Episode 122: Step Two

Angela and John respond to listener email and then have a conversation about Step Two. In its original form, Step Two reads, “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” In everyday language, one might say, “I can stop drinking and have a decent life.” It is essentially the experience finding hope that sobriety is possible, but acknowledging that it will require resources beyond one’s own to achieve.

Transcript

00:00 John S: This is Episode 122 of AA Beyond Belief.

[music]

00:23 John S: In today’s episode, Angela B and I will be talking about step two, taking a look at the step from a secular perspective. But before getting to that, we’re going to read some of the email that you’ve sent us over the last couple of weeks. There she is. Angela, how are you?

00:38 Angela B: I’m good, I’m here, ready to do this.

00:42 John S: [chuckle] Yeah. Of course, the beginnings of podcasts are always really awkward because we’ve actually already said hello and talked. [laughter]

00:48 Angela B: Right.

00:50 John S: Anyway, I was just telling you that I thought maybe it might be nice to start this podcast by going through some emails that we’ve gotten over the last week. And I do periodically get emails that the podcast kind of triggers people to write, and most of the time, if I get an email, it has to do with the podcast, and I’ve not been good about sharing them or talking about these emails on the podcast itself. I do respond to people, but I thought it might be interesting to read some of these.

01:17 Angela B: Okay.

01:18 John S: And here we go. Now this is actually one that came in just this morning. It comes from Kelly G, and it’s kind of interesting. She says, “Hi, John. Thank you so much for responding to my previous email. I’m really enjoying your back episodes. Right now I’m listening to Angela from Episode 108 and I’m getting so much out of it. She’s great. I do have a question for you. No hurry, but this is the dilemma I’m dealing with internally. This may sound strange, but the only thing that’s keeping me from going to AA meetings, actually, I’ve been to a couple of closed meetings, is introducing myself as an alcoholic. There’s no doubt that I have had alcohol use disorder. I definitely qualify for AA. I’ve actually been sober for five years.”

01:57 John S: “What my problem is is that I feel the term ‘alcoholic’ is so derogatory that I can’t bring myself to say it. I feel that negative labels are damaging. It could also be my oversized ego,” she says, “LOL. Anyway, it seems as though secular AA is more flexible in many ways, and I wondered if you have any opinion or experience on the subject, or do you know of a podcast episode or any literature that addresses this issue? I would definitely try to go back to AA meetings if I knew I wouldn’t be looked down on for not introducing myself that way. I feel like it might be an insult to the ones that do introduce themselves as alcoholics. I’ve often wondered if I could just say, ‘I’m Kelly, and I have a desire to stop drinking’ or something like that.”

02:40 Angela B: Wow. Well, cool, yeah. My experience is that at our group, we’re super open about that. Some people share that they’re alcoholic, some people don’t, some people say addict alcoholics, some people say, “I have a desire to stop drinking.” Yeah, so, for our personal group, a secular group, yeah, we don’t care. In other meetings, in open meetings in our area, most open meetings are pretty good about that, too, as far as how people introduce themselves. Even in the closed meetings, some of ’em that state in their introduction that you have to have a desire to stop drinking and so there are people who introduce themselves that may be new at their first meeting and stuff, and we’ll just say that, “I’m so-and-so and I have a desire to stop drinking.” And yeah, so I think that that’s usually acceptable in most areas. Of course, there are going to be some people that try to… Like if somebody… This happens quite a few times in meetings, I see, where someone’s accepting a 30-day coin or… And they’re nervous, and so they’re asked to speak and they’re like, “Uhm, yeah, so this is how I did it,” and then somebody’s like, “What’s your name?” [chuckle]

03:56 John S: Oh, I hate that, yeah.

03:57 Angela B: Yeah. Or “Who are you?”, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, yeah. I’m Angela and I’m an alcoholic.” And yeah, so [chuckle] I have seen that happen, but in general, yup, we’ve had it as a topic before, whether or not calling yourself an alcoholic or introducing yourself as an alcoholic is helpful or not helpful. We have several group members that have been reading lots of different literature that agree with, was it Kelly? That they think that it’s damaging and not helpful, and so they don’t do it. And they particularly like coming to our meeting because they can feel comfortable not doing it there. When they go to their meeting, sometimes, they’ll still introduce themselves as alcoholic because they feel that’s the protocol for that meeting. But yeah, I can definitely…

04:44 John S: Yeah. It’s not a requirement.

