Step Two

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


My name is Lawrie, and Iím a compulsive eater, and privileged to be your leader for this Step Study based on the Big Bookís approach to the steps. Weíre on week 4, and the topic is Step Two. Itís turned out to be a long discussion, and I hope youíll bear with me.

In Step One we found complete despair -- powerlessness. We cannot solve the problem of our compulsive eating by ourselves. In Step Two we will find hope -- power. A power greater than ourselves will restore us to sanity. Step One is the problem. Step Two is the solution.

The Big Book discusses Step Two in part of "Billís Story" and in the whole of "We Agnostics".

Most of the discussion of Step Two in the Big Book is aimed at persons who do not believe in a personal god -- agnostics (who have come to the conclusion that they will never know whether there is a God or not) or atheists (who believe there is no God). Therefore most of todayís share will concentrate on reasons why a person who does not believe in God would want to find a Higher Power through the Twelve Steps.

Why, then, would a person who believes in God be interested in todayís share? There are two reasons. The first is that that person will someday in sponsoring meet someone like me, and he or she should know the arguments to help someone like me. The second is that there is an extremely important page of the Big Book which the person who believes in God but who is still suffering from compulsive eating ought to understand -- if he or she is to recover!

In the following discussion, I take for granted that we have accepted our powerlessness over food -- that Step One for us is a reality. (Note that we donít "take" Step One. There is no concept in the Big Book that we "take" it or "do" it. It is rather that we ACKNOWLEDGE our powerlessness. We ACCEPT our powerlessness.)

We understand the "double whammy" of not being able to stop when we start (the physical allergy), and of not being able to stop from starting again (the mental obsession), and realize that there is no hope for us on our own. Because we have this mental obsession, we are insane. We need to have constant sanity to be able to say, "I donít want to eat foods or indulge in eating behaviors that cause me uncontrollable cravings."

Those who have read "Billís Story" will recall that in his worst moment of despair -- after Dr. Silkworth tells him about the double whammy and he experiences the truth of it -- he was visited by his friend Ebby who was sober; and that when Bill asked him how he had become sober, Ebby told him that he had found religion. This hit Bill hard. He was an agnostic. He could not believe in the God of religion, something he had rejected for many years.

What was Bill to do? He saw in his friend a real miracle:

"Like myself, he had admitted complete defeat. Then he had, in effect, been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known! Had this power originated in him? Obviously it had not. There had been no more power in him than there was in me at the minute; and this was none at all. Never mind the musty past; here sat a miracle directly across the kitchen table. He shouted great tidings." (pages 11 and 12)

Here is the point at which we see the value that all of our past experience is able to bring to the compulsive eater who still suffers. If it is clear that we used to be like the person who still suffers, but are now different as a result of the Twelve Steps, then we fill the prospect with both despair (s/he canít do it on his/her own) and hope (it can be done!).

But how could Bill have that miracle if he did not believe in God?

Ebby then gave Bill, and AA, and OA and all other Twelve Step programs, a great gift. Although he was part of an evangelical Christian movement (the Oxford Groups), he didnít try to persuade Bill to believe in any kind of God. He said, "Why donít you choose your own conception of God?" (page 12)

That was enough for Bill to work on. "It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning."

This theme is built on in the chapter "We Agnostics". It is designed to give the still-suffering alcoholic reasons to be willing. It is NOT designed to prove the existence of God.

The chapter is divided into three major sections. The first, from page 44 to page 48, pose the essential dilemma facing a person who does not believe in God. The second, from page 48 to page 54, presents three powerful arguments on why one should be willing to find a Higher Power. The third, from page 54 to page 55, gives the reality of fundamental belief and is the section of extreme importance to the believer as well as to the non-believer. (There is also a fourth anecdotal section from page 55 to page 57 providing experiential testimony.) Iíll summarize each section.

Pages 44 - 48: Because we cannot recover on our own, we are doomed unless we find a Power greater than ourselves. This book is all about finding that Higher Power. But thatís a real problem for people who donít believe in God. About half of us were like that. Donít be prejudiced by the words we use in this book to describe a Higher Power. Itís your own conception thatís important. And donít worry. You donít HAVE to believe in a Higher Power in order to work the Steps. You only have to be WILLING to believe.

Pages 48 - 54. Here are the three reasons you should be willing to try what this book offers.

First reason (pages 48 to the top of 51): Scientifically speaking, a theory thatís grounded in fact -- that works -- is worth trying out. All of us believe in theories about electricity even though weíve never seen the atoms upon which that theory is based; but the theories work for us, and therefore we believe them. Our theory is that a Higher Power can restore us to sanity. Clearly that theory works. Therefore you should try it!

Second reason (pages 51 to the bottom of 53): No real progress is ever made in this world unless we challenge established ideas that donít work and become willing to try new ideas that might work. Until someone was willing to try out the idea that the earth was round or that the earth circled the sun, little progress was made in navigation; until someone was willing to try out the idea that a heavier-than-air flying machine could be built, it was not built. Your idea that you can deal with your own addiction doesnít work. Our idea that we need a Higher Power does work. Therefore you should try it!

