“For we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” Big Book Page 64
Unmanageabilty and the Spiritual Malady
In part one of this series we looked at exactly what it means to be powerless over alcohol.
To sum it up: I am powerless to control it when it is in my body, and powerless from keeping from putting it in my body. (without a Higher Power)
This brings us to the second clause of the first step. After stating that we are powerless over alcohol, the first step goes on to say — that our lives had become unmanageable.
What does that mean?
What are they referring to when they say our lives had become “unmanageable”?
Is it the amount of DWI’s I’ve had? Is it the number of times I have been to detox? Is it the number of jobs that I have lost? Is it the number of times I have relapsed?
The answer is it is none of the things mentioned above.
While all of those circumstances definitely contribute to an unmanageable life, they will be entirely different for each and every one of us. It is not the “external drama” or the “consequences of our drinking” that is the “unmanagability” they are speaking of.
The “unmanagability” that the founders are referring to is what is commonly called the “spiritual malady.” This is the third piece of our illness of alcoholism, and gets overlooked quite frequently.
So what exactly is it?
The spiritual malady exhibits itself as our restless, irritable, and discontented “internal condition” that makes living in an untreated state so unsatisfactory. Whether we are drinking or in a period of sobriety, this “internal condition” causes us to be full of fear, unhappy, and at the mercy of our moods and emotions.
It was precisely this “internal condition of discomfort” that we used alcohol to “treat,” because it gave us a “sense of ease and comfort.” However, when we “just quit drinking” and do not recover, it is left there unaddressed and starts to slowly eat away at us. It can sometimes take an extended period of time to re-assert itself, months, even years. But if you are a “real alcoholic” you can’t simply sweep this piece of your illness under the rug.
When working with a newcomer and explaining this to him, this is where I usually introduce the concept of “untreated alcoholism.” I explain that the re-assertion of this “spiritual malady” is due to not effectively “treating” our alcoholism by utilizing the program in its entirety.
I explain that it is precisely this epidemic of “untreated alcoholism” that is the cause of suicide in old timers, low recovery rates, relapse, and general unhappiness in recovery. I usually re-emphasize the importance of the Circle and Triangle, and the need to stay on the “path” and the “common solution” so we can effectively “treat” our illness.
Okay I get the spiritual malady, but what exactly is this “unmanagability” they are speaking about?
Well, the way this “spiritual malady,” manifests itself and exhibits itself in our lives is really what makes our lives “unmanageable.” The Big Book goes on to explain in detail that this “unmanagability” is more than just the wreckage caused by our drinking and various escepades.
The literature asks us to look at our lives from an entirely different angle to see how this “spiritual malady” asserts itself.
“Leaving aside the drink question, they tell why living was so unsatisfactory.” Page 51 Big Book
I point out this statement. I explain that they are asking us to “leave aside” the drink question and look why our lives were so empty and unsatisfactory.
The Big Book gives us some definite examples of the manifestations of this “spiritual malady” by describing “unmanagability” in the following paragraph. Remember this is “leaving aside the drink question.” They state:
“We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people” Big Book page 52
Boy, that is a perfect description of my life before I started actively engaging in a recovery process!
There are many examples throughout the book, but this one seems to hit the nail on the head. See, everybody comes to this program with different life circumstances and problems. But every single alcoholic, if they are honest, should be able to see the manifestation of the “spiritual malady” in their own “unmanagaility.”
So to underline this aspect of our illness I ask, “So Joe… drunk or sober” …
1. Are you having trouble in personal relationships? Relationships with your family, with your co-workers, with your friends, even with yourself (Do you beat yourself up a lot, having guilt, shame and remorse)?
2. Are you able to control your emotional nature? Do you have ups and downs, get angry, irritable, and harsh with people. Does fear cause you to become an emotional wreck?..etc.
3. Are you a prey to misery and depression? (The number one symptom of untreated alcoholism: depression)
4. Can you make a living, or a life that you are completely satisfied with in all areas?
5. Do you have a feelings of uselessness? Lack of direction? Are you a good starter but rarely follow through?
6. Does fear have a profound effect on your moods, emotions, and actions?
7. To sum it all up, are you unhappy? Are you able to be completely satisfied with your life?
These areas of our lives are commonly where we can vividly see our “unmanagability.” It shows how this “internal condition” produces our “unmanagability,” which creates all sorts of problems in our lives.
Many people think that changing careers, towns, spouses, or external conditions will a dress this. For the longest time, I was under the illusion that if I changed my life circumstances in the right way, and arranged everything just right, then I would be happy and satisfied with my life…
I had the case of the “When I’s”
“When I get the right job”…
“When I get the right girlfriend”…
“When I get the right apartment”…
“When I move to New York”…
“When I move to California…
…..Then I’ll be happy and satisfied with my life.”
But this “internal condition” or “spiritual malady” was never changed or addressed, no matter how many times I tried to re-arrange my external circumstances.
As the old adage says this truly is “an inside job”
The literature pretty much sums it up with this statement:
“For we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.” Big Book page 54.
Again, the Big Book lays out the three fold nature of our illness in concise detail. Physical, Mental, and Spiritual.
With all this stuff going on, and seeing how changing my external circumstances doesn’t work, how come I can’t seem to overcome these things and “just straighten my life out”?
Lack of Power
The Big Book answers this question by proposing that we “lack the power” in ourselves to make any substantial, tangible, long-lasting changes and recover from alcoholism on our own. It has certainly been proven to me by my experience.