04:46 Angela B: Yeah, I can see where she’s coming from, and if it’s not helpful or if it’s definitely more emotionally damaging, then go with what works for you, but…

04:57 John S: I think I’m going to try to introduce myself in a different way. Maybe I’ll just say, “Hi, this is John,” or whatever because I’m beginning to think that maybe this is kind of an obstacle. I haven’t run across this a whole lot, but I have, over the last few years, had people say that they are uncomfortable introducing themselves that way. And it almost puts pressure on someone who’s new, if they see everyone introduced themselves that way, if they feel like they have to do the same thing. But no, it’s not necessary whatsoever.

05:23 Angela B: Yeah. I do know that some meetings do the going around the table where everybody introduces themselves and says they’re an alcoholic before the meeting even starts. And so…

05:33 John S: Yeah, I’ve been through a meeting like that.

05:34 Angela B: Yeah, and so it’s good for our listeners to be aware that that does happen in some meetings and stuff, but yeah, I also think that with the secular perspective, a lot of us read a lot of different literature and are aware of newer studies and things about addiction, and so, I think that groups might want to look at that a little bit more. Even our group of… I do know that there’s some in the East that don’t do any of that. They hardly read anything in the beginning, they’re just kind of like, “We’re a meeting, we’re starting. I’m Joe, let’s go,” [chuckle] that kind of a thing. And I think that would be refreshing. And it probably be… I’d be a little shocked at first, like, “Am I in the right place?” But I’d adjust quickly, and I think that would be wonderful, particularly for people who are new to recovery, so.

06:27 John S: Now here’s an email from Sherry O, and this is probably something that we’re going to definitely need to address in step four. But she says, “You and Angela B touched on something that I have been trying to reckon with and working through the steps. In step four, we are supposed to look at what part we had in each of our resentments. I was sexually abused at the age of 11, which I resent and suppressed. My discussion point would be, what part does a person have in this type of resentment? You have asked for suggestions on what people would like discussed in these episodes and that would be a topic I would think would be valuable. Thank you for reviewing these steps again. I’m starting all over next week using Staying Sober Without God with a few women, and the more input, the better.” Wow.

07:13 Angela B: Yeah. Well, very cool that she’s getting together with some people, and I haven’t read that one yet, so, yeah, I like to hear what they have to say and what they’re learning. But yeah, well, we can definitely address that because it’s part of my story as well, and almost every woman that I’ve worked with, it’s part of their story. And so, yeah, so, when we get to step four, I think we may have to divide it into two sections because there’s a lot going on, [chuckle] and… But yeah, I will definitely touch on that and different ways that you can look at it or not work with it or whatever. My biggest thing right now would be to make sure that if possible, that you’ve talked about it with a therapist or a professional, because for me, recovery would be a lot more difficult, if available at all if, I didn’t look at that stuff with somebody who is knowledgeable about how to process that information.

08:24 John S: And then Tracy, I think you may have gotten ahold of her, she just listened to Episode 108, she lives in the Middle East, and she just wanted to get some advice from you about how to navigate the steps in a secular way.

08:38 Angela B: Yeah, yeah, that was pretty cool. I did get ahold of her and we sent some emails and stuff a little bit, and sent her some resources on the different books and different websites that we have and different tools that we use, and then was happy to be able to be of assistance to her as well, so.

09:02 John S: That’s one of the fun things about this podcast is people from all over the world listen to this and they write, and it’s like… It’s… I don’t know, man. It’s really… It’s almost kind of humbling that we can do this, that we can actually reach people from around the globe like that and they care enough to write. It’s so… I’m grateful to do.

09:19 Angela B: Right. Yeah.

09:21 John S: It’s a great experience.

09:22 Angela B: Yeah, yeah, I really appreciate it. And I was telling John before we started that I had a rough week, my mom’s had some health stuff, and that getting emails and having people respond and let us know that this is helpful is… That goes a long way to helping me work through some of the less pleasant but real-life stuff that we get to go through when more sober. Yeah, so I really appreciate it, and it helps keep me going. Although the funny thing is my mom listened to our podcast, and I hadn’t given her the link. She knew that I was doing some sort of SecularAA podcast, one of those things that you kind of mention to a parent or someone and they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s great.” [chuckle] But she was Googling SecularAA and found us, yeah. [laughter]

10:16 John S: That’s hilarious.

