Step 3: “Made a Decision to Turn Our Will and Our Lives over to the Care of God as We Understood Him”
At CORE, we take our responsibility to clients seriously. We believe, as did AA co-founder Bill Wilson, that our chief responsibility to the newcomer is an adequate presentation of the 12 Step recovery program. Step 3 of this program, in which we decide to make God the director of our lives, has been described as the “keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.” Big Book, p. 62. Such freedom from drugs and alcohol is a primary aim of our program.
To appreciate the meaning of this step, we do well to consider the personal circumstances of the men who drafted and published it. All were alcoholics, of course. For each, their drinking careers had brought them to a singular moment of personal crisis. Their financial, personal, and people resources had been totally spent. They were at the jumping-off place, facing insanity and death, with no way out. It is crucial that we understand this, because unless we put ourselves in their shoes and feel the gravity of their dilemmas, we might miss what Step 3 is all about.
Normies, who happily never have battled addiction, can’t be faulted for not fully appreciating this situation. Nonetheless, let the Reader try to imagine a group of men who were at the end of the line. No matter how hard they tried or wanted, they could not stop drinking. Their homes, jobs, and careers were gone. For many, their wives, families, and friends had given up hope and abandoned them. To survive they resorted to foraging, stealing, or panhandling. Not surprisingly, many were homeless, sleeping outside or in whatever shelter could be found. Often they were found in hospitals, prisons, and sanitariums. To the last man, they were hopeless drunks, and they knew it.
We don’t want to give the impression here that their situations were the fault of the people around them. To the contrary, many efforts (sometimes Herculean) had been made by doctors, judges, ministers, priests, friends, and loving family members. None of these interventions helped. The many hospitals, doctors, counselors, therapies, and all of the personal strategies, so many times repeated, were of no avail to these men. They were out of options and felt the full weight of their situations. “Pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization” well describes their emotional state, which was despair coupled with a sense of impending doom.
It is here we get to Step 3. Some of these men were religious. Some were atheists. The vast majority, however, were somewhere in between, holding varying beliefs and ideas about God. Regardless of their spiritual situation, alcohol had them down for the count. In this, their darkest hour, when all was lost and hopelessness permeated their whole being, these men called out to God. In desperation, they made their plea, no matter what their conception of God was, and no matter how much or how little their belief.
When this plea was made, moreover, an apparent miracle occurred. It happened for each of them, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. But for all, they understood the event as a great turning point in their lives. For in it they had made a decision to turn their will and life over to the care of God, however they understood Him, and unreservedly placed themselves under His protection and care. The decision became a conscious part of their daily, waking existence. It impelled them to follow a few, simple rules to fit themselves for service to God and others. Whereupon, these former dregs of humanity began to walk in newness of life. The overpowering obsession for alcohol? It was gone, lifted, finito – completely. And that was only the beginning of the blessings that this new life would bring.
The few, simple rules that these men followed were translated into the AA 12 Step program of recovery. These men had undergone a spiritual experience that produced a temperament free of any obsession for drugs and alcohol, and a life filled with serenity, hope, and purpose.
Everyone who has been blessed with this spiritual experience readily dismisses the idea that it comes from within us or from outside people, places, or things:
When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone. He has been granted a gift …
Twelve and Twelve, pp. 106 – 07. The Big Book outright identifies this gift-giver, saying “there is One who has all power – that One is God. May you find Him now!” Thus, God is central not only to Step 3 but also to the 12 Step program as a whole.
We want to emphasize God’s place here because there is persistent, pernicious attitude cropping up in certain treatment circles that would prefer God to be optional. Some of the culprits are internet gurus. Others can be found in AA/NA meetings. Still others are counselors giving advice in rehabs and recovery centers. Regardless of the origin, newcomers are being counseled to freely swap God for any higher power or principle they want. Step 3 is really about admitting we can’t get better by ourselves – these unfortunates are told – it’s about letting go of self-sufficiency and allowing others to help us get better.
Any version of Step 3 that omits God represents an extremely naive view of the addict’s experience. We at CORE can speak first hand to this issue. We once found ourselves in the same place as the original AAs. Staring at our impending deaths, we had tried everything to get better. We sought out others for help and became willing to try almost anything. Whether doctors, hospitals, medication assisted treatments, counseling, judges, family, friends, the many personal strategies to cut down or quit, not to mention the more incredible things like music, love, philosophy, exercise, sunsets, or even eating certain foods – we’d tried them all. Step 3 was written with full understanding that the real addict and alcoholic naturally will grasp at these things and fall flat on their faces. Factually, neither we nor any other human being can provide a defense against the first drink or drug. That defense must come from a Higher Power.
While it’s true that AA doesn’t require us to adopt a certain conception of God, and its membership is open to anybody who wants to stop drinking regardless of belief, these in fact represent the starting points for many who begin working the 12 Step program. That’s not where we end up! At Step 3 – as Bill Wilson observed in his autobiography – “They only needed to cry out in the dark for whomever or whatever might be there. No faith would be required. That would be part of the gift itself.”
The Big Book’s references to “Higher Power” and “God as we understood Him” properly refer to the personal experiences of the original AA members. They pointedly describe alcoholics who in some cases had little or no conception of God. As the book says, “we had to begin somewhere,” and the sufferer’s own conception of God, no matter how limited, was sufficient to make that beginning. As such, the Big Book expresses God in terms that “anybody—anybody at all—could accept and try.” AA Comes of Age, p. 211. Recovery is available to everyone “provided he does not close his mind to spiritual concepts. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial” Big Book, p. 568.
Addiction and alcoholism is deadly, serious business. At CORE, our intent is to give the newcomer a fighting chance, and far more. By working the 12 Steps we begin to solve problems that seemed insurmountable. We are possessed of a new sense of power and direction, and a revolutionary change takes place in our way of living and thinking. We find a new peace and happiness that we’ve never known. We face life successfully and lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We are reborn. “Consciousness of the Presence of God”, as the Big Book says, “is today the most important fact” of our lives.