For the longest time, I tried to change my life by implementing different approaches to my illness such as just going to a bunch of meetings, watching my “triggers”, cognitive behavioral therapy, self help books, church, working out, etc…
The problem was that this underlying “internal condition” was still there, bad as ever and seemingly unaffected by these approaches. The Big Book explains the futility of trying to self-will a drastic change in to our lives with such methods.
“If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried.”
So many times, I would say “Okay, I’m going to change for the better, I am going to quit drinking, I am going to build my self esteem up, be positive and productive, get in better shape, and finally be happy!”
It would sometimes work superficially for a period of time, but then it would just fall by the wayside like so many other of my failed attempts to change my life on my own self will.
“We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn’t there. Our human resources, as marshaled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly.”
I tried to being a more honest person, I tried to getting in better shape and eating right, I tried to live by religious priniples, but all of my attempts to change on my own power eventually failed utterly…..
“Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?
Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem.” Big Book Page 45
Lack of power! That is our dilemma! As we look back on all the times we tried to rely on ourselves and our own power we can clearly see it! Not only was this lack of power in regards to our drinking, but the power to have a “manageable life.”
The Big Book here lays out the proposal that its main purpose is to enable us (through taking action) to find a Power greater than ourselves which will SOLVE our problem. (Powerless over alcohol and an unmanagable life)
This is a parallel statement to the Forward to the First Edition which states that the main purpose of the book is: to show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered. It underlines the fact that to recover, we need “power,” and it has to be a “power greater than ourselves.”
Power Greater Than Ourselves
So at this juncture, we are squarely hit with the reality that we need to find a “Power” of some kind. We see our “lack of power” and the “unmanagablity” created by it.
At this point, I usually explain that this program is all about Power! (Alkies love power! LOL)! It is a “power greater than yourself” which will enable us to recover from alcoholism.
I point out that the Big Book uses the word “powerless” only one time, in the first step. It uses the word “power” over 65 times! This program is about Freedom, Serenity and the Power to recover!!!
The literature states that we need to develop a relationship with, and depend upon a Power greater than ourselves, if we expect to live and be content with our lives. It is a simple, yet revolutionary proposal!!
Once I believe that the newcomer realizes the powerlessness over alcohol, the unmanageable life, the need for power on a gut level, we are ready for Step 2.
“Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”
It has been my experience and I have observed many people say that Step 2 is somehow defining a Power greater than ourselves or exactly what our religious beliefs are.
While it is okay to get a general concept or idea on what you believe, it is dangerous to get in to definitions, because you can “put God in a box” or get uncomfortable with your definition.
The chapter to the agnostic refers to pre-concieved ideas about God, and how we need to lay them aside. Having a sponsee write out “what their Higher Power is” is, in fact, writing out very ideas we are asked to “lay aside.”
Either way the program gives us extreme latitude to choose a God, or Power, of our own understanding.
In Bill’s Story he illustrates this wonderful concept:
My friend suggested what then seemed a novel idea. He said, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” Big Book page 12
This is a powerful statement….It is our OWN conception, not anyone else’s!
As I mentioned earlier, they clearly point out several times, that as we go through the work, we are to lay aside pre-concieved ideas (prejudice), in order to develop a New Relationship with a Power greater than ourselves.
I think that we tend to over-complicate Step 2.
“It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning. I saw that growth could start from that point. Upon a foundation of complete willingness I might build what I saw in my friend.” Big Book page 12
“Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning.”
Wow! What a statement! They are telling us that it is “only a matter of being willing to believe” and “nothing more is required to make a beginning.” This seems to run in stark contrast to the prevolent theory in the fellowship that it takes weeks or even months to complete the second step.
I hear so many times in meetings:
“I am working on my Step 2”
“I am almost finished with my second step”
“It took me three months to do my Step 2”
“I can’t figure out this God thing, and I’m not sure if I believe, so I cant do this step yet”
Statements such as these seem to run contradictory to the literature. This is not a theological dissertation or an exgesis of our religious beliefs, nor is it an acceptance of God. It was not intended to be a long, drawn out process. The second Step is more simple than that, even more simple than the essay in the Twelve and Twelve puts it. Lets take a look at what the “common solution” has to say on this matter:
“We needed to ask ourselves but one short question. “Do I now believe, or am I even willing to believe, that there is a Power greater than myself?” As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way. It has been repeatedly proven among us that upon this simple cornerstone a wonderfully effective spiritual structure can be built.” Big Book page 47
We see here, as well as all over the chapter to the agnostic, willingness, willingness, willingness, willingness. They are practically screaming it!
The book asks “Do I now believe, or am I EVEN WILLING to believe, that THERE IS a Power greater than myself?”
I point out here that it doesn’t even say that we have to believe IN! Just that THERE IS!
The hoop we have to jump through for Step 2 is A LOT bigger than we think. It is broad, roomy, and all-inclusive!
The above paragraphs also make of a couple construction references, which occur several times throughout the book. The founders talk about “willingness” as a foundation, and they speak of the “cornerstone,” which in construction terms is the first stone laid down.
So the “foundation” is “willingness,” and out of this, the “cornerstone” of a “wonderfully effective spiritual structure can be built”! What a promise! Willingness gets us a long way in this program.
So it clearly lays out what we need to do, and its not to define God or our Higher Power.
While I go through every page of the Big Book with people I sponsor, including the chapter to the agnostic, Step 2, in reality, can be worked in a matter of seconds…….
If you can fully concede to your innermost self the hopelessness of the first step, are willing to set aside predjudice, and exhibit willingness towards a Power greater than yourself, you are ready for Step 2….
“Well Joe, do you believe or are you even willing to believe that there is a power greater than yourself which can restore you to sanity?”…………..