10:17 Angela B: Yeah. And so I thought that was funny, yeah. And she was like, “Oh, I liked your podcast.”

10:22 John S: Now here’s Lisa M, and she’s great. She actually helped me put a new PayPal button on the site that allows people to pay with their credit card or debit card without having enroll ’em in PayPal. Anyway. So she said, “Episode 117 with Angelo B from Boise, wow! Great episode. Keep it up! It floats so well. The bit about women having trouble with powerlessness was the most recent lead-in topic to my traditional but lightly so women’s home group meeting that meets weekly. It hit a huge chord, just so you know. I listen to 117 the very next day. You said in the podcast you wanted comments. So, here is my high-five on it.” She gave me some, also, I think she gave me some pointers. A lot of people have given me pointers from that episode that we recorded about, oh, a few weeks back when I… It was like breaking the ice that I hadn’t recorded an episode for a long time and I asked for help. Yeah, I got a lot of emails from that. And one person, Charles H from Glasgow, Scotland, he has just given loads of advice, in fact, and he’s also written in a story that we’re going to be posting here real soon, and I’d like to have him on a podcast, he just seems really cool.

11:34 John S: But he listened to… He found our website, and I think the first episode he listened to was 108, which is the one where you were speaking and going through the steps and so forth, and that was one of the first times he’s ever heard someone talk about the steps secularly, and it was a huge thing for him. So anyway, he was kind of curious about whether or not there was a SecularAA meeting near one. And yes, there is one in Scotland, I guess, that he was able to find, so, Grey Sheeters meeting. So it’s like, “I would love to do podcasts like that, but some people want to keep you in an AA box.” So, that’s why I was thinking about rebranding so I could just… So we could talk about other fellowships as well, but I don’t know.

14:00 John S: Well, I think because you have the “Beyond Belief” part that I think it steps outside of the AA line. And I don’t know, I kind of agree with her, I think that keeping the name as it is, I think, reflects what you’re doing. So, you’re coming from an AA background, and AA is that the most well-known part of, well, how I think of it, free [chuckle] recovery, most affordable, and it doesn’t ding your health insurance. So yeah, so I think that it is quality name. There are lots of them out there, but I think that what you have going right now is reflective of what you’re doing. And you have all sorts of things on the website where you say, “Hey, I don’t speak for AA, and this is not a product of Alcoholics Anonymous, and we’re not sponsored by them, we’re not affiliated.” And so, yeah, so the people that… YouTubers and stuff, sometimes they don’t know, or like in some meetings, that think that SecularAA isn’t AA as well, even though we actually are. [chuckle]

15:13 John S: I do love the YouTubers, by the way, even the ones that complain and, I guess… [chuckle] It’s cool.

15:20 Angela B: Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s interesting that, yeah, to see who listens or who tunes in. And again, even when they’re annoyed about something, some of my biggest life changes came from people who said something that either hurt my feelings or made me angry or whatever, because for me, it made me question. Usually, it was that I was trying to figure out how to prove them wrong, and then I would find that maybe I couldn’t or maybe they had a point, and that would be a huge change for me to explore something else. Like with religion, I was part of a group and was studying to become a United Methodist minister in college, and we were having a United Methodist student meeting and somebody in the meeting had made a comment about questioning something. And I had refrained something that I had heard before that makes no sense at all, but at the time, it seems very profound. And it was like for those who believe, no proof is necessary; and for those who don’t, no proof is enough or something. It’s really profound, something that would be like a meme nowadays. And another person in the group is like, “What are you talking about? That makes no sense,” and went off on why that didn’t make sense, and I was horrified and upset and mad and… But it was part of the change that got me to thinking and studying more, and ultimately, led to my disbelief and to becoming atheist and who I am today. So.

16:55 John S: Yeah.

16:56 Angela B: So yeah. I was pissed at the time, though. [laughter] They didn’t know what they were talking about. “How dare are another Christian go after me,” so.

