“We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”.Alcoholics Anonymous, 12 steps
Recovery requires decision making. The process of discovering who we are without our addictions is not for the faint of heart. Recovery is not a sign of weakness nor is it a moral failing. We have admitted we cannot overcome our addictions of our own accord. That was no easy task. For the first time we humbly faced the totality of our addiction. Like the scene of a car wreck we saw the calamity caused by our acting out and using. We took stock of what happened. And we set course to forge a new path for ourselves.
As we trudged onward, we found hope that something outside of ourselves could restore us to sanity. All previous methods to sanity had not worked. We craved something deeper and more meaningful. We searched for the spiritual solution which took willingness to acknowledge that we needed help. In this courageous and vulnerable pursuit, we began to shift our thinking about spiritual matters.
Over the course of my clinical career I have witnessed recovery seekers struggle with the third step. Many have struggled with the concept of deciding, others have struggled with turning over their will, and what is this higher power concept people keep talking about??? As a person in long-term recovery I relate to these struggles.
Addiction has convinced me that my will still works. Addiction is often called “cunning, baffling, and powerful” for this reason. The addicted mind is dissociative and does not accurately perceive reality. The inner struggle between I can handle my own affairs and maybe I need more help is a normal part of the recovery process.
The steps have helped me to unleash myself from the need to control the direction of the wind and my life’s course.
Deciding to turn our will over does not mean some force outside of ourselves controls us. What it does mean is we align ourselves with a will higher than self which transforms our actions from destructive to constructive. Dr. Bob and Bill W spoke about willingness being the key which unlocks, and swings open the door. Deciding is not a one and done action. Step three requires “affirmative action”. Action that propels our recovery forward. Action that enhances our lives with purpose and meaning.
Willingness is intentional. Addiction is best characterized by willfulness. The concept goes something like this, “I can do what I want when I want. You can’t tell me what to do.” Dialectical Behavior Therapy offers a poignant insight on the distinction between willful and willing. Being willing means opening heart, mind, and spirit to new approaches and ideas. Willful is a closed off mind. The AA Big Book echoes a version of DBT concept of willfulness as “self-will run riot”. The third step focuses on willingness to help us break free of old patterns.
I have noticed within myself and others I have had the privileged to counsel that often we get in our own ways. We make the third step harder than is needed. Our spiritual baggage may be clouding our ability to relate to spiritual concepts. Perhaps in your conception of a higher power which you call “God” and is seen as a punitive figure. You might see this deity as someone who has punished you for the sins you’ve made in the past. On the other hand, maybe you were raised in a home where spiritual/religious abuse occurred. It is understandable if you struggle with the third step for any of the above-mentioned reasons.
Trauma work, spiritual direction/counseling, and talking to trusted people in the program who have worked the steps are good suggestions to begin to find spiritual concepts that work for you. The word God in the third step could also be used as “Good Orderly Directions”. Higher power could be the fellowship you belong – AA, NA, GA, MA, DRA, CA, SLAA, SA, SAA. Your higher could be Karma, Creator, Allah, Krisna, Jesus, Shiva, Ganesh, Vishnu. It only matters that you find a practical faith of your own understanding.
In my recovery I leaned on the tools of the program. I sought out respected people who could converse with me in earnest about my misgivings with spiritual matters. The most important thing I did was get out of my way. I trusted the program, steps, and principles would help me recover. Journaling and writing down step work with a sponsor also helped to clarify my beliefs around Step 3. Attending speaker meetings and listening to others share their experience, strength and hope around this important step. Artistic expression may provide you a vehicle to explore placing your willingness into the care and protection of your higher power.
I remember songs that would play over my YouTube music station at that time had a certain synchronicity. Whether you listen to religious or secular music try to find the deeper meaning in songs. One technique I tried was imagining my higher power signing me a song which I was listening.
The most memorable and spiritually filled moment was via phone when my SAA sponsor and I said the third step prayer together. The prayer went like this:
“God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!” (AA, Big Book P. 63)
Following the conclusion of that prayer tears shed like well springs from both eyes. A shift within me to move out of the way and let the program work through me happened. I’ve said this prayer many times over when I have felt the return of self-will back into my life. It serves a reminder that I need to stay grounded to the program and what works.
For some the God language of AA’s literature may be hard to move past. Use whatever words make sense for you. Different 12 Step Fellowships have versions which may speak more to you. Here are some variations from NA, Indigenous (Native American), Atheist/Agnostic, and Buddhist.
NA 3rd Step Prayer: “Take my will & my life, Guide me in my recovery, Show me how to live.”
Indigenous 3rd Step Prayer: “Oh Great Spirit whose voice in the winds I hear, And whose breath gives life to all the world-Hear me. Before you I come. One of your many children. I am small & weak. Your strength & wisdom I need. Let me walk in beauty & make my eyes ever behold the sunset. Make my heart respect all You have made, & my ears sharp to hear Your voice. Make me wise that I may know all You have taught my people, The lessons You have hidden in every rock. I seek strength, not to be superior to my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy – myself. Make me ready to stand before You with clean & straight eyes, So when life fades as the fading sunset, may my spirit stand before You without shame.” –Mitakuye Oyasin
Atheist/Agnostic 3rd Step Prayer: “I surrender my life and my will to the Universe, in order to be built into a recovered addict and to be rendered useful to other addicts and to the Universe. I release to the Universe the bondage of self, that I may better understand my purpose and act on it. I release to the Universe my difficulties, so I can live the program and share my story with addicts who still suffer–using the power, the unconditional love, and the recovered life that a personal relationship with an HP provides. I joyfully surrender today, knowing the sanity and serenity a HP-driven life brings.”
Buddhist Prayer: “With every breath I take today, I vow to be awake; And every step I take, I vow to take with a grateful heart–So I may see with eyes of love into the hearts of all I meet, To ease their burden when I can And touch them with a smile of peace. I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Until I attain Enlightenment. By merit accumulations from practicing generosity and the other perfections. May I attain Enlightenment, for the benefit of all sentient beings.”
A woman in Buffalo, NY giving a lead with 20+ years of interrupted recovery I once heard said:
“Steps 1-3 were about sobering up. Steps 4-7 were about cleaning up. And Steps 8-12 were about growing up.”
These words rang true for me. They represent the essence of recovery.
We have sobered up to this point in our journey through the steps. Our next part of our journey will explore dynamics of cleaning up our inner house. We will explore resentments and 4th step inventories.