Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous – Coming to Believe

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous arguably devotes an entire chapter to Step Two

Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous - Coming to Believe

Though there is no official subject header for Step 2 in the book, Chapter Four, “We Agnostics,” has been considered the Step Two chapter because it precedes the list of the twelve steps at the opening of Chapter Five. Since taking Step 3 is considered making a decision to work on the rest of the Steps, we arrive at Step 3 when we reach the list of steps in Chapter Five, “How it Works.” If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let’s rewind.

“Alcoholics Anonymous,” the book–aka The Big Book–was written in 1936 by AA co-founder Bill Wilson and 100 or so recovering alcoholics, with a collaborative drafting process occurring between Akron, OH, where AA co-founder Dr. Bob and his early AA group met, and New York, NY where Bill W’s group met. This book pioneered what is now popularly known as the 12-step program.

Steps in the Big Book

What’s kind of confusing is that the book does not contain, even in its Table of Contents, any mention of the twelve steps. There are not 12 chapters. Chapter Five has a list of the Twelve Steps and after that list one italicized sentence that reads, “Now we were at Step Three.” In the rest of the chapter, we have more italicized sentences–”Now we were at Step Four,” “Now we were at Step Five,” etc. This continues through the following Chapter Six until we conclude that chapter with “The next chapter is entirely devoted to Step Twelve,” before Chapter Seven then closes us out.

But there is no sentence in the Big Book that reads, “Now we were at Step Two.” This is because the first step and second steps have been unofficially labeled by sponsors who pass this on to their sponsees. The readings on Step One have been considered the Introduction,. Prefaces, and Bill’s Story. And Step 2 is Chapter Four, “We Agnostics.” Later, of course, when Bill W wrote “The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,” the 12-step program was further codified. But many continue to work the Steps of AA using this Big Book method.

Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous - Coming to Believe


A note before continuing: There can be different results in working the steps in different ways–there is no best method. A good idea recommended by many AA members is to find a good sponsor. The guidance of the sponsor is arguably the best part of the fellowship of AA and distinguishes the AA method from an addiction treatment center, holistic addiction treatment, detox programs, outpatient programs, or other kinds of support groups around addiction.

A sponsor is not an authority figure but another recovering alcoholic who shares their own problems and the new life they found by working the steps of AA. The only thing required of the sponsor and sponsee relationship is that they agree to work the 12 steps together. Usually, a sponsor takes a sponsee through the steps the same way they were taken through the steps the first time. There is no contract signed or formal agreement made, but a commitment and a desire to stop drinking on both the part of the sponsor and the sponsee–because it is in helping the sponsee that the sponsor says sober. It is in learning new ideas and the spiritual program of AA that the sponsee is able to receive the long-term solution to their problem of drug addiction, addiction to negative thoughts, alcoholism, or other substance abuse disorders.

In Chapter Four of the Big Book, Bill W summarizes all varieties of opinions about this concept of a Higher Power that various alcoholics and addicts come into twelve-step recovery rooms possessing. The most important emphasis in the thread connecting all the assumptions is that those who kept an open mind found a concept of a higher power and a way of living along spiritual principles that relieved them from their mental obsession with the disease of alcoholism and addiction.

They attested that the only thing that enabled this psychic change was a power greater than themselves. We read of an alcoholic who could not believe in a supreme being and saw so many arguments against it until a thunderbolt of a short question opened his mind to new ideas: “Who are you to say there is no God?” (BB, pg 56). This is the best part about Step Two in AA. A higher power can be anything greater than you.

Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous - Coming to Believe

In AA, the higher power is not a religious figure, a Christian god, or anyone else’s image of god. The goal of the second step is for one to come to believe that there is a power greater than them—whether they consider this a concept of god or a concept of a higher power does not matter. It has been said that if one’s “best thinking” led them to destructive behavior that resulted in an alcoholic bottom that led them to AA, then it made logical sense to suspend belief in that thinking and replace it with experimental belief in something else. Spiritual growth, or spiritual awakening, can happen in many different ways.

Some consider their higher power the recovery meeting itself–simply by mathematical standards, this anonymous meeting of strangers is a greater body than their individual self. Many such people choose to make one meeting their “home group,” which can act as a more personal variation of the group-as-higher-power model.

Others embrace the spiritual terms in Step Two and have fun imagining what an effective spiritual structure could look like–one that brings peace and soundness of mind and shows up in our daily lives. One for whom mental illness is no barrier to reaching and healing our minds, that always has our best intentions in mind, and is constantly seeking us out to lead us into a better life.

The unconscious mind is a treasure trove of information. Spending time in one’s own life trying to connect with a higher power may awaken what could feel like moments of insanity. But for those of us who used drugs and alcohol as a way to transcend reality, this is not new territory. The difference between drugs and this higher power we were coming to believe in is that this power actually worked in giving us what we sought from drugs and alcohol–connection, delight, freedom, peace in the body, and access to joy.

As with all the steps, there is no right or wrong way to work Step Two. Your sponsor will usually tell you when you can move onto Step 3, but the measure of this is usually if you have arrived at a conception of a higher power whose protection and care you would be willing to turn your life and will over to because this is the higher power that is going to carry and lead you through the rest of the Twelve Steps.

Step Two can be a spiritual touchstone to return to as you continue your step journey to renew your hope in the process of the 12-steps and help remind you that the power you seek to make conscious contact with is the power that knows the exact nature of your wrongs before you even write your personal inventory. The hope of remembering that you cannot work any of the steps without a higher power is insurance that your process of working the steps will end better than your drinking and drugging did.

There will be so many times in the step journey that this reminder will come in handy–so many times when the mind will say “This is not going to work, this is a stupid idea, why do I have to do this” (especially perhaps in making direct amends). But this is why a good Step Two can remind us that new ideas may do us good, especially considering where our best thinking originally took us. So, come to believe it is something, anything! And if you can’t, borrow the effective spiritual structure of the group and wait for your own higher power to find you. We promise you they are searching for you right now.