17:05 John S: Anyways, it’s kind of nice to do that. So now, we’re here to talk about Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Oh, boy, I’ll let you take this, the lead on that one, Angela. What do you want to do with it? Where do you want to go?

17:22 Angela B: [laughter] Well, I’ll start with when I first started working on it. My sponsor at the time talked to me about different powers that were greater than me, and because I didn’t like the way it was phrased at all and I wasn’t stupid, I knew they were implying God and stuff, but she took the route of pointing at alcohol again as being something that was a power greater than myself because I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t control my drinking. And so, that calmed me down a little bit to be open to what that might mean. As far as the “restoring to sanity” thing, I could see the life I was living wasn’t very sane, so, I was somewhat open to that. I got there, but after calling a suicide hotline. So that seemed pretty reasonable as well, [chuckle] to work on step two. I looked at the secular guide as to what they say, and they phrased it as “Came to believe that a power… ” Or that, yeah, where did I write it down?

18:33 John S: “Came to believe that spiritual resources… “

18:35 Angela B: Yeah, “can provide power for our restoration and healing.” And so, I take out the “spiritual” part. Some people are good with it and they’re okay with the word, or I do “additional resources” because yeah, “came to believe that additional resources can provide power for our restoration and healing.” And that’s what works for me for this step. And I even consider it that alcohol was a resource that I used to “manage” [chuckle] my life, but then it wasn’t effective, and that was the same case for compulsive eating and such. And so, what I need to do on step two is to start considering, what are additional resources that can help me heal and help me to get a balanced life or lead a balanced life? And so part of what I do for step two is go through and read in the secular guide, and then I ask people to make a list of resources, spiritual or otherwise, that they can either turn to for guidance if they’re feeling stressed or circling their thinking or whatever, or things that help calm or ground them. And I usually start out with whatever the answer was to the first assignment. I might generally ask them, “What’s helped you stay sober this far?”, and then use that as their first recognizable resource that’s helped them.

20:11 Angela B: So sometimes it’s that they were going to meetings or sometimes it’s that they moved in with sober people, or whatever that is so that they could see that resources are all around that they can use. And so, so some of the stuff that I list down are like attending a 12-step meeting, or calling a sponsor or trusted friend, or talking with a therapist. Let’s see. Some other things like guided meditation or swimming. I really love to swim. It’s therapeutic for me. Spending time with animals, reading, writing inventory, helping someone else, learning something new. I [chuckle] found a thing that’s helped me out. I watch this guy do abstract painting with piano music on YouTube. They are like seven minutes long, and it’s just he’s painting abstract with this free music playing in the background, and it’s actually really soothing. I don’t always like what he’s painted, but it’s colors and yeah, but that is… Sometimes I just need something simple like that to calm my brain and my system…

21:26 John S: That reminds me, there was this guy in the ’70s who was on PBS and he had this big, huge afro, and he used to paint, and he used to talk about his painting, and he has like a real calm voice. I used to watch that guy when I was a kid, and it was like… There’s something about that, was like, “You know, I don’t know… ” He was like, he was just like… I don’t know, I was just transfixed on the television when the guy was on for some weird reason. Anyway. It kind of reminds me that. [laughter]

21:52 Angela B: Oh, no, he’s an icon, Bob Ross, with it. A happy little trees and stuff, yeah. Yeah, no, there’s lots of memes and t-shirts and stuff, because yeah, a lot of us remember him doing his happy little trees, and yeah, even though I wasn’t going to become a painter, you get mesmerized by it. But yeah, I found… I stumbled on this on YouTube and yeah, I watched a little thing. So those are some of the stuff that help me or ground me in a spot for a little bit when I’m feeling like I can’t handle something or distressed in some sort of way that… Particularly when you’re early in the steps, you don’t have a lot of tools yet, otherwise, you wouldn’t be at AA, right? [laughter] And so these are some things that early on can help you as you’re going through the process of either drying out or just starting to develop a program. And there are things that I continue to do and extend and stuff to this day, but early on, I think writing them down and getting a list so that when you’re distressed and say you can’t get a hold of a sponsor or someone in AA or you just don’t want to text them with whatever your problem is, you can go to this list and see, “There’s all of these different options of things I can do right now.”

