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The 12 Steps – the Third Step

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Alcoholics Anonymous, The Big Book The Third Step of recovery can be a stumbling block for many substance abusers in Boise, Idaho. Stubbornness is one of the defining personal characteristics of people suffering the disease of addiction. After making progress in the first two Steps, many individuals new to recovery balk at the next one. The idea that they must surrender control of their life is an almost unfathomable concept. It is their life, after all. What they most often fail to realize at the beginning of the Third Step is the inescapable fact that before now, they had already surrendered control of their life – to addiction. If asked, they can probably not even tell you when or how, exactly, they gave up their all to their drug of choice. Somehow, it just seemed to happen. They never consciously chose to be addicts. When a person actively works the Third Step of recovery, they are making the deliberate decision to place their lives into the care of something outside of and greater than themselves – call it God by any name, call it a Higher Power, or call it any other name. Read that again – they are making the deliberate decision – they are choosing. In a strange and wonderful way, by opting to give up control, they are actually regaining some small measure of control. By committing to a single course of action – recovery – the addict is choosing where they want to go with their life – from an unmanageable life of addiction in Boise Idaho to a productive and serene life anywhere in the world!

“God As We Understood Him”

As we stated when writing about earlier Steps, the spiritual aspect of recovery does not require or prohibit the practice of any religion, including no religion. Anything that the fragile, newly-sober addict can use for encouragement, strength, and inspiration will work. And, if addiction has morally robbed the person of almost everything, including both Hope and Faith, as is often the case, then the only thing required to make this decision is a mind that is open just enough to admit the possibility that there might just be a better way to live. Greater Faith will come through action as progress is made with the remaining Steps.

Turning It Over

In a sick, addicted person the disease often gains control because of the person’s insistence on SELF – self-pity, self-delusion, self-seeking, and selfishness. By engaging in these behaviors, it is impossible for the addict to stay out of their own way. Recovery becomes even more difficult, almost unachievable. 12-Step literature refers to this as the “bondage of self”. “Turning it over”, “surrendering”, and “letting go” all mean the same thing. They mean that you have come to the realization that you will not be able to achieve sobriety without the help of someone and/or something outside of yourself, and then making the conscious decision to allow the greater, good forces in life – God, Higher Power, Medicine, Family, Humankind – to guide you and strengthen you on your journey ahead.

Practical Exercises

A decision, even one as important as this one, means little if there are no actions to go along with it. Every day, there are meaningful things you can do every single day to work Step Three and make real progress on your recovery.

  • Pray/Meditate
  • Keep a journal
  • Make a list of everyone you trust and reflect upon that
  • Read 12-Step literature
  • Attend meetings
  • Work on accepting those things over which you have no power and cannot change, just as the Serenity Prayer suggests
  • Most of all, Count Your Blessings

This is not a Step that can be worked quickly. Remember to have patience, including with yourself. Learning to let go is an acquired skill, and will run contrary to the way that you are accustomed to doing things. There will be times when you will shamefacedly discover that you are acting a certain unproductive way because you are “bound by self”, and when you recognize those times, take a step back, take a deep breath, and then… LET IT GO.