One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. I have written about Steps 1 and 2 here and here. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle to know what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Step 3.
“Our whole trouble had been the misuse of willpower. We had tried to bombard our problems with it instead of attempting to bring it into agreement with God’s intention for us” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 40)
“So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 62)
Step 3 is when the recovering alcoholic comes face to face with how much willpower has destroyed his or her life. Bill Wilson uses the example of an actor who tries to do everything in a stage production: the set, directing, lighting, as well as the acting. What happens? The play falls apart and is an utter failure. This does not mean the alcoholic is a bad person; often he or she is a very good person.
But a good person who thinks everything must be done without help. Complete control is sought after: control of other people, control of surroundings, control of events and consequences. When that control cannot be attained, alcohol relieves the pain and quiets the noise. The life of an addict is a life of inflated ego.
In the quote above, Wilson states alcoholics bombard their problems with willpower. The more problems arise, the more the alcoholic tries to control. Living a life of addiction, especially an addiction that is not acknowledged, is quite exhausting. Alcoholics work really hard to maintain relationships, work, and drinking to their satisfaction. When difficulty arises, they work harder to maintain everything they want. Sobriety begins with an admission that all the willpower in the world is not enough (powerlessness) and there has to be a greater power out there somewhere (Higher Power).
Step 3 is when the alcoholic says, “I have had enough. I need help.”
And they turn to God.
In Step 2, the alcoholic acknowledges the existence of God. In Step 3, they decide to turn to God.
Last month, I discussed the use of the term Higher Power, so I will not rehash it here. But there are some things to remember when walking alongside an addict who is attempting Step 3.
First, quit playing God. Alcoholics Anonymous, referred to commonly as The Big Book, says the first thing an alcoholic must do is to quit playing God. This is not unique to alcoholics. Many people try to control every aspect of their lives. Many Christians fail to surrender their will and their lives to God. Instead of treating the alcoholic as if they are doing something only “their kind of people” need to do, acknowledge your own struggle to play God in your life.
Recovering alcoholics need relationships. For many addicts, the closest relationships they have been in are with other people who participate in the same addictions. In recovery, the addict is trying to stop playing God while at the same time breaking away from the community they have already formed.
When non-alcoholics are willing to come alongside those in recovery and say, “I need to stop playing God in my life, too. How can we help each other?” you will be surprised at the impact that has.
Second, be open to pray. Step 3 is a spiritual step. It is a step that involves turning to God. It is a new birth; a renewal. And, as Wilson wrote in the Big Book, it is “desirable to take this spiritual step with an understanding person….” (p. 63). Recovering addicts who are Christians often feel alienated and isolated from the rest of their Christian community. AA is all about creating community—and that is great.
But the church needs to be better at maintaining and even increasing community with people who are in the process of recovery. Being willing to pray with and listen to a person at the beginning stages of sobriety will help let the recovering alcoholic know their Christian family has not deserted them.
I will end this post with the prayer commonly referred to in AA as 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!”