23:24 Angela B: So, it’s kind of like the next indicated thing slogan except it’s much more directed to calming your emotional state as quickly as possible. And so yeah, so those are how I consider a lot of the step two, is to look at resources and to start thinking about… Like Wally in our group. He helped me understand that going to the mechanic is referring to a power greater than myself because I can’t… I personally can’t fix my car myself. I have a Honda Civic, and so it’s like a ’97 and I can fix the doors and stuff and I can… [chuckle] when the window gets stuck, I can do those things, but there’s the majority of it I can’t do, and so I go to somebody who has more knowledge than me in this area. And so technically, they are power that it is a power greater than myself, to find out what is wrong and to do what needs to be done. And throughout my life, that’s how I do things now, whereas when I was drinking or before recovery, something would go wrong with my car and I get very upset about it, and then I drink about it, and that wouldn’t solve anything, and it would remind me of all my other problems, and that if I had my shit together, then I’d be able to fix my car or I’d have a better car or… [chuckle] And so just lots and lots of cycling. And so now, when something goes wrong with my car, I know what the resources are outside of myself to…

24:58 John S: That makes sense to me. That corresponds with my experience, too, when I look back upon… When I think I was really experiencing the step, it was just an outgrowth of when I hit bottom and I felt like I had… I just had problems that were really beyond my control. Really, it was the first time in my life that I had reached this point where I knew I couldn’t do it by myself anymore, I couldn’t figure life out anymore, it wasn’t working for me, and it was a frightening time. But at the same time I reached out to AA, and when I did that, it was by phone, and that was a little tinge of hope that I had. But when I went to my first meeting, that’s when I really believed that there was something that could help me and it gave me hope. And that was an experience that I had. It was a resource outside of myself that I could believe in, that could help me. And so, at the time when I looked at the step, for me, when I first saw the word “insanity,” it was a turn-off, and it was because I was stigmatized by mental illness, because the way I grew up with a mother who was mentally ill, for whatever reason, I felt ashamed of that. She ultimately died from suicide, and that was something that I was also… It was like… It was a stigma that maybe the society had put on me, but also that I put on myself. So, that word “insanity” really bothered me, but later, I could look at it differently.

26:31 John S: But n I just kind of choose to just leave that out. I just see it as, “Yeah, I have a problem, and I believe that there are resources beyond myself that can help me.” And that’s actually what we… That’s actually what we do, when we start going to meetings, that’s a resource outside of ourselves. When we… Later on, I started going to therapy, a resource outside of myself, and I was doing things that I needed to do to get better. In Jeffrey Munn’s book, Staying Sober Without, he looks at it as adopting a new… As adopting a healthy lifestyle. And there’s a lot of truth to that. That’s basically, I think what I was doing without even really realizing it, is the way that I was living and the lifestyle that I had wasn’t working for me, and I came to believe that there was another way of living that would be healthy. It was a shift in my thinking.

27:26 Angela B: Yeah. I was looking through the different versions of the 12 steps and step two, to find one, because you had said rewriting your own or ones that work for you, and I think that the proactive 12 steps kind of seem to be the closest. I see the big picture, the way to stop relapsing into self-destructive behaviors, is to build a healthier sense of self. And I like that because, part of it is, I’ve talked about before, is that alcohol isn’t my only thing, and that the healthier sense of self, I think, is important. I will probably talk about this more as we get into the fourth step and later on, but sometimes in AA, self is kind of demonized as, “You need to get out of self.” And what I’ve learned in my recovery is that I actually needed to get into self and to develop a healthy sense of self and what that is.

28:20 John S: And speaking of resources, Serge Prengle, who wrote that, he is a fantastic resource, he’s actually a life coach, he’s not an alcoholic at all, he’s never had any experience with addiction, but he’s a life coach, and he… And a therapist, and he just loves the 12 steps. But he likes the process of them, and he has just written them out in his own way. He has all these videos that he’s done that he’s put on YouTube, and his book is a free PDF download. We did a podcast with him some time ago, yeah, so all that stuff is out there, but he’s a good resource. He’s a really cool guy, just for someone who’s totally not an alcoholic, but he loves the 12 steps. [chuckle]