Third reason (pages 53 to the bottom of 54): Regardless of your protestations, you DO believe in things that are in fact more powerful than you are. You believe in your own reasoning. You actually worship things -- like love or money -- that you canít justify using logic. As a matter of fact, the things you do worship are what give you the essence of your life. "It was impossible to say we had no capacity for faith, or love, or worship. In one form or another we had been living by faith and little else." (page 54)

Pages 54 - 55: Faith is part of our makeup, and in that is the fundamental idea of God.

"Actually we were fooling ourselves, for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It was so with us." (page 55) So ultimately we will find a Higher Power "deep down within us".

But -- and this is what is so important EVEN for the person who believes in God -- that Higher Power is "obscured [blocked] by calamity [bad things happening to us], by pomp [sense of self-importance], by worship of other things".

Here is the essence of what the Twelve Steps do for us! The Steps REMOVE the things that BLOCK us from the Higher Power deep down within us! As soon as the block is removed, we have contact with that Higher Power. And as soon as we have contact with that Higher Power, we become sane. And becoming sane means that we no longer want to return to the foods and eating behaviors that create uncontrollable cravings.

So whether we believe in God or donít believe in God, if we are not sane when it comes to food, it is clear that we have blocked off our route to sanity. The only solution we know is to get rid of the blocks. To do that we work the Twelve Steps.

The question to ask, therefore, of people who donít believe in God is what concepts or ideas or feelings they DO believe in that are more important than they are -- what gives them any meaning at all in their lives?

Any person desperate enough to come to OA and who is relatively honest will be able to answer that question at least in part. That person will usually come up with LOVE at the very least -- "Who of us had not loved something or somebody?" (page 54) They may come up with high ideals, as I did when asked that question, like Truth, or Justice, or Beauty. Or they may come up with Doing Good, Being Useful; or Not Doing Harm, Being Part of the World; or simply Intuitively Doing the Right Thing, Being Serene. Which of us canít come up with a list of one or two or three things that motivate us, things that we may have trouble attaining, but that we wish we could attain?

If we use the Big Bookís image of blocking the Higher Power which is "deep down within us", we can see that our fundamental idea of a Higher Power is really the concepts or the ideals which give us whatever motivation in life we have. Some people, religious people, call that God, and give it a personality and various attributes. Some people donít. It really makes no difference.

It is something, however, which gives us direction. A personal God gives us direction by telling us what to do. A conceptual Higher Power gives us direction by being a beacon, a North Pole, a compass point -- a place to go towards. (My own image is that, of the 360 degrees on the compass, there is the one degree path of Truth, Love, Justice, and Beauty, and 359 degrees of Lawrieís way, none of which have ever worked!)

The question to ask of those who do believe in God is, "Do you accept that something is blocking you off from your God?" Most people asked that question will answer Yes. They will talk about their religious schooling or upbringing that caused them not to love their God but to fear Him. They will talk about the scars of their lives and think that their God has punished them. Or they will simply acknowledge that their religious activity has become mechanically and not meaningful to them. They will intuitively understand the notion of being blocked from God. For them there is also the solace of being able to choose the "best part" of their God -- by focusing on the love and the understanding and the compassion that is at the very least PART of their religious upbringing.

What the Big Book actually promises is that when we work the Twelve Steps, we will remove the blocks that keep us from our Higher Power, however we have conceived It, and that Higher Power will enter into our lives and give us sanity. Step Two only requires that we be willing to try to find our Higher Power. Thatís all. Our willingness is enough to start the process of working the Twelve Steps. When we work the Twelve Steps, we find that automatically (guaranteed by end of Step Nine!) we become sane in relation to food, without any effort on our part in dealing with food (see the Hidden Promises at the bottom of page 84 and top of page 85)!

For agnostics and atheists, I can only say this as personal testimony. I began this program almost twenty years ago as an agnostic. I am still an agnostic. But I have recovered in this program, a day at a time: I am sane about foods and eating behaviors that cause me uncontrollable craving. Therefore I have achieved a spiritual awakening as promised by the Steps, and I will continue to have that spiritual awakening so long as I continue to work the Steps and maintain a fit spiritual condition. So to all of you who are atheists and agnostics, donít despair at all!

And for believers, my experience with countless other believers in OA is that the Steps remove the blockage between them and their God, and those believers end up affirming their faith in deep and ultimately mystical ways.

So, some questions:

  • Do you accept that on your own you are powerless over those foods and eating behaviors that cause you uncontrollable cravings?

  • Is what youíre doing about your powerlessness working?

  • Do you accept that there are those people who have been as powerless as you who are full of a power that has overcome their powerlessness?

  • Are you willing to do what those people say gave them power?

  • If you donít believe in God, is there anything you believe in that is more important than you are? If so, what? Call that God.

  • If you believe in God, do you feel cut off --blocked -- from God?

  • Are you ready to go forward?

Next weekís posting will be on Step 3, found in "How It Works" from page 58 to 63. We will find that it contains extremely important information, but that it is a relatively simple step. It is the first step in which we actually DO something, but what we do is not that complicated or time-consuming.

There appears to be an interpretation of OAís Twelve and Twelve which gives the impression that Step 3 is a step we canít take until weíre really really really ready, and that if we donít suddenly find ourselves actually turning our will and our life over to the care of our god, we havenít completed Step 3. From a Big Book point of view, that doesnít appear to be the case.

All my best,


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