Step 2 and Sanity

Step 2: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

In Step 1, we admitted we were spiritually sick and powerless. All of our willpower and efforts to control others always had the same result: inability to change ourselves, situations, or other people. We also learned that this doesn’t just apply to a skid-row alcoholic or a porn addict, but to ALL PEOPLE who have habits that are harmful to themselves or others that they cannot stop doing despite the desire to change: overspending, overeating, resentment, worry, fear, overworking, pride. In a nutshell, SIN.

Now, in step 2, it’s time to deal with the fact that we are INSANE!! Are you excited yet? Before you click the little X at the top right corner of your browser, just humor me for a minute…

What comes to mind when you think of insanity? Maybe something like “mentally deranged” would be your first answer. You probably envision a psychiatric hospital patient wearing a straitjacket. In general, you might think of people who can’t function properly because they lack reason and good judgment, or the classic definition, people doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

All of these are legitimate views of insanity. So what does that mean for us? Maybe the first two don’t apply to you so much, but you can relate to the last two. If you’ve admitted you are powerless, then insanity goes hand-in-hand with that. Remember, the very realization that you are powerless most likely came from months or even years of trying to fix problems or people your own way, with the result always being failure.

Keith Miller, in his book A Hunger for Healing, describes his realization like this:

I began to recall many habits that hurt me and other people and that I repeated for years without even being aware I was doing so (e.g., feeling resentment and fear, procrastinating, giving advice, dumping feelings, putting myself down when I made a mistake). I recalled repeatedly experiencing the negative results of these recurring self-defeating behaviors and thought patterns and being miserable each time, but I accepted the negative response by others to my unconscious abuse as being their fault. This was all a part of my “being surrounded by unreasonable, controlling, or imperfect people.” I tried to be more thoughtful to them so they would change, but I didn’t seriously consider doing anything about my most controlling self-defeating behaviors – because I couldn’t see them for what they were: my sin, my problems. So I was living out the program’s definition of “insanity” by “doing things the same way and expecting different results.”

Mike, one of my good recovery friends, uses what he calls the “broccoli analogy” as an example of dealing with insane behavior. Let’s just say that sometimes when you eat broccoli, you develop a severe stomach issue with uncontrollable explosive diarrhea (great visual, huh). Or maybe sometimes after you eat broccoli you get a splitting headache, blurry vision, or heart palpitations. You’d probably avoid eating broccoli at all costs to avoid the unpleasant side-effects, no matter how much you enjoy eating it. It’s just not worth the risk of having a bad reaction. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

And yet we all have “broccoli” in our lives, stuff we keep doing even though we know the results will probably be negative:

-Maybe it’s having the same old conversation and giving the same old advice to someone who clearly isn’t interested and hasn’t asked for your opinion. It inevitably ends in anger and/or argument.

-Maybe it’s starting that next series on Netflix even though you know you’re going to binge-watch and neglect your other duties.

-It could be choosing the same type of person repeatedly as a romantic partner, even though every relationship has ended in heartbreak and destruction.

–  It could be spending more money than you know is in your budget, using the credit card just “one more time.” You’ll just pay it off “later.” 

– Perhaps it’s believing he will quit drinking and giving him one more chance. He said he’s “really serious” this time and he doesn’t need help, even though he’s said this before and always gone back to his addiction.

– It might be giving money or other resources to “help” your child or friend out of yet another financial jam, even though it’s clear that they aren’t doing anything to help themselves. 

See, recovery doesn’t have to always be for people with drug and alcohol addictions! All of these examples illustrate insanity in some way, doing the same thing over and over even though you know that most likely the outcome will be the same as it always was: negative. Yet you keep eating that broccoli, even though someone looking at your situation from a more objective perspective would clearly see that you are, in fact, not in your right mind!

So, what now? It seems hopeless. We keep doing these things and we are powerless. Thankfully, the other part of Step 2 recognizes the CRUCIAL element to recovery: a power greater than ourselves.

Most Christians have been aware of this power for some time, in the form of Jesus Christ, and we know on some level that He is able to help us with our sin problem. But a lot of Christians I know, including myself before recovery, see Jesus as a higher power that will take away “all their sins” in some abstract, generic form. They’ve never looked at themselves introspectively enough to realize that some of their actions are, indeed, insane!

It is so, so important that Christians start living in sanity, recognizing and naming their specific sins, coming out of denial, and believing that their higher power, Jesus, can help them with their particular patterns of insanity and restore their spiritual health, not just their “sins in general.”

Miller ends his chapter on Step 2 by giving the definition of sanity according to his dictionary: “to be free from hurt or disease; having mental faculties in such condition as to be able to anticipate and judge the effects of your actions on other people,” and “being without delusions or prejudices…wise.” This is the goal of recovery: to break those harmful, sick patterns and start acting and thinking like a wise person, able to predict probable outcomes and make good decisions based upon that knowledge.

So how can you take Step 2? You can start by identifying the actions and thoughts in your life that match up with the definitions of insanity we covered today. What is the broccoli in your life that you keep eating even though it causes pain for yourself or others? Only after you’ve done that can you truly, concretely believe that a higher power can really help you on a personal level and restore the sanity you didn’t even realize you were missing.