What is Step 3 of the 12 Steps Program?


Step Three of the 12 Steps: We made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God, as we understood him.

Step Three of the 12 Steps is the natural follow-up to Steps One and Two. First, we admit that we’ve lost control (Step 1). Then we acknowledge belief in a Higher Power that still has control and is ready to help us (Step 2). Then, with the situation clarified, we take the plunge and actually ask for help. Sounds obvious, but it’s the point where many people get hung up.

Admitting “Yes, I have a problem and should get help” is vital, but—especially if you really don’t want to change anything major—it’s tempting to stop there, figuring that a firm diagnosis means the problem is as good as solved. Of course, it isn’t: no diagnosis is much use without a prescribed course of treatment; and any prescription can be written, even filled, and do no good until it’s actually taken.

As with the medical treatments we hated as kids, we will encounter many stages along the 12-Step path where the right action comes with a bitter taste or a painful sting. However, Step Three of the 12 Steps requires the simplest and yet perhaps the hardest action: committing to actually follow “doctor’s orders” rather than nodding our heads in agreement while mentally sifting the recommendations to decide which we can modify to suit our own preferences.

Let Go and Let God During Step Three of the 12 Steps

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Let go and let God.” Sure, it’s a cliche, but nothing becomes a cliche without having a vital truth embedded in it. And despite how it may sound at first thought, the true principle in this saying doesn’t advocate sitting back and letting things happen as they will; hard and proactive work is required along every road to recovery. Instead, the principle is to accept that one can never work hard enough to make everything happen according to one’s own will. Wishing it were otherwise is where many substance-abuse problems start. Take a close look at any situation classified under another old cliche—“this is driving me to drink”—and you’ll find that “this” took the wheel by default, after someone exhausted himself trying to force his way down an impassable road because he thought the clearly marked detour was too long.

Understanding Control

Into every life fall a few things that are out of our control: the family we were born into; the genes that drew our body plan; the actions of other people; the problems of a larger society; the rain (or hurricane or wildfire or earthquake) that falls on the just and the unjust. When one of these proves contrary to our preferences, most of us react by, on the one hand, cursing our bad luck; and, on the other, by striving in all the wrong ways to change things. Instead of simply ignoring unfair criticism, we take it on ourselves to correct or punish the criticizer’s attitude.

Instead of seeing the opportunity a delay offers to practice mindfulness and plan next steps, we seethe and swear as if that will speed things up. And instead of admitting that we’ve taken on too many responsibilities and something has to go, we redouble our efforts to fit it all in.

When these efforts get nowhere, many people find it all too easy to turn to chemical escapes as their second line of defense; if we can’t gain the frustration-free lives we crave, at least we can forget our frustrations for a while. And once the substance use starts to become a problem—well, it’s not really our fault, we’re only reacting naturally to life’s unfairness. We cling desperately to our chemicals of comfort, terrified of losing one more point of control, often until we’re on the edge of losing everything else. We may even get to the point of shrugging and saying, “Sure, I know it’s killing me, but life wouldn’t be worth living without it.”

Embracing Step Three of the 12 Steps

If we’re ready, though, to admit that we would like to be able to live for more meaningful things than artificially induced pleasure, we come back to “let go and let God” and to admitting that into every life fall things that are out of our control. Fortunately, the decision to “turn our will and lives over to the care of God” is one thing we always have the final say in. Once we take that step, we’re ready to acknowledge that we have no right or responsibility to run the world, that things we dislike have a right to exist, and that nonetheless there is much to be grateful for.

And, really, isn’t that the first step toward freedom from fruitless struggles, toward a life that appreciates the good things and makes the best of the rest?

About the 12 Step Recovery Program at Kemah Palms

At Kemah Palms Recovery®, our 12 step recovery program combines evidence-based addiction therapy services with holistic addiction treatment options such as acupuncture or music therapy. To learn more about Kemah Palms Recovery® or the 12 Steps, call our admissions department today at 855-568-0218.

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