Short form of Step 2: Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
“Came to believe”, ”a Power greater than our selves”, “sanity”, each of the words and phrases evoke an almost magical and mystical awe. Questions like “How does one come to believe”, “who or what is this power,” and “so, I’m insane?” all leap immediately to mind. But in this first part of the re-imagining of Step 2 I want to begin with what might seem to be the most innocent words in this step: “could restore us.”
Two Conceptions of “could restore us”
There are, in general, two ways to understand “could restore us”. To understand the difference it is useful to take as a starting point the relatively innocuous sentence “X could take me to Dallas.” The first way of understanding this sentence can be termed the agent model. In this interpretation the sentence is understood to say that I could be transported to Dallas by some outside agency “X”. That is, by the agent model, the sentence “X could take me to Dallas” means that there is some person (or other agency) ”X” who could drive me to Dallas.
The second understanding, which we will term the directive model, takes the sentence “X could take me to Dallas” to mean that there is a path, scheme or course of conduct that will take me to Dallas. The obvious example is a map, or travel plan. Thus, our innocuous sentence translates as, “If I take this route (or highway) it’ll take me to Dallas.” Here, there is no outside agency, there is merely a proscribed course of conduct that lead to the desired result.
The Agent Model and it’s Deficiencies
As should be evident from the above, the key feature of the agent model is a subject/object relationship. In the sentence “X could take me to Dallas”, “X” is that a subject or actor or agency acts upon me, the object. I am literally taken to Dallas by something else. Thus, in the Second Step, following this model, when we say “a Power could restore us to…” we are conceiving of ourselves as an object that is acted upon by the outside agency (the “Power”). We are thus in the role of that which is restored and the Power is in the role of the restorer (that is, the agent).
When I assert that this model has deficiencies I do not mean to imply that it may not work for some people. There are many people in recovery that approach the second step from this orientation and are able to achieve sobriety. To them I say congratulations. However, the major deficiency of this model is the cost it extorts.
Accepting this model is to see oneself as merely an object. Our salvation or restoration is something imposed on us from outside, and is completely outside of our own agency. For many in recovery this is seen as a great plus. They describe it as the height of humility. The idea is that being truly humble is to accept that we are powerless, and can not save ourselves. Thus, any success we appear to have is not ours to claim. Instead, all glory goes to the one who restored us, and we, in total humility, accept none.
Unfortunately, and what is rarely admitted is that, if this is so, the converse is also true. That is, sense a Power outside of ourselves is responsible for our restoration, the failure of our restoration must also lie with that power. Remember, we are not an agent in this model, we are merely acted upon. Thus, the failure for us to be acted upon is not our responsibility, but is the responsibility of the agent (Power).
Often, people in recovery will attempt to avoid this corollary truth by claiming that the agent (Power) will only act upon us if we take certain steps. Further, many claim that if we take those steps the agent (Power) will necessarily act upon us and restore us. This, unfortunately contradicts the original formulation that we are powerless and that our restoration lies outside of ourselves (since it is we who decide if and to some extent when the agent acts).
The Directive Model and the Descriptive/Normative Distinction
The key feature of the directive model is that there is no subject/object distinction. That which acts, and that which is acted upon are the same. Said is plain english: We cause our own restoration. Note however, this is not the same as claiming that we restore ourselves through our own “will power”. In fact, this model implies no claim about the exact method of restoration, merely it’s general nature.
To understand this point recall that in the directive model of understanding of our innocuous sentence “X could take me to Dallas” no actual travel route (or mode of transportation) is mandated. Likewise, when considering the second step the directive model of understanding does not specify what the actual route to restoration is. Instead, this understanding merely describes that the restoration is achieve through the application of some method or scheme.
Applying the directive model of understanding to the second step then would leave us with the following: Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves
could restore us provides us with a path to sanity. This re-imagining is enough to give us an understanding of the second step that avoids the personal debasement of the agent model without necessarily elevating “will power” to the status of a superpower.
Before settling on this re-imagining of Step 2, however, it is useful to reflect on another aspect of methods, plans, or schemes: the descriptive/normative distinction. All directive methods, plans, and schemes (if accurate) are descriptive. That is, they each describe a way of reaching it’s respective goal. Returning to our innocuous example, any accurate path to Dallas satisfies the “X” in “X could take me to Dallas.” However, we all recognize that some paths to Dallas are superior to others. For example, most concede that driving west from Atlanta is a superior path to Dallas than drive east. Both will get you to Dallas, but one gets you there much sooner, and much drier.
When we say give some directive, some plan, scheme, or method, as a way of achieving our goal, and we mean not only that it is accurate but that it is a better way than others we describe it as a normative directive. Thus in further understanding of our innocuous example of going to Dallas with a normative directive understanding it states that “X” is a proper or skillful (using a Taoist term) to get me to Dallas.
That Step 2 implies, in fact requires, a normative understanding is self-evident. The entire purpose of the twelve steps is to help a person get sober, and to show them not just any way, but the best (or at least one of the best) ways to do so. As such our re-imagining ought to include some indication of this normative aspect. Therefore we can finally state our re-imagined Step 2 (thus far):
Came to believe a Power greater than ourselves
could restore us provides us with a skillful path to sanity.
Upcoming in Re-Imagining: Step 2 (Part 2) – “Came to believe”
As always, comments and debate are welcome, invited, encouraged and anticipated.