What Does it Mean to be Restored to Sanity? [Step 2 of AA]


The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous can sometimes use charged words that instinctively cause us to resist them. However, once we set our egos aside and allow ourselves to work through the initial discomfort those words might cause, we are rewarded with enlightenment and self-discovery. In Step 1 which introduced the all-important necessity of recognizing the extent of our substance abuse problem, it was the word ‘powerlessness’. Step 2 mentions ‘sanity’ and implies the loss of it. This insinuation of insanity seems drastic at first, so much so that we reject it, and assume it couldn’t possibly apply to ourselves. But embracing this concept is integral to properly working Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as the following ten steps. 

What Does “Restored To Sanity” Mean?

Before diving into what “restored to sanity” means and how it applies to addiction, let’s first look into the origin of the word. The term ‘sanity’ comes from Latin and means healthy–specifically, being of sound mind. Insanity, on the other hand, means just the opposite, an unhealthy mind. Just by examining the etymological roots of the word choice in Step Two, we can immediately see the connection to a lack of sanity and substance abuse. 

From a biological perspective, the act of continuously ingesting compounds that are toxic to the body–and doing them in spite of the many negative health and social consequences that come with them–seems completely at odds with our innate survival instincts. To willingly hurt ourselves and bear witness to our own demise doesn’t seem like something any logical creature would do. This is precisely what addiction does to us.

Being restored to sanity, as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, is the healing of this flawed mindset. It means no longer allowing substance abuse to control us and being what our world revolves around. So how exactly does AA propose for this to be done? Undoing psychological dependence is no small feat. This is precisely what Step Two strives to teach its members.  

The Meaning (and Purpose) of Step 2 of AA

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

Step 2 is an extension of the messaging of the first step of AA. Whereas Step 1 brings alcoholics to come to terms with the realities of their addiction and the fact that they do not have control over the substance, Step 2 says that since you cannot rely on yourself to get out of your addiction you must instead turn to a higher power.

The reference to a higher power can be pretty divisive. It is one of many future religious references to come in Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12 Step program. It’s important to recall that AA was founded as a Christian organization (though this support group is open to individuals of all faiths–or those without one at all). Even so, original AA literature goes into great detail about the reasoning behind these steps and makes a point that a Higher Power is up to personal interpretation. While the original references may have once been to a Christian-based ‘God’, Alcoholics Anonymous has grown and adapted since its inception nearly a century ago in 1935 and has said that there is no one singular answer of what a higher power is or must be. 

What To Choose As Your Higher Power

A higher power is anything outside of yourself that will give you the ability to overcome your addiction. In practical terms, it can be anything that motivates you to gain control over your life once more. It can be a religious deity or something abstract like nature, the universe, or humanity itself. Your higher could be something worldly like a person you admire or care for, a hobby you are passionate about like listening to music or playing sports. Once again: the only requirement is to look for something outside of yourself. Your higher power will continue to serve as a reminder that no one can overcome addiction by themselves. 

Need Help Working Step Two of AA?

Although you can find the 12 steps of AA online and attempt to work through them on your own,  to get the most out of the process, it’s strongly recommended that you attend an AA meeting (either virtual or in-person). Hearing the stories of triumph and hardship from others will provide you with a greater perspective on your own situation. They can help you work through the steps, an invaluable resource for the very likely scenario where you get stuck on one. There’s no need to struggle with alcohol addiction on your own, find an AA group near you today. 

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