I see the big picture: The way to stop relapsing into self-destructive behaviors is to build a healthier sense of self.
Original wording (AA):
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us
The original wording of Step Two is about believing in a power greater than ourselves (that) could restore us to sanity. This doesn’t sound very active, or proactive, does it? Well, I’d like to show you how, once we dispel the obscurity of the original wording, there is actually a very proactive attitude underneath.
A key insight of the Twelve Steps process is that making a major change in your life is not just a matter of saying no to bad habits. There's a proactive logic to this: The best way to lastingly break destructive habits is to have something better to look forward to.
The purpose of the Steps is to outline the process of changing your life as a whole, in the hope that, in the long run, this will help you stay on the right track. A key part of this process is keeping your eye on the big picture, as opposed to obsessing about the specific habits you want to change.
As you let go of obsessively micro-managing your behaviors, as you allow yourself to look at the big picture, you start to feel the pull of moving forward toward real, meaningful change. So, this power greater than ourselves is the power of motivation that comes from looking forward toward the big picture.
Step Two is about letting go of useless “solutions” that seem like they should work, despite the fact that they haven’t worked for you. This doesn’t mean that you are passive, far from that. You are focusing on what you can control. You are taking active steps to change your life. You make room to try new solutions that might work by letting go of what’s not working.
As you do so, you are also progressively letting go of the old, narrow sense of who you are (even though you somehow believe it should work).
A radical shift
The above may seem obvious when you read it casually. However, it represents a major shift. It is a radical way to break the vicious cycle which keeps you prisoner of self-destructive behaviors.
Whatever your self-destructive behaviors, you’re not feeling very good about them. Chances are that, underneath the denial, there is a lot of guilt and shame. This is actually a big reason for the denial itself: The guilt and shame are so unbearable that the short-circuit mechanism we talked about in Step One turns off conscious awareness.
What are the sources of this guilt and shame? It may have to do with the sense that you’re doing something that is socially frowned upon (e.g. excessive gambling or drinking). But, whether or not you feel guilty in regard to society’s norms, there is a deeper source of guilt and shame—what you feel in regard to yourself. It comes from a sense of your own weakness, your inability to stand up for yourself: Either standing up for yourself in relationships, as in codependency; or standing up to your own impulses, as in addictions. Hence the need to build a stronger sense of self.
Breaking the vicious cycle
The problem of this opposition between strong and weak is that it fosters an all-or-nothing mode: The sense that there are only two ways to deal with your self-destructive behavior, either to eradicate it (strong but harsh), or close your eyes to it (weak, in denial). I describe a similar cycle, and the way out of it, in another book: Self-leadership: Self-motivation, when Just Do It won’t do it. I will give you the gist of it here.
Imagine a dialogue between two parts within yourself. One part is the weak part that has bad habits. And another part is the strong part that wants to change.
Strong tells Weak: You’re really bad, This has got to stop. Don’t do this any more!
Weak is intimidated, and, for a while, tries to follow Strong’s orders. But Weak’s experience is that of being bullied into giving up something very important, with no regard for how it feels to do so. To Weak, it feels like it’s all about Strong’s view of what’s important. And so, consciously or not, rebelliously or not, Weak reasserts itself by creeping back into the old behaviors.
This, in turn, makes Strong more exasperated, harsher. Which, in turn, pushes Weak into more of a corner, feeling more deprived.
The radical change, the breakthrough, is to shift away from this dynamic of pressure and deprivation. It is to involve Weak into an emotional negotiation. Strong now says to Weak: We’re in it together. You count. I understand that I cannot ask you to give up what’s important to you without giving you something at least as important—in fact, something that you’ll like even better in the long run.
This is a major shift. In the old pattern, Strong felt that the end justified the means, and felt entitled to bully Weak. In this new paradigm, Weak is treated with respect—which does not mean being indulged. Please also note that we’re not talking about manipulation, or bribes. We’re talking about genuine satisfaction of real needs. Most importantly, the needs of both parts are respectfully taken into account. This is the fundamental building block of a healthier sense of self.
This may very well feel daunting—no wonder many people feel it can only be accomplished by a power greater than ourselves. It is very challenging, indeed. But it can be done, especially as you have a clearer picture of what it is you’re attempting to do.