The third step of the anonymous fellowships is “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” When I first got out of treatment and was going to meetings on my own, I had a couple of different sponsors. I wasn’t actually trying to work the steps and stay clean and relapsed shortly after, so neither sponsor worked out. Even though that was my fault I can say that I don’t think they tried to impress upon me the importance of the first three steps.

These steps can be easy to gloss over. Do you admit you’re an alcoholic/addict? Yes. Do you believe God can restore you to sanity? Yes. Are you ready to turn your life over? Yes. Ok, step 4. That was my experience. That’s not how they should be worked. These steps are what the rest of our recovery is going to be based upon so it’s crucial to avoid rushing right through them.

When I went through treatment this last time I got a sponsor who was on the staff there (who is still my sponsor) and we went through them very differently. We went through the AA steps with the Big Book. The first time we sat down, I told him my own story of addiction so he got to know more about me. He shared some of his. Then he had me read the first two chapters and underline everything that stood out to me. The next time we sat down, we read through those same pages together and discussed them. He told me about how the steps worked for him. My homework after that was to read chapters three and four and do the same thing. We met several times and discussed the book thoroughly before my sponsor had me move on to step 4. He wanted to make sure I believed what I was saying about my powerlessness, insanity, and willingness.

AA vs NA Steps: A Different Approach

Currently, I am working the NA steps with my sponsor. The steps are the same as in AA but the approach to working them is a little different. NA has a step-working guide with questions that we write down answers to. These questions help us think more deeply about the steps and come to a better understanding of them. One fellowship’s approach is no better than the other’s, they are just different. Some people identify more closely wither either AA or NA. I like going to meetings of both. I feel that attending both helps me get the most out of my recovery. My only suggestion is that if you are new to recovery and in AA but feel like you need more structure in your steps, look into getting an NA sponsor and try working the steps that way too.

Lessons From Step 3 of AA

Takeaway #1: ‘The decision to turn our will and our lives over’

There are two important takeaways that I got from this step. The first is that the step doesn’t read “we turned our will and our lives over …”. It says that we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over. The word “decision” implies that we are taking this step of our own volition. It reflects a major change in our thinking and our approach to life. We are letting go of our self-centeredness, self-obsession, and our attempts at control. We have come to terms with our powerlessness, come to believe that there is a way out of our addiction, and are now doing something about it. It’s an action step. In our addiction we had gotten to the point where we lost the power of choice. We were slaves to drugs and alcohol and could no longer make decisions about our lives.

It may seem like a paradox. Handing over our will and our lives to a higher power that we may have no conception of, no contact with, can be frightening. It can feel like our lives will become more out of control when we let go. We’re unsure that this higher power is able to take better care of us than we were ourselves but we find this to be the case. Our attempts at control clearly failed. We wouldn’t be in the rooms of NA and AA if our lives were under control. Even for people who are not addicts or alcoholics, most things in life are out of our control. While this step can be scary, for many of us it comes as a relief. I was so desperate for things to change in my life, I was happy to relinquish control to a power greater than myself. Since then I’ve learned that my higher power’s will for me is easy to discern from my own. His will feels like the right thing to do when I’m presented with different courses of action in life. All I can do is the best that I can, let go of my expectations of what the results will be, and leave the rest up to my higher power.

Takeaway #2: ‘as we understood Him’

My second takeaway and what really allowed me to open my mind to the program was “ … as we understood Him.” In my addiction, I thought that I was a spiritual person. I thought that I used drugs to enhance life, to expand my mind, and to reach a higher plane of consciousness. I wanted to transcend the human experience. Now I can see that I was just trying to escape. I couldn’t figure out how to deal with the life I was given and make the most of it. Insecurity and fear got the best of me. My so-called spirituality didn’t include any actual spiritual principles or practices and I was completely self-obsessed. I couldn’t have real relationships and treated those around me poorly.

I’ve found that living spiritually in my own life means being present in the moment as I go through the day. Being conscious of the people around me and doing more giving than taking. Trying to see the positive rather than the negative and accepting life on life’s terms. Actual spiritual principles. It doesn’t require an artificial, drug-induced state of consciousness.

No one likes being told what to do or what to believe. I can’t get with being told that I have to do this or believe that or else this bad thing is going to happen to me. It’s never worked for me and it never will. But just like I don’t want to be told that, I will never tell another person that their beliefs are wrong or invalid. I may not like what your beliefs are but I respect your right to them. It is an inalienable human right to believe however you want.

That’s why as we understood Him is so important. Many people in the program call it having a higher power that you can do business with. A lot of addicts come into recovery very resistant to the idea of God and trying to tell any of us how to believe is going to turn us away from the program. Spirituality is a very personal thing. My sponsor told me at the beginning that what worked for him may not work for me and that there was nothing wrong with that.

You don’t have to understand what or who your higher power is. One of my favorite lines in NA literature is from the book titled Living Clean: “The most important thing to understand about a Higher Power is that you ain’t it!” The only suggestion that is made to everyone is that this power be loving and kind, have our best interests at heart, and be greater than ourselves. That doesn’t mean that nothing bad is ever going to happen to us or that life is going to be easy once we turn our will and our lives over. What it does mean is that when we go through the inevitable difficult times in life, we have a source of strength to walk through them clean and sober.

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