29:00 Angela B: Yeah, well, I think we’ve all met people in our life that we’re like, “Wow, I wish you had a program.” [laughter] You may not be an alcoholic, but yeah, you definitely need something. I was just looking at, after our last podcast, a woman that I know who was at my first meeting, actually, and lived down the street from me, she got a hold of me on Facebook, and so she asked me if I didn’t mind sharing with her what my higher power was. And I get this question a lot, so, I thought about it. And for the purposes of AA, I usually frame it is that it’s the program of recovery as a whole, which includes attending meetings, being part of the community or fellowship, depending on which term you use, but I like “community” better, [chuckle] working in the steps, and then being of service. That’s basically what I would say my higher power is. And so, that reminded me of that conversation when you said that he talks about the program or going through the steps and what that is. And this really does, for step two, helped me out a lot, particularly early on, was that thinking of this as… I think I used it more for step three, but that the program of AA as a higher power, because people came here and a lot of them were able to get sober.

30:31 Angela B: And that has this way of living and prescription of how to do some things, and so, I could get behind that something that I believed in. So, I didn’t think that individuals in AA were going to save me or do anything special or that some sort of AA God was going to grant me parking spaces, or anything like that, but that this seemed to be a system that helped people change their life. And I’m a big fan of systems, so. [chuckle] Yeah. Nowadays, I think that as well as that, I’m learning a lot more about, like I said before, self, and so, I feel like I have a stronger sense of self and what that is within me and that I’m more able now to work with triggers and feelings and different things that come up that would throw me, either in the beginning of recovery or definitely before that. And so now, my higher power, if I need to frame it for somebody, is more of the open heart itself.

31:36 Angela B: I really try not to, because as I think I’ve mentioned before, I think putting your higher power or spiritual system or whatever it is in a box is not very helpful for most people. But I also understand that for people who are new to recovery or are new to AA and can only go to AA meetings that are traditional, having a common language is really important.

32:00 John S: You’re really good about reaching people where they are and communicating with them in their own language, wherever that might be at the time. You’re really good at that. I think a lot of people get hung up on the higher power thing. I certainly was, as a new person, I was a… Oh man, I was really spinning my wheels, because I was looking back on it, I don’t want to judge myself too harshly, but I do. Looking back on it, I was really forcing myself to try to believe in some goddamn thing, and I was really wanting to conform and be like everybody, else even though I couldn’t believe in this God. I was doing everything I could. It was a huge waste of time. And I think it’s just my opinion, and opinions don’t really matter when it comes to this kind of stuff, but it’s just too easy to get hung up on the whole, “What is empowering me to do this,” when you don’t really have to think about it so much, because you’re going to naturally be empowered to make a change in your life simply by being around people that are doing the same thing. That’s what happened to me. I just happened to be around a bunch of people who happened to be in AA and talking about God all the time, but they were doing things that were making change in their lives, and that’s what was really giving me the power to do that.

33:09 John S: But I’m kind of like you right now, I’ve gone through a lot of evolution of thought, and I’ve gotten to the point where I just kind of prefer me. I don’t even use the language “higher power.” It’s not language that I personally use. But you’re right, that’s what people think of AA, they think of AA is all about relying on a higher power and they use that language, so.

33:29 Angela B: Yeah, well, and people who have got sober in AA, when they’re sponsoring, they still use that language. We have somebody that came to our group and with specifically an assignment from their sponsor to ask us about the higher power, because the sponsor didn’t think that she could get sober without a higher power. And so everybody in the group shared kind of what works for them or how they might think of that, and there are a lot of ’em that said that it was BS. And so, I love my group for that because we have the gamut of people who are like me, that try to translate and try to give people vocabulary in a way to be part of and people that are like, “Screw it, AA is stupid. I just come here because I like you people and I don’t want to drink,” and [chuckle] all of that stuff, so I love that, because it definitely gives you a perspective. But like you, I’m… Actually just this last Sunday, I go to a traditional women’s meeting on Sundays that my sponsor goes to, and a woman who I hadn’t seen probably since my first or second year was there, and she came up to me afterwards and she remembered that I was in a meeting and somebody…

34:46 Angela B: And I brought up that I didn’t do this higher power thing and that I was struggling with it. And somebody started going off on the doorknob thing, and they were trying to be helpful. And I know now that they were one of the more open-minded ones obviously trying to talk about that you can use anything, even the doorknob. That’s open-minded in AA.

