The “Decision” to Take Step 3

The “Decision” to Take Step 3

3.  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

We thought well before taking this step making sure we were ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

These quotes from the Alcoholics Anonymous tell us quite a bit about Step 3 and what the real mindset must be for a person to truly work Step 3.

The first quote is actually Step 3 as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book.  The Third Step starts out with the words “Made a decision.”   The idea of “making a decision” can translate differently for different people.  For some it is when you want to do something, for some it is when you “sincerely” want something, and for some it is even more.

The simple way to describe the “even more” kind of “wanting something” is to begin with the question:  “Have you ever lied to yourself?  If you answer yes, then you understand a huge problem that most of us looking for recovery suffer from:  The inability to fully trust our own thoughts and ideas.  Let’s look at this example:

We will say that I am about sixty pounds overweight.  I go to the doctor and the doctor tells me I am terribly obese and need to look at losing weight.  So I say that I will lose weight and I leave the doctor’s office and have salad for dinner that night and eat a little better for a day or two, but then go back to what I was doing before.  That describes the problem with translating the meaning of decision as just the point that you decided to do something.  I decided to eat healthier, but it was not a strong enough decision to bring about change in my life.

Now think about all of the resolutions that people make for a New Year.   Let’s say that I commit to losing forty pounds this year as my New Year’s resolution.  I do not like the way I look and get emotional about needing to lose weight and determine to lose the weight.  I go jogging on New Year’s Day, have diet drinks for breakfast and dinner then eat a salad for dinner.  I do this for a couple of days and then find that there are other more important things that I need that time for and that my life is too busy to have good meals so I go back to fast food.  That is the “sincerely” wanting kind of decision, but the challenge is that the decision does not have enough force or importance to follow through.

Bothe of those are technically correct in defining the word “decision” but, what kind of decision are they talking about here.

If you add to the above descriptions; “a determination that is strong enough to follow through with any actions that must accompany the decision” and you are most of the way there.   The fact we are capable of lying to ourselves means that just because we think or feel we have that level of commitment, it still may not be true.  Our feelings or what we think has to be tested.  The only way to test the decision to lose weight is that actions I take and other tools such as finding and allowing people to hold me accountable to not cheating, quitting, cutting corners, etc.  In other words the actions that follow are part of measuring how true a decision really is.

That is why you have to think well before taking this step because you have to consider what it is you are deciding to do.  In a general sense, what we are each committing to in Step Three is described on page 63:

…abandon ourselves utterly to Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

The “Him” (which is capitalized) is God!  So step three is a commitment to abandon yourself completely to God, “without reservation.”  That means what God says you can do you do and what He says for you not to do you do not do.  That means that you must be willing to do anything to be closer to Him and you are repelled by anything that pushes you away from Him in any way.

Now look at this:

The wording was, of course, quite optional so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation. This was only a beginning, though if honestly and humbly made, an effect, sometimes a very great one, was felt at once.
Next we launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning…  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

Now how did I say you tested to see if a decision you make is real or if you are lying to yourself?  I’ll put it in the simple way it was explained to me:  “A decision is not a decision until you do what you decided to do.”  The action is not only what follows the decision, it is a part of the decision making process.  The fact we test our decisions through the actions that follow means that the actions are actually part of the making of the decisions.  In other words Step Four and in reality all of the steps that follow Step Three are measuring sticks that help each of us see how sincere our commitment to Step Three really is.

To truly understand what I just stated, let’s look at the actual wording of the example we have in the Alcoholics Anonymous book of the Third Step prayer:

“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!”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 63)

I know that some have some challenges with the wording used here, so let me try to say the same thing in English that is more plain:

God, I am giving myself completely to you.  Do whatever you want with me and direct me however you want.  Set me free from the bondage of focusing on myself or selfishness of any kind, but not just so that I can be free.  Set me free of the selfishness and the resulting addictions so that the miracle of freedom may be a message to others opening the door to my helping them using your power, your love, and showing them your way of life.  Give me the strength to always do Your will no matter what.

This is a huge commitment.  That is why the very next words on page 63 are:

We thought well before taking this step making sure we were ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 63)

This is the logic of Step Three.  I can communicate the logic, but only you can make the decision and take the action.  If you have already moved on to other steps and have not worked Step 3 in this manner or with that kind of commitment, stop whatever you think you are doing and go back through Steps One thorough Three.  If you never truly made that kind of decision before the action, you run the risk of having made one of those other kinds of decisions that will simply fail to have enough force to drive you to fully follow through.

Wade H.

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 2)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 2)

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

We have been discussing the first three Steps of Twelve Step programs (please read part 1 before continuing to read this post which is part 2).

