Tools for Living

Hope and the 2nd Step

Step 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.


AA’s 12 Steps are proven guidelines for life that have enabled millions of once hopeless souls to recover lives that seemed lost. But few of these lost souls reach the program under their own steam.  Most come grudgingly under pressure from family, employers, or the courts, and most arrive with little or no hope.

Without hope, even the least effort seems pointless. Why bother trying if we already “know” we’re doomed to fail? If we’ve done an honest 1st Step, then we already know that our own power has failed us completely, time and again, and it’s simply insane to think that will ever change.

Yet out of that hopelessness, a new hope is often born. When we look around ourselves in meetings, we see others who were in the same kind of trouble — and sometimes their situations were much worse than our own. Over time, as we listen to their personal stories, convincing in their gut-level authenticity, we gradually come to believe that what worked for them just might work for us, too.

Thus the first bit of hope flickers into life.

The 2nd Step points us in the direction we must go to keep that fragile hope alive and let it grow. It describes a process that we’ve already experienced to some extent: the process of “coming to believe” that sparked our first bit of hope. The process not only begins with that hope, but also offers the means of acting on that hope to fulfill it and make it real.

No one can force us to believe — not even ourselves. Belief is a state of mind, and coming to believe is a process of changing that state of mind from unbelief to belief. This can happen only if we first open our minds to the possibility of change. By witnessing change in others who are like us, we usually come to believe that change is possible for us as well.

Although “coming to believe” takes place in our own minds, it is not a solitary process. As the old-timers say, “You can’t change the mind you’ve got with the mind you’ve got.” Just as hope was born when we opened our minds to others’ experience in recovery, so we must open our minds to others’ ideas in order to start the process of coming to believe.

Two obstacles often hinder this process: The first is a mind closed to the possibility that God is a Higher Power we can rely on. That need not hinder us for long. As we often hear in meetings, “Your Higher Power doesn’t have to be God. It can be anything you choose, even a doorknob or a light bulb.”

Your Higher Power can also be-as many atheists, agnostics, and even wary believers have discovered-something more reliable and less kooky, such as the collective wisdom of the group, or Good Orderly Direction, which offers better guidance than our unaided minds alone.

The second obstacle is reluctance to admit that we need to be “restored to sanity.” We resist the possibility that we have been insane-usually because we associate insanity with babbling lunatics in a padded cell! Once again, a thorough 1st Step comes to the rescue. Repeated denial of the obvious, believing things that aren’t true, giving control of our lives to destructive addictions, and obsessions in defiance of common sense and rational decision-making . . . aren’t these all forms of insanity?

Albert Einstein reportedly described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Don’t our histories of repeated failed attempts to control our drinking (or gambling, eating, spending, etc.) through sheer will power demonstrate exactly that sort of insanity?

The good news about working the 2nd Step — as with all the Steps — is that we don’t have to figure it all out in advance. In fact, trying to figure it all out usually hinders us far more than it helps. All we need to do is to start with just a little bit of hope, keep an open mind, give fair consideration to the thoughts of others successful in recovery, and let the process work in us so that our little bit of hope can grow and be fulfilled.

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Questions about Hope and Step 2:

What does the word “hope” mean to you?

What is the difference between belief and knowledge?

What does “a power greater than yourself” mean to you?

What does the term “insanity” mean to you?

Can you describe ways in which your own life has been insane?

What would it mean to be “restored to sanity?”

What kind of power would it take to do that?

Are you willing to seek that power?  If not, what’s stopping you?


Links to more information about Hope and the 2nd Step: on Step 2

Step 2 worksheet from AA Canada

“Taking Step Two” from the Big Book Bunch on Step 2

“Step 2: Hope”, from The Topmost Apple

“How I Took Step 2”, from


Recommended books:

Came To Believe — A collection of brief stories in which dozens of AA members describe the personal journeys that led them to believe in a power greater than themselves.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions — The official Alcoholics Anonymous supplement to the “Big Book” explaining each of the Steps and the Traditions in greater detail.

Hubal & Hubal, Steps 1-3: A Guide to the Big Book’s Design for Living with Your Higher Power    A workbook that guides you through the first three steps of the AA program.