Denny’s circa Dec 22, 2017
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
— Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous
The drug and alcohol treatment center I went to in the early 90s was 12-step based. Their treatment plan was to have patients complete the first five steps in order to graduate. When working Step Two, we spent a good chunk of time making lists of how and why we were insane. Those lists were easy to make but in the here-and-now I kinda think they missed the point.
The point of this step isn’t to review what we’ve done in order to convince ourselves that we have a drug or alcohol problem, that in fact we were insane. Insanity is fairly obvious when you’re ready to stop. I’ve felt insane in my fingertips.
The Second Step is about finding something bigger that we can believe in to “restore us to sanity” with “restore” being the keyword in the latter half of the step. I’m not here to define insanity. That’s looking at the problem and keeps me stuck.
I have plenty of them “and then one time” stories along the lines of… on Christmas Eve when the family and I were all decorating the tree, I would sneak down to the basement every so often and take a big pull off my whiskey bottle. And then before the night was over my ex-wife was saying to me teary-eyed, “are you drunk?”
Crazy, I know it all too well. I’m much more interested in looking for hope now, in reinstalling some sanity now that my jugs are plugged. And pay attention to this: it’s not “will restore” but “could restore.” We have to let that power in.
The good news is that I was sane when I was a little kid. Children are pure, they’re untainted. They aren’t born with judgement or resentment or anxiety. Through a higher power’s help I was able to find my way back to a sound mind, a stable way of living as an grownup. Anxiety free more often than not.
And then there was that one time not long ago when I was having dinner by myself at Denny’s. Looking around the restaurant, there I was the only person flying solo. Eating alone isn’t my favorite thing to do but whatever. I mostly have self-assurance. I generally have peace. I can be by myself in public. I have my phone. I have the whole Internet.
On one of the social medias I saw a picture of my ex-wife. With her boyfriend. And they were smiling at each other. And there I was sitting by myself.
At one point in my career that was a recipe for emotional overload.
But get this: by no choice of my own, I was honestly happy for them. Because I could see they had something going on between them that she and I hadn’t had for a long time. Happy because I always wanted the very best for her and looking at that picture I knew the “very best” wasn’t me. She had found it with someone else.
Because I had closure, because I had walked through that breakup’s phenomenal pain, I could be sincerely happy for them in the here and now. Even though I was alone with my fork and knife, a power greater than me had served me up some sanity.
One time several years ago I woke her up at 6:00 in the morning because I had lost my mind and I needed to tell her that she had played a part in all of that. This alcoholic had gone crazy when he first sobered up. Life was staring me straight in the face like a loaded gun. Waking her up before the sun was even shining was me embracing and exercising insanity in my daily life. Spilling it onto her life.
Moving from that kind of early morning, alarm clock crazy to being truly happy for her at Denny’s, that’s being restored to sanity. And not by my own doing.
How and when does that restoration happen? How does one move from alarm clock crazy to genuine happiness for another?
With failed marriages and sour breakups time is always key factor. I needed some distance, needed some room for my mind to breathe, to detach from the things that were making me crazy. It was hard not to see only darkness when I was living in darkness.
Before I could detach and let go, though, I needed to feel all those feelings. Those scary ones I’d kept locked up in me, down in the basement. I can’t move on from something if I’ve never dealt with it, never processed the madness. Hence moral inventory and amendments.
So the simple and yet hard answer is that we’re restored to sanity by working the steps. It’s really that simple. And go to meetings. And talk with our sponsor, too.
As Jerry said not long ago, “and then the pay off is peace.”
I had peace that night at Denny’s. Peace for me and peace with her.
After I let go, after I came to believe, I found out that that peace was what I had always wanted.