A Study of Step 2

The 12 Steps of AA and Al-Anon

People in a circle in a meeting

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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step program that is centered on finding a higher purpose or power in order to recover from alcohol use disorder. While AA is non-religious, it utilizes a spiritual approach and references God and other religious themes frequently, including in Step 2. In the second step of the program, people are encouraged to believe in a higher power that is greater than themselves that will restore them to sobriety and wellness.

This article discusses how Step 2 works, how it fits within the 12 Steps of AA, and what you need to do to complete this step. It also covers how this step works for people who do not believe in God.

The 12 Steps of AA

According to Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12 Steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

What Is Step 2?

Step 2

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Many members of Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon Family Groups come into the program with a strong faith in God, and with the encouragement of other members of the fellowship soon learn to apply that faith to the situations in their lives created by alcoholism.

With the wisdom provided by the program and the friendship and support of other members, the healing process begins with the help of a loving God, as they understand Him.

How Step 2 Works

The second step of the program is centered on faith. But before you can allow a higher power to help you recover from addiction, you must first find a belief in something greater than yourself. According to AA, accepting that there is a higher power that will help you heal can aid in your recovery.

Step 2 can be challenging for people who feel disconnected from their faith or who lack belief in a deity. It is important to remember that this step is really about finding something outside of yourself that can inspire you to stay sober. 

Even if you struggle with this step, staying open to finding your own "higher power" can help. Your higher power can be a supreme being, deity, or God, but it can be anything that has a tremendous amount of meaning to you. It might be music, science, freedom, nature, love, art, or humanity itself.

Recap

Step 2 is all about finding faith in something greater than yourself. By staying open-minded and being open to the idea of change, you'll be better able to look outside of yourself for the things that will inspire you to stick to your recovery and sobriety goals.

Step 2 for Agnostics and Atheists

Others who are introduced to the 12-step programs are agnostics or atheists, who reject the concept of a deity. Many are turned off by even the mention of the word "God" and some bristle at the slightest hint of anything spiritual.

But, in a chapter entitled "We Agnostics," the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (also known as "The Big Book") says, "We beg you to lay aside prejudice..." and give the program a chance.

The 12-step programs are spiritual, not religious. There is no mention of religious beliefs, doctrine, or dogma in the meetings or in the approved literature. Members are not required to accept someone else's concept of God, only to trust that there is a power "greater than themselves" however they wish to describe it or understand it.

Buddy, Al-Anon member

My suggestion to newcomers is the same that I received: Put your religious beliefs, or unbelief on hold and give the whole program a chance. Because Al-Anon is not a religious program, but a spiritual one.

— Buddy, Al-Anon member

It seems to be a spiritual truth, that before a higher power can begin to operate, one must first believe that it can. You have to believe it to receive it. Millions of program members through the years, who finally "came to believe" have found themselves amazed to find that power at work in their lives in seemingly miraculous ways.

How to Complete Step 2

There are a number of strategies that you can use to complete Step 2. Some ways that you can work through this step:

  • Think about what matters to you. What might inspire you to want to get better?
  • Accept that you are not able to recover from your addiction on your own.
  • Consider the possibility that a power greater than yourself can help guide you toward recovery.
  • Think about spiritual experiences you have had or times you have felt like God, the universe, or some other force was guiding you down the right path.
  • Be open to guidance and support.
  • Talk to others in your group. What did they do to find and accept a higher power?
  • Think about the things that might be holding you back from allowing a higher power to direct you and help you as you heal.
  • Consider people who may help you such as a spiritual advisor, peer mentor, or therapist.

It can also be helpful to remember to let go of many of your preconceptions about spirituality, faith, and belief. Your higher power can take many forms and ultimately you get to decide what it is and what it means in your life. 

Why Step 2 Is Important for Recovery

Where the first step of the program asks people to admit that they need help, Step 2 is about building a foundation that shows people that they can be helped. It encourages people to open themselves up to allowing a power outside of themselves to guide them toward a better, healthier, and happier life.

AA also suggests that this step fosters a sense of humility that may help people become more accepting of guidance and help. Instead of believing that they can manage on their own, people become more aware of their need for support.

Step 2 helps people see that they are not alone. It gives them hope and the strength to keep going as they face the challenges of overcoming alcohol use disorder. 

Recap

Step 2 serves as the essential spiritual foundation that helps guide the rest of the recovery process. It creates a solid base of hope, strength, and support that people can rely on as they work toward recovering from their addiction.

A Word From Verywell

Step 2 is a critical part of the 12 Steps of Alcoholic Anonymous. The belief in a higher power that Step 2 encourages is central to the success of the program. By staying open-minded and seeking your own belief in something greater than yourself, you'll lay the foundation that can lead you toward recovery as you prepare for the next step.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alcoholics Anonymous. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. 77th printing. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.

  2. Nash AJ. The twelve steps and adolescent recovery: A concise reviewSubstance Abuse. 2020;14. doi:10.1177/1178221820904397

  3. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book. 4th ed. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

  4. Alcoholic Anonymous. The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

  5. Alcoholics Anonymous. Step two.

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.