[laughter]

35:12 Angela B: And then I guess I went off on it, I was just like, “Who the hell would use a doorknob? What is wrong with you people? Why would you even suggest that to me?” I was so insulted and enraged. And I forget about those things. [chuckle] I do remember not liking it, but I don’t remember that I was actually pretty aggressive when I got here about my anger and frustration with the program. Yeah, a little bit different, but that did get me to another thing I wanted to talk about, with how I do step two or how I take people through it, and this is the controversial part because I think it was brought up in one of the online forums, and people have strong opinions about this.

35:55 Angela B: But my sponsor had me do it, and so it was helpful, a helpful exercise. And she goes to only traditional meetings; she doesn’t have a traditional higher power concept, but those are the meetings that she goes to and feels comfortable. So, she had me read Chapter 4, We Agnostics, yeah, and so I have people do that. And then the goal with that or the assignment is to look through and try to identify where they use alternative names or concepts for God or higher power. And so, when it takes them a little bit away from the condescension [chuckle] because they have something to do other than read it and just be offended. So there’s stuff in there like they use creative intelligence and spirit of the universe and the realm of the spirit.

36:48 John S: You know, Angela, what’s interesting about that chapter, so I’ve been in AA for a long time, and before I realized I was an atheist. So I went to that chapter, Chapter 4, and I was trying to understand the big book, and so I rewrote that chapter, but I didn’t re-write it completely like something new. I took… I was going through the book and I was trying to write it without all the God stuff, and basically, what I got out of it is the chapter is essentially trying to explain why we need help outside of ourselves. And it was actually… I’m trying to break through the denial of the alcoholic to say that, “Listen, you know, it’s okay to ask for help.” It talks about pride being a problem, denial being a problem. So, I was looking at that in my life as a practicing alcoholic, and I wouldn’t ask for help. And I wouldn’t ask for help for anything, you know? So, I finally got to a point where I had to ask for help. And there’s nothing wrong with that, and I had to actually get to a point in my life where I realized there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help. It’s actually the human thing, and it’s essential. I don’t know if most people even have that problem. I had that problem, and I think it was just because of the time in place that I was raised.

38:12 Angela B: Yeah, yeah.

38:12 John S: That I guess you just tough it out, was how I was raised. But hopefully, most people today don’t have that. I don’t know.

38:21 Angela B: Yeah, I don’t know, I think that it could be your role in your family and stuff, too. And also, [chuckle] let’s analyze you for a minute, here, John, [chuckle] you mentioned that your mom had mental health things going on, and so there was probably a part of you that couldn’t or learned not to ask for things or for help, because people probably in your family were dealing with her and stuff. And so that’s where the primary thing was, because that’s kind of… In my family, there was a lot of similar things going on, and it wasn’t that I learned not to ask for help, I could do that, but I had to first realize or come to terms with that I didn’t know it, and I had a lot of shame that I’ve had to work with and continue to work with, and that I should know things. And when I’m talking with people that I sponsor or other people and they say something similar, it’s easy for me to empathize and be like, “Why should you have known that? Have you dealt with this before?” “No, this has never come up.” “Well, then, why do you think that you should know it?” But I can relate because that’s how I grew up, is that I had shame and that I didn’t know how to handle something, so having to ask someone for help was admitting that I didn’t know how to do it or that I couldn’t do it, and there was shame in that for me.

39:43 Angela B: Apparently, I was supposed to have been born with everything already programmed on how to do this life thing, and so, yeah, so I think that that’s what I heard in what you were talking about, was… And there’s certain things that it’s pretty easy for me to ask for help for, but still a lot of stuff, it… There’s something in me that pauses when I need to do that and questions whether or not I should ask for help, is this an okay thing to ask for help? And it turns out that yeah, most things are. Now if I only ask for help all the time because I was… I didn’t want to do it [chuckle] and was lazy, then that’s a little bit different and you have to work different steps for that. [chuckle] But in general, yeah, it’s a great thing to learn. And what I found and what I tell people new in meetings, we do this thing, I don’t know if every meeting does it, where we pass around a phone list and most of the meetings in our area does it. It’s kind of funny because they’ll ask a person if it’s their first meeting and would they like a phone list, and the person’s like, “I don’t know, what is that?”