If you understand that you are in a desperate situation that has grown so desperate that you have placed yourself beyond human aid, than you are at the point of deciding if you can accept “spiritual help” or not.  Can you or are you not willing to deal with spiritual tools and the topic of God or not?

We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the nonalcoholic. If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.

To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 44)

Did you notice that the terminology of previous quotes (“spiritual tools” “spiritual help” etc.) has now changed to living “on a spiritual basis.”  You may not have caught what just happened, but they just laid out what the desired end result of the program is:  THAT YOU LEARN TO LIVE ON A SPIRITUAL BASIS!   If you cannot deal with any spiritual topics or even discuss such things without tuning out or getting mad, how are you going to “live on a spiritual basis?”

Some people at this point try to say that I can talk of spiritual stuff on my terms, I just don’t like to talk about God.  As long as I accept that something is greater than me (get some humility) I can do everything.

This is true of working Step 1 and for starting Step 2, but is not the case for working Steps 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 and in fact is not even true for being ready to go from working Step 2 to starting Step 3.  I know some feel that God discussion is not necessary and some think it is somehow outlawed in all things 12 Step and that a person at most has to say blurbs about a “power greater than ourselves” of some sort.

I am proposing here that there must be discussion about “God” and that even the “power greater than ourselves” talk is really just a part of beginning the discussion about “God.”

Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?

Well, that’s exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem. That means we have written a book which we believe to be spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God. Here difficulty arises with agnostics. Many times we talk to a new man and watch his hope rise as we discuss his alcoholic problems and explain our fellowship. But his face falls when we speak of spiritual matters, especially when we mention God, for we have re-opened a subject which our man thought he had neatly evaded or entirely ignored. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 45)

According to this passage, the Alcoholics Anonymous book and all it contains (including the Twelve Steps which are the source of all other Twelve Step programs) are based on the idea of helping a person find God and learn to live by the principles of God.

Did you notice that God is mentioned directly and bluntly?  In this passage the authors mention that the struggle with the idea of or discussion of God is a problem for many in recovery at this point.  If you are having trouble with what you are hearing right now, it’s okay.  Many people do.  It is something that you are going to have to work through.

You may have to start with terms like “higher power” or “power greater than myself” but you are going to have to understand that we are talking about God and you simply are not there yet.

Did you notice that the word “God” is part of  Step 3.  Before you can start on Step 3 you are supposed to have started turning that corner.  In other words, if you cannot handle the topic of “God” or even the mention of the word “God” how can you work a Step the has “God” as part of its description?

The challenge of Step 2 is to not only believe, but to believe that he can and will free you of all of this alcoholism and addiction stuff.

Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.

Being convinced, we were at Step Three, which is that we decided to turn our will and our life over to God as we understood Him.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 60)

Notice the words “Being convinced, we were now at Step Three.  If you are not thoroughly convinced on these three ideas, you are not ready to start working on Step 3.  That means you can only go as far as Step 2 and that is where you are stuck.

  1. Are you an addict or alcoholic who cannot manage his or her own life?
  2. Are you so advanced in your addiction or alcoholism that nothing that normal human power has to offer seems to be able to help you?
  3. Do you believe that “God” can and will help you if you seek Him?

Until you can answer yes to all three of these questions because you are absolutely convinced that they are all true about yourself, you are stuck at Steps 1 and 2.

These two questions are like a test on Steps 1 and 2 and if you are not convinced you have failed the test and have to redo the previous classes before you can go on.

I leave you with thought in summary from the chapter in the Alcoholics Anonymous book that is supposed to teach us how to work with a newcomer:

Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 98)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 1)

Only 2 Alternatives (Part 1)

If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

Once a person accepts that he or she is actually an alcoholic or an addict, the next question is obvious…  WHAT NOW?  Well, in reality, knowing you have a problem that you cannot seem to solve is only Step 1.  That means that the answer to what is next is to do whatever Step 2 is.

Look at the first 3 Steps as outlined in the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.   (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

Step 2 is a polite way of stating the fact we started with from page 25:  “

…we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

The key is that the statement we started with from page 25 must be looked at first:  “If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were.”  So if you are as far along in your addiction to be one of the people who feel that

  1. Life is becoming impossible
  2. You have passed into the region from which there is no return through normal human aid

You may require more than what people who have not gotten this bad need to overcome your addiction.  A person this advanced in addiction or alcoholism has only two choices according to this passage.

  1. Keep getting more and more miserable on the road to a slow miserable death or
  2. Accept something called “spiritual help”

If you are a person in need of recovery and you do not know if you are “that bad” then you are still at Step 1.  That is why Step 1 has the wording it does.  Think about the idea of being “powerless” and admitting that your life is “unmanageable” when compared to the wording used on page 25 and you see that there is far more to Step 1 than just realizing you have a problem.

