Coming to Believe
Sometimes go to a Friday night “Came to Believe” meeting. The last one I went to was, as usual, well worth it. At this particular meeting, the format calls for the meeting leader to give a short introduction and choose a selection from our AA book Came to Believe. The group members take turns reading paragraphs and then the meeting opens for individual sharing. Last week’s meeting was really uplifting.
To be precise, I received a completely new understanding of Step Two. After 29 years of sobriety, I am always amazed when such a thing happens. But it’s not uncommon.
When I first started attending meetings in 1986, my sponsor walked me through the Steps. The part in Step One that says, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable” was really easy for me. But I was an atheist, so Step Two, in which we “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” frustrated me.
First of all, the passive instruction, “came to believe” told me to relax, wait and accept that an idea that was alien to me would somehow take hold of me. I was too impatient to relax and wait for something I knew wasn’t there. So I skipped Step Two and moved on to make a decision to turn my will and my life over to a God that I did not understand at all. And it worked. I moved on to additional Steps before I eventually dealt with Step Two. I have not picked up a drink since.
My spiritual progress has always been up and down. It is difficult to sort out my journey. In retrospect, I think that at five years or so in AA I believed in a Higher Power who (or which) had some kind of control of the universe and conscious concern for me and my place in the system.
I remember trying to explain the concept of a Higher Power to my father, who informed me that I was a mystic. I was unschooled in the esoteric forms of spirituality and began doing some reading. But I was unsure about exactly what I believed.
Since then however, I have become convinced that there is no God who has a purpose for me, who loves me and who will protect me. It would certainly be nice to know that this God existed, but I can’t give up my rationality. I do believe that if there is a God who behaves as other AA members describe, he or she (or it) will certainly forgive me for not believing. So it doesn’t really bother me.
What I do have is a Higher Power. This belief I can easily accept without abandoning my rationality. When I came into AA, I believed that there was no Higher Power in the universe other than me and yet I was powerless. This meant that no matter what I did, there was no hope. So there was nothing to lose by taking the Steps, listening to other alcoholics and not questioning the program, as long as I didn’t have to turn over my will and my belongings to a human leader, like the “Moonies” did in the 60s.
If I try to explain my Higher Power, it makes about as much sense as if I tried to explain God. My Higher Power is not anything like the usual descriptions of gods. If anything, it’s probably closer to the teachings of the Buddhist religion. What I have come to learn is that I can acquire, by attending AA meetings and talking to other alcoholics (both giving and accepting help), a feeling of security and unity with the world that I do not get from individual people or even from groups of people. This sense of security is a level above that.
Knowledge of my own powerlessness is essential to my understanding of a Higher Power. And I experience a wonderful sense of trust. It’s not that I feel like nothing will ever go wrong or that all that goes wrong will be fixed. I’m simply aware that whatever happens, I will not have to go through it alone.
The first time I felt this was in my second week of sobriety. My sponsor told me to pray. I responded that I did not believe in God. He suggested that I pray anyway. And I took his suggestion. There was no flash of light or sudden flood of belief.
When I first came to AA, I had a distinct impression that I was literally falling into self-destruction and that I had no way to stop the plunge. Since I had no way to save myself, I lost nothing to try my sponsor’s approach. Being rationally minded was a lot less important than stopping my own destruction. You can all guess what happened. I stopped falling.
That was proof enough for me that AA worked, and it hasn’t stopped working for me since. And it has worked while my belief system has gone from atheism to a kind of general deism and back to atheism (at least according to most definitions of the word). What keeps me going to meetings, on a basic level, is that I hear other AAs tell stories that remind me what life was like 29 years ago. I hear what happens when people stop going to meetings, forget their stories and pick up a drink.
But I have to admit that the sometimes overwhelming sense of security, safety, trust and belonging that I get from an AA meeting surpasses everything else. More often than not, I go to a meeting out of habit, not expecting anything, and am surprised when this serenity enters me. I know I am not giving serenity to myself. I don’t believe it is the 30 other people in the meeting who are giving it to me. My mystical side tells me that there’s something above all of us that is there for the taking, if we accept it. Perhaps this is only a creation of the group of people at the meeting, but for me it is my Higher Power.
I want to make it clear that I do not want to convince anyone that my way of thinking is right. It’s a lot easier to believe in God. But if you can’t, don’t worry about it. Accept the things you cannot change. You can stay sober.
One last point. If it helps, you can change the Second Step from a passive to an active Step. Come to meetings to believe in a power greater than yourself. I don’t know why this understanding of the Step did not enter my mind for 29 years, but at that wonderful meeting last week, it did.