08/29/2011 08:50 am ET | Updated Oct 29, 2011

We Came To Believe: Step Two on the Recovery Journey

"Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." --Step Two

"The dark night of the soul" -- so the Christian mystic St. John of the Cross described a crisis of the spirit. In my heart, when I was deep in the grip of addictions, I felt as if it was night all the time. The dark night of addiction is not a summer's evening with a velvet blackness that enfolds us like a mother's embrace. No, it's the frigid starkness of an icy winter night. Bound by our addictions and compulsions, night falls on our souls, and the light goes out of our lives.

But for a few lucky ones, through the grace of God, we are given the opportunity to come into the light of recovery. This is the hope that Isaiah (60:20) promises when he says: "Your sun shall no more go down or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended."

Beginning the journey of recovery, we turn back toward the light, toward life. One of the wise sayings shared in the Twelve Step meetings states: "We came. We came to. We came to believe." These homey, simple words, which even the most wet-brained, "mocus" addict can grasp, describes how the Second Step works to enable addicts to surrender to a higher power.

"We came to believe."

In sobriety, we begin the First Step at the very moment when we arrive. We come -- through the miraculous action of walking into our first Twelve-Step meeting. Becoming willing and stepping over that threshold, we take the first step toward admitting our powerlessness over toxic substances, behaviors and relationships.

Second, we come to: We become conscious, and start to come to our senses. We begin to recognize how very unmanageable, how utterly crazy, our lives had become as a result of our addictions.

Third, we come to believe. Through the fellowship of Twelve Step groups and the support of our peers in recovery, we discover that we're not alone in our suffering. We find ourselves in the company of others whose experiences were as bad or worse than ours. Our new sober friends share their hope with us -- for a new life free of addictions and compulsions. And this leads to the first glimmer of belief, as we gain faith in the goodness of the group itself and its collective members. The rooms of recovery with their "Good Orderly Direction" (G.O.D.) come to represent "a power greater than ourselves," unseating the false gods and idols of our addictions. As our time in recovery grows, some of us return to the faith of our upbringing, affirming new understandings of traditional beliefs and praising a loving God now, rather than a God of vengeance, judgment and damnation. Others too damaged by the beliefs or actions of their original faith communities find, in sobriety, new faith practices and traditions that provide safe places for spiritual nourishment and development.

Coming into recovery for me also meant returning home to church -- and to my Christian faith and practice -- after years of sporadic attendance. I remember the Sunday church service led by my confirmation class, years before I fell into the grip of my addiction. Standing in the chancel, I read the Gospel lesson. It was the first time I had spoken before a congregation. Afterward, a church member said to me, "You belong up there." Hers was one of several seeds planted that, years later in recovery, led to me to respond to God's call to go into the ministry. But before that, from my late teens to my mid-30s, I had a lot of straying from God's path left to do.

Drinking and drugging took me far from a life of faith. Through it all, I never lost my belief in God and would pray fervently, but only when I had gotten myself into a particularly horrific situation. I'd petition God: "I'll do anything, God, if you just help me this one more time!" God always came through. God had "a plan for me -- a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Once I got sober, my sponsor took me to his church, and hearing the music, scripture and message, the seed of faith that had lain dormant in me for decades sprouted again and with it my religious calling. I came to believe -- again.

In the second part of the Second Step, we come "to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." The miracle of recovery is not only that we learn how to put down the destructive drink/substance/behavior/relationship. But when we do, God "moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform," in William Cowper's words. God helps us not only to become sober and stay sober, one day at a time, but also restores us to sane and sensible thinking, or offers true sanity to us for the first time. People in recovery joke that in sobriety they "get their brains back," and there's hard science supporting the neurological processes that enable the human brain to rewire itself and recover from years of abuse. When we get sober, we don't care exactly why we're able to think more clearly, we're just grateful that "now we understand" that we can "comprehend things which used to baffle us" (The A.A. Promises).

"Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace -- in peace because they trust in you," says the Prophet Isaiah (26:3). Living in Christ, infused with the Holy Spirit, with our feet on the path set before us by God, we begin to find peace. By coming into recovery, surrendering ourselves to God, we start to experience "a new freedom and a new happiness," as the Promises tell us, beyond our wildest dreams. By giving ourselves over to God, we have the freedom to chart a new path for ourselves: to begin to be happy, joyous, and free.