Either you life is becoming impossible and you cannot find your way back through human aid or this is not true.  That is Step 1.

A person who is deeply resistant to “spiritual help” or to talk of God is a person who is not finished with Step 1.  This is not necessarily the end of the world (that person may just need more Step 1 work), but there is no reason for that person to be trying to work other steps.

If the authors felt that the only solution is something called “spiritual help” then everything they put together is “spiritual help.”  A person who will not accept or even discuss such things does not want what the authors of the Twelve Steps felt was the only way out.

With that mindset, working steps is taking actions you don’t believe in or want and expecting the good results to come from something else completely. 

The sentence sounds complicated and ridiculous because it is.  The results you are looking for are supposed to come from the “spiritual help.”  The whole program is supposed to be “spiritual help.”  “Spiritual Help” is described as the only way out for people who are this advanced in alcoholism or addiction.

Either “spiritual help” is the only hope or it is not.  If it is the only in fact the only hope, then you  either are that advanced in your addiction or alcoholism or you are not.  If you are, your only choice is if I want to be more and more miserable or accept “spiritual help?”

If you have accepted that you are that desperate, but are having some challenges with the ideas we are talking about, consider this:

There is a solution. Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it. When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 25)

It is the only option and the longer you resist, the longer you are resisting even starting your journey towards freedom.  If you cannot turn the corner and still find yourself completely uncomfortable with this topic, YOU ARE STILL ON STEP ONE.  It is okay to realize this if you plan to work through it.  If you just want to avoid the topic and move on to other steps, you are simply running on a treadmill like a hamster in a cage running in place.  You are doing stuff and getting no place.

If you are one of those people, you should probably spend some time reading all of the previous posts on this blog and reading the Alcoholics Anonymous book (where all things 12 Step found their start) before reading part 2 of this post.  Part 2 will only disturb you more by belaboring the point more and by taking a far more detailed look at the facts behind Steps 2 and 3.

Are You Willing???

Are You Willing???

Your candidate may give reasons why he need not follow all of the program. He may rebel at the thought of a drastic housecleaning which requires discussion with other people. Do not contradict such views. Tell him you once felt as he does, but you doubt whether you would have made much progress had you not taken action. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 94)

This is not just a possibility in is a probability.  Most newcomers have some problem with some part of the program.  Drastic housecleaning is something many never do.  Those are the people who go to meetings and share etc. but never really do any recovery work or the they just leave (unless court ordered). 

This is not cause for a person more advanced in recovery, a friend, or loved one to freak out, it is normal.  If you are this person who has a problem with some part of the program however, you are at a huge crossroads.  It’s an all or nothing proposition.  You don’t have to accept all of it this minute, but you will have to accept it all in time.

The truth is either a person is willing to do whatever it takes to get recovery or not.

Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

It’s not really important if you understand everything yet or totally agree with each aspect, the question is:  “How serious are you about recovery?”  In other words; “are you serious enough to do a few things you don’t yet understand or agree with?”

For those who are the friends and families of the addict or alcoholic in question, you have an important role in this also.  At the time the book was written it was you who found out if the person was that serious before even being introduced to recovery.

Then let his family or a friend ask him if he wants to quit for good and if he would go to any extreme to do so. If he says yes, then his attention should be drawn to you as a person who has recovered. You should be described to him as one of a fellowship who, as part of their own recovery, try to help others and who will be glad to talk to him if he cares to see you.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 90)

If you are the person, just think of doubt, discomfort and fear as part of the recovery process.  These feelings are some of the obstacles that must be overcome.  Think of what the authors were trying to do:

To show other alcoholics PRECISELY HOW WE HAVE RECOVERED is the main purpose of this book.  (Alcoholics Anonymous – Foreword to First Edition)

You are trapped somewhere you do not know how to escape from and someone has given you a precise map of escape to follow.  It really doesn’t make sense to only follow the parts you like and ignore other important details of the map or to throw out the map and go it alone.  The escape map is precisely made so it can be precisely followed.

The idea of us as addicts or alcoholics only doing what we are comfortable with and calling it recovery is thoroughly ridiculous.  Just the abstinence required to work recovery is uncomfortable as a starting point.  If we only did what we felt comfortable with; WE WOULD NEVER STOP USING BECAUSE IN OUR MINDS IT IS MORE COMFORTBLE.

If you are ready, just follow the detailed map in detail or don’t be surprised if you get lost.  You can do this, but just keep the short phrase; “ALL OR NOTHING” in the back of your mind.

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 58)

ARE YOU WILLING???