After my first brief stint in rehab I lasted about three days before I got loaded again and then went on a bad year-long run. My life was miserable and dark. The job I had didn’t pay much and I could barely afford bills, let alone afford the drugs I needed. I was constantly stressed and scheming every day to come up with money. Almost every day I was putting myself into bad or even dangerous situations. Everything in my life was spinning out of control. I got this idea in my head that if I could just get another job or a better job then I could pay bills and buy enough drugs to maintain, then all my problems would be solved. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Quitting drugs was what I needed to do but, unwilling to do that, I was trying to do anything and everything else that seemed like an answer. I was living in fantasy and trying to bend reality to my will.
What saved me was surrender. I eventually got desperate and frustrated enough to stop my attempts at control, face the reality of my situation, and get back into treatment. Letting go was difficult but the amount of relief I felt when I finally did so was amazing. All the soul-crushing stress and anxiety of active addiction had been accumulating inside me like a physical weight. When I made the decision to get help it was like releasing a pressure valve.
No one likes to admit defeat and that’s what the First Step is all about. It requires humility and not just letting go of control but of pride and ego. After admitting powerlessness to addiction or alcoholism the question then becomes what to do about it? That’s where the Second Step comes in and it introduces a vital component of the 12-step programs of recovery: healthy spirituality via a higher power. Step Two is: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 1
Let me give you some examples of insanity. A friend of mine used to work maintenance at a hospital. He was put in charge of disposing all the unused medication and he started grabbing opioids and benzos for himself instead of throwing them away. Somehow the hospital staff got wise to the fact that not all of the pills were making it to the trash. They changed the policy and ordered that the medications had to be destroyed in water and made it impossible for my friend to get to them beforehand. All the different discarded pills got mixed together in the water so he started scooping out handfuls of half-dissolved pill mush in the hopes that some of it would be medication that would get him high. He could have been ingesting extremely dangerous combinations of drugs but he didn’t care, that’s how desperate he was.
Another one of my friends used to be a professional athlete. He used to take opioid pills before and during games. Before too long he had blown all the hundreds of thousands he had made and was living in his car.
One other friend was high on meth and heroin and was extremely paranoid. He had security cameras around his house and saw a car drive by that he didn’t recognize. After figuring it was the cops or someone who was trying to rob him he got up on the roof with a gun. The heroin took over the meth and he passed out with the gun. Upon waking up he accidentally shot himself in the foot.
Addicts will do almost anything to come up with dope money. There’s a million different kinds of hustles. One person I know used to steal expensive blocks of cheese from supermarkets then bring them down to Tijuana and sell them on the streets. I once heard an addict talk about stealing manhole covers to sell as scrap metal.
These are outrageous, crazy behaviors that normal people just don’t do. What’s even crazier is the fact that activities like these seem perfectly normal to the addict who is doing them. In active addiction we get so caught up in what has become our sole purpose of staying high and free from pain that these kinds of things become routine. Our perspective becomes completely skewed. It’s insanity.
The NA literature defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. I think what’s more insane is doing the same things over and over, knowing full well what the consequences will be, but doing them anyway. This describes the addict continuing to use drugs after suffering more and more negative consequences as life increasingly gets worse.
The AA literature talks about the insanity of the first drink. In the third chapter of the Big Book are two stories. 1 Each one tells of competent, intelligent, and capable businessmen who are alcoholics. These men have sound judgment and reasoning towards everything in their lives except for alcohol. Experience has shown them that as soon as they have one drink they can’t stop drinking. They know that the outcome will be bad but even in light of all their self-knowledge some trivial excuse will come into their minds as a reason to have a drink and that somehow, this time it will be different. They inevitably get drunk again and then wonder how it happened.
Unfortunately this insanity persists into recovery. We may have gotten clean but we’re still addicts with addict brains. Thoughts frequently creep back into our minds that we can control our drug and alcohol use if we go out and try it again despite a lot of evidence to the contrary. Nothing in our past would rationally lead us to that conclusion. In fact, when a relapse occurs we usually suffer worse consequences in a shorter amount of time than on any of our previous runs. Some people relapse over and over.
Because this insanity persists in recovery we need to take more action to remain clean and sober. We need a power greater than ourselves to help return us to sanity. The idea of a higher power can be difficult for addicts and alcoholics. Higher power can seem like a vague term if you aren’t familiar with it and some people don’t know how to go about approaching that. The Second Step is about hope and being open-minded. It’s ok if we don’t know what this power is. The important thing is that we are open to the idea that there is one and that it can help us do what we have been unable to do ourselves: stop using drugs and drinking. We need to have a spiritual experience through this power greater than ourselves to affect a change in us. Step 2 is the starting point for our spiritual journey of discovery. A spiritual void exists inside us and we can’t fill it with drugs or other worldly things.
Some addicts and alcoholics are averse to the idea of a higher power and equate it to religion. Others come into recovery already members of a particular faith. Still others are atheist or agnostic. The great thing about NA and AA is that they can work for anyone. Both fellowships stress how they are spiritual and not religious programs. They don’t want to exclude anyone because of their beliefs. Individual spirituality is key because these programs are all-inclusive. They are compatible with any spiritual path, religion, or lack of religion.
I hope this blog is especially helpful for those readers who are unsure of their spirituality. When I was in treatment here at Genesis, some addicts came to the property to share their stories with us. A fellow client asked one of these men what his higher power was. The man answered that the less he tried to understand it the better it was for him. To think about it too hard just caused him confusion. He was able to trust his higher power and better see it working in his life. That has always stuck with me and I think that if you’re new in recovery, it’s a good place to start. I was unsure of my own spirituality at the time and what that man said was what I needed to hear. I simply trusted that a higher power existed and that it could restore my sanity. Since then I have developed and nurtured an actual relationship with my higher power. My life is infinitely better and I am sane again.