The Second Step of Adult Child Recovery

The second step of recovery-namely, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”-may be a relatively short proclamation, but greater analysis of it reveals three significant concepts a person must understand and transcend before he can embrace it.

The first of these is the belief itself. Elusively definable, “believing” is acceptance, without facts or proof, that something is true or that someone exists, both of which may be beyond a person’s logic, reasoning, understanding, or detection by means of at least one of his five senses. It requires trust, faith, and confidence. Belief is that physical world-transcendent power that draws a person higher, toward his Creator, connecting his soul with the realm from which it came, causing him to realize that there is more to him than his earthly existence suggests. The Nicene Creed states, in part, “We believe in… all things visible and invisible.”

The second concept concerns God himself or a Higher Power of a person’s understanding, since his connection with Him Is usually the first bond-and hence belief-that is broken as a result of a betraying, abusive, alcoholic, and/or dysfunctional upbringing. There are numerous obstacles to his conceptualization of such an essence or force now.

Existing, first and foremost, in an imperfect, impermanent, finite physical state, in which “seeing is believing,” he may find it difficult to identify with an entity that is perfect, eternal, and infinite, all properties opposite of his human condition.

If, secondly, he was abandoned, shamed, criticized, or abused by the primary caregivers he most needed during his upbringing, why, he may ask, would a Higher Power, who equally seemed to have abandoned him during these traumatic times, be there for him now?

The stored traumas, negative emotions, and wounds he was forced to squelch and swallow, but could not express, most likely collected into a defensive wall, which now separates his soul from his Creator.

That wall, as has often been described by the “edges God out” mnemonic, is nothing short of the “ego,” which is a barrier to his Higher Power, since this false sense of self is the opposite of that Higher Power’s properties.

His inner child, furthermore, which was created during his initial trauma so that he could spiritually escape the danger he was subjected to, is so buried in its protective cocoon, even as an adult, that God is equally unable to reach him.

Not entirely able to trust others, he has most likely entered into “forced exile” or a state of isolated self-sufficiency, having learned that he could not rely on others to aid him, fulfill his needs, or even protect him, forcing him to find the resources within instead, as if he lived on an emotionally deserted island.

Now disconnected and untethered, he perpetually lives on the outside, looking in. Unable to form a link with them, he is equally unable to connect with the God of whom they are extensions.

Unable to see His face, he may subconsciously see the face of his dysfunctional or alcoholic parents instead, incapable of penetrating the fearful or distrustful emotions he associates with them.

If his parents were that destructive, he may reason, how condemning and destroying must the most powerful force in the universe be?

Finally, having lived a fear-based life as a result of his survival-mode, fight-or-flight upbringing, he may not have learned the true concept of love or been deluded into believing that “love” was abuse and pain. God is love, but how can he feel Him if he cannot feel it?

“Some initially believe we are speaking of a religious entity,” according to “Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts” (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 1997, p. 18). “We are not. We are speaking of a loving, caring, nurturing Power that provides us with guidance in dealing with the effects of the disease of alcoholism.”

The second step’s third concept is restoration to sanity, which begs the question: what is its opposite or insanity?

Living in an unstable, unpredictable, chaotic, toxic, and sometimes downright dangerous environment with a pure- or para-alcoholic without means of protection or escape is certainly one definition and forces the child, who cannot understand the reason for his detrimental treatment-which he invariably assumes are justifications for his own flaws and unloveablilty-to adopt later-in-life survival traits, such as isolating and people-pleasing, as a result of the rewiring or reconfiguration his brain initiated in the midst of his danger.

Developmentally arrested and viewing the world through a distorted lens, he acts as if there had been no time passage between child- and adulthood, and he is most likely stuck somewhere between the two ends.

The definition of insanity in this case is the mind’s continued re-creation and reaction, through defenses, of the childhood home-of-origin conditions in the world-at-large as an adult, prompting the person to finish out what was never understood or resolved then.

“Since we grew up with an orientation to fear, shame, and abandonment, we seek out situations that re-create these feelings in ourselves,” according to the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 136.) They are, after all, all he knows.

There is another element the adult child may attempt to complete.

“The insanity we speak of in Step Two refers to our continued efforts, beyond all reason, to heal or fix our family of origin through our current relationships,” the “Adult Children of Alcoholics” textbook also advises (ibid, p. 134). “In an attempt to heal our dysfunctional family from the past, many of us set ourselves up as a Higher Power in our current relationships.”

“The basic spiritual principle introduced in Step Two suggests that there is a Power greater than we are that provides hope for sanity, whether we are living with active alcoholism or not,” according to “Paths to Recovery” (op. cit., p. 18). “Step Two reaffirms that we may be powerless, but we are not helpless, and we are not alone.”

The disease of dysfunction, in the end, is not necessarily a mental condition, but a shattered spiritual one and God or a Higher Power of a person’s understanding can integrate and restore him to wholeness through twelve-step recovery.