Working the 12 Steps of Recovery: Step 3

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Scott Brassart

Last month, we discussed how to work step 2 of the 12 steps, along with the benefits of working that step. This month, our focus logically moves to step 3.

Step 3 reads as follows:

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over the care of God as we understood God.

Step 1 helps you understand the depth and consequences of your addiction. Step 2 helps you see that if you hope to make changes for the better, outside help is needed. Step 3 starts the process of actually accepting that help. In some respects, step 3 is the first “action step” of recovery, as it is the first time you are asked to actually do something – to make a decision that outside guidance will be accepted and followed.

It is not unusual for the word “God” to bungle the works a bit, as many addicts have bad memories of the punishing deity with which they were raised. You know, tall guy, white beard, flowing robes, gets really, really angry when you don’t do exactly what he wants, when he wants, and then he drops a plague of locusts or floods the planet or does something else that sort of seems like overkill. Plenty of addicts, even those who are eager for recovery, have no intention whatsoever of ever re-engaging with that guy.

Well, good news: That’s not what step 3 is about. For addicts who struggle with the God thing, it is perfectly acceptable to substitute the words “power greater than ourselves.” In other words, believing in and accepting a traditional version of God is not necessary. Recovering addicts only have to acknowledge that they need and are going to willingly accept help, which usually arrives in the form of supportive real-world people who can aid in their ongoing sobriety – residential treatment, therapists, 12-step fellowships, 12-step sponsors, supportive friends in recovery, etc. For some recovering addicts, the word God becomes an acronym for the “Good Orderly Direction” given by their recovery advisors and support network.

Nevertheless, some addicts still struggle mightily with the God concept. The religion of their early life is simply too ingrained, and the resentments run too deep. In such cases, a simple exercise often helps. First, you get a large sheet of paper. On it, you draw a giant circle. Inside the circle you write attributes that you think your ideal higher power would possess – loving, caring, honest, funny, protective, nurturing, etc. Outside the circle you write attributes that your higher power should not possess – angry, judgmental, punishing, dictatorial, and the like. Then you use a pair of scissors to cut away whatever is outside the circle. These undesirable attributes are then ripped up and thrown away, ceremonially burned, or whatever. You then agree to act as if what remains, the desirable higher power attributes, are the reality of God for you.

If you think this exercise is silly, it may help to re-read the final five words of step three, “God as we understood God.” In other words, it is up to you to understand (or not understand) your higher power, and nobody in 12-step recovery should ever judge your or anyone else’s concept thereof. You are free to find and include in your life any higher power that works for you, and that higher power need not match anyone else’s in your program of recovery (or anywhere else).

For addicts who are unwilling to consider any sort of spiritual entity at all, 12-step recovery still works. If you are among these folks, the way to work step three is to identify three or more people that you are willing to trust and to ask for their help when you are struggling. Those people can form your higher power – the collective entity to whom you will (at least for now) turn over willful behavior and control. Essentially, these higher power individuals serve as sounding boards, advisors, and accountability partners. For instance, you might agree to call one or more of these individuals both before and after a work-related cocktail party to help ensure your sobriety.

In the end, you are well served to understand that a higher power (whether you choose to call it God or something else) can be anything outside of yourself that helps you stay sober. You are not tied to any particular definition or belief system; instead, you are free to choose and accept help from any version of a higher power that works for you, regardless of how others may feel about it.

In next month’s post to this site, we will continue our discussion of the 12 steps with an examination of step 4.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex or porn addiction, help is available. For porn addicts, Seeking Integrity offers a low-cost online workgroup series. Click HERE for information. We offer a similar workgroup series for sex addicts. Click HERE for information.