis from deadness of the soul to a heightened internalization of a psychological aliveness, on so many levels.

And those transformations, in my judgment, allow us to avoid any dogmatic rigidity in our program and to wear it, in the end, as a loose garment. And that, my friends, is sanity of the highest order


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