40:53 Angela B: Because we forget in the meetings that we have language and culture that we understand and so, yeah, so, I explain to them that they’re passing around a phone list with numbers on it so that you can call any of us if you are feeling like you’re going to drink, or want to know more, or go to another meeting, or anything like that, or text us. And then I also emphasize that, “Don’t feel like you’re burdening us,” because that’s usually how I feel or have felt when I needed to ask for help. And I said, “Because you’re helping us get outside of our ego and stuff, the brain stuff that we’re probably sitting there doing something thinking about, swirling on a problem, and you calling and asking us for help helps, one, get us out of that swirl, helps us be of service to whatever it is you need to talk about; and then it reinforces in us what we should be doing when we’re in that situation as well or a similar situation.” So asking for help is is actually…

41:57 John S: When you think about it, these first three steps are in a way a natural process of what happens after you hit bottom. I call it hitting bottom. You have whatever happens in your life where you start thinking that you might have a problem with addiction, with alcohol or whatever and then you ask for help, and then you make a decision to pursue that help. That’s the first three steps. And that asking for help is where you get the hope. For me, I say “you,” but” I” say, “Okay, so I got to that point where I’m totally desperate,” and this step two is where I had hope. There’s gotta be hope. I need help. There’s gotta be help. And for me, it was AA. That’s where I went for help. You can expand on it from there, though.

42:37 Angela B: Right. Yeah, definitely. I think there’s very few people in this day and age that it’s their only thing, at least the ones that are continuing to grow. [chuckle] So, I know some people that is just their life, but yeah, in the society and culture that we currently live in, there’s a lot going on and a lot more is learned, a lot more… This is what the main thing that existed when it was developed, but now, there are so many different things that yeah, it’s a helpful framework, and that’s why I continue to do this and continue to be a part of this and try to do this podcast and stuff, is that I come from a very impoverished background, and I didn’t have the resources to go to a therapist at the time or a rehab or any of that kind of stuff, and so, I needed something that was free or very low-cost. And so, my continuing to do this and try to translate how I do the steps or understand them is my way of continuing to help people at least get to an understanding of their own, of how to start reframing their life or build a program that can help them, and then, hopefully move on so that they can get additional help, if that’s needed, so.

44:03 John S: Oh, cool. So our next podcast, will cover step three. And I think we did a pretty good job in step two. It’s really kind of simple, it’s just a matter of if you read Russell Brand’s book, he’s really simple about it. Like, “Well, I have a serious problem, and I believe I can get out of it?” He uses more vulgar language, but anyway.

44:24 Angela B: Right. [chuckle]

44:25 John S: Yeah. [chuckle] So yeah, I look forward to step three. Step three is actually… Used to be one of my favorites. It still kind of is, it’s interesting stuff. I’ll forward to that. Thank you.

44:35 Angela B: Thanks.

[music]

44:51 John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief, thank you for listening. If you would like to support our site and podcast, there are a couple of ways you can help out. You can post a review and iTunes, hopefully a favorable one. You can help us out financially with either a recurring or one-time contribution. You can do this by setting up a small recurring contribution at our Patreon page, which you can find at patreon.com/aabeyondbelief, or through PayPal at PayPal.me/aabeyondbelief. And you can always just visit our site, AABeyondBelief.org and click on the Donate button. Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief.


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Steve K
Steve K

Hi John and Angela. Enjoyed your discussion re Step Two. Within the spectrum of atheist and agnostic belief I’m closer to the traditional interpretation of the Steps than both of you by the sounds of it. I’m open to a more spiritual take that’s also consistent with humanism and what we already understand in relation to our universe, which we are very much apart of and connected to. I suppose this makes relating to the original wording of the Steps easier for me. I also don’t have a problem with the term “restored to sanity” either. I suffered from a… Read more »

Marty N.
Marty N.

Good morning Angela and John, Nice message. I’m from the “keep it simple” school of thought. For my purposes, I think I did steps 1 & 2 before I even walked through the door. I knew I needed help and it was in there. The steps were on a roll up shade on the wall and said “AS SUGGESTED”. They still do today at that meeting DAAT Dudley, Mass. That, perhaps saved my life. I then went from there with the fellowship that was inside. As for as this business of passing around a phone list, I remember when that… Read more »