Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Sounds great, but how exactly do I turn myself over to God? What does that even mean? For now, let us consider this Step to be a vow – a promise to ourselves, to others and to our Higher Power to grow along spiritual lines and to repel anything that prevents us from doing so. On a practical level, we are vowing to cultivate and expand our conscience, and then never to ignore it. As well, we are not going to consciously erect any walls between us and our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.
For addicts and alcoholics, when we remove substances and begin taking right action, we should experience the return of our conscience - that feeling in our gut which tells us if something is right or wrong - and our new job is to listen. For some, this will become an entirely new purpose in life. If my gut tells me something is right, I can no longer ignore the message but must gather the courage to act, and if I have no courage, I pray for it. If courage does not immediately come and I continue to be filled with fear or reluctance, I have to push myself to walk through it and act, knowing that if I do not, bad things will happen. When we fail to act on our conscience, we gradually lose our spiritual connection and become ill again.
On the other hand, if my gut tells me that something is wrong, I refuse and repel such a thing at all costs, and again, I pray for the willingness and power. I refuse to act, speak or even think in a way that is harmful to self or others. If I see wrongdoing around me, I do not selfishly remain in my comfort zone, but instead speak up and do the right thing. By diligently obeying our conscience, we nourish it like a tree. Soon it becomes rooted and grows taller. The roots spread, its foundation becomes more secure and the wind cannot blow it over. Our tree grows fuller and more beautiful as the light inside of us shines brighter. Following our conscience is the way to recovery, as it heals the soul of a person. With each right action, we draw closer to God.
Turning our will over to God also means that we don’t rush around forcing our will, trying to control everything and everyone. Sure we continue to get up, go to work and do what we can, but we let go of the outcome and how that will look. As human beings, we often feel as though we must manipulate the world around us. If something veers even slightly off course to the way we envisioned it, we hurl ourselves in, aggressively trying to steer the ship in the direction we see fit. In trying to force certain outcomes, we amass countless expectations, expectations that are never quite met to our standards, thus ensuring we suffer constant disappointment. Turning our will over to God means that we stop trying to dictate what is happening, both inside and out. If things happen the way we want, great, but if they don’t, also great. We accept the outcome. We stay in the moment and leave the rest to God.
It’s easy to get confused and frustrated while trying to figure everything out on our own. Slogans such as ‘Think Through the Drink’ or the CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) model of thinking through a situation make no sense when you are incapable of thinking properly through anything! One way to get through tough and chaotic times is to simply STOP. Stop right in your tracks. Stop trying to think. Stop freaking out about what to do. Step back and get quiet for a moment. Pray. The prayer can be simple, such as “God be with me” or “Thy will be done.” I like to pray in my own language, as I would talk to myself or to a friend. “God, please keep me out of my head right now.” “God, help me to let go and have patience with my boss.” After praying, we simply continue moving forward, but we have now come back to the present moment, letting the details and the future work themselves out. Human beings like to play God, as if we can do that, as if we are that powerful… but playing God is a fool’s game. Do what you can and then get out of the way.
Another strategy is to put the more complicated tasks aside for a while and engage in a more simple or menial activity like cleaning, organizing, walking or exercising. Simple activities can take us out of our racing mind and ground us with haste. When I came home from treatment years ago, I somehow procured a cooking job at a local assisted living center for about 150 residents, despite having no experience whatsoever. This involved running around a kitchen for eight hours straight - mixing this, whipping that, throwing together soups, entrees, appetizers, deserts, you name it. I loved it because for those eight hours, not a single thought went through my head. No thinking about the world, the past, the future or any other illusory, self-made problem. The mental relief alone was worth the shitty paychecks and the menial, dead-end labor.
Simple activities and hard work can effect wonders as a meditative tool. Try it, and don’t think of it as punitive. Next time you are all wound up, go outside and start landscaping your yard or working on your house. If you rent, try cleaning and organizing, or just going for a walk or a jog. And if you don’t feel any immediate relief, don’t worry about it. You did it. You took action, and that alone is positive and can shift your direction. That alone will serve you in some way. Just keep moving forward and don’t let your feelings stop you. Ask God to dissolve your resistance. Continue doing productive things and taking more and more action. Most importantly, don’t give up. Trust me, in time it will make you stronger.
Finally, one simple way to stop thinking and redirect self-will is to simply do what’s right in front of us. If you think about it literally, there is no such thing as the past or the future, so why go there? When we project ourselves into the illusion of the past or the future, we are imagining things and thus not really living. We are stuck in our heads as opposed to living in the present reality, so stay out of lala land and instead put one foot in front of the other. For instance, all I’m doing right now is writing this book. That’s all I need to do, so I’m not going to worry about anything else. After I’m done writing, I’ll do what comes next, which is to go make breakfast. Then I’ll take the dog out. On and on, moment by moment, we move through the day with relative ease, in peace rather than chaos. Being where our feet are right now without constantly wandering off somewhere mentally = freedom. Try it.
Cause and effect. This is a central idea behind not only this 3rd Step, but the entire process. We are to smash into our heads the certainty of the law of cause and effect, and not only its universality, but its reciprocity as well. We have been taught in school that Newton’s 3rd law of motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) occurs on the physical plane, but that is only partially true. Contemplate this law crossing all realms and holding true on the mental and spiritual planes as well. Everything we do, say and think will have an effect in kind. If we have committed some wrong, even if we make it right, rest assured, it will come back to bite us in some way. Just a simple and seemingly harmless negative thought will have an effect on self. Perhaps it comes back to us emotionally, as we begin to suffer or start feeling depressed. We must start believing that there is no acting, speaking, or even thinking in a vacuum. There is no anything in a vacuum. So we must deal with all we have done, but try not to let it bother you, as escaping consequence is no privilege. Consequences help us to evolve, grow stronger and build character, contrary to popular belief. Cause and effect is a blessing, not a curse.
This attitude is our foundation for life, or as the Big Book says, our “design for living”. If we do this work, our conscience will return and we will suddenly care about what we are doing. That’s all there is to it. That’s the secret. Caring about the consequences of our actions drives us to always do the right thing. Let’s look at the 3rd Step prayer and see how it breaks down.
“God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and 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.” -Alcoholics Anonymous, p.63
"God, I offer myself to Thee - to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt.” Offering ourselves to God can be equated with letting go, another concept that sounds wonderful, but how exactly does one do that? Self-help books frequently talk about the almost euphoric release and inner peace that can be achieved by letting go, but where is the instruction manual? For some, the concept alone is confusing. What does ‘letting go’ even mean?
Letting go essentially means that we are no longer enslaved by something, be it what other people think of us, what we think of ourselves, what we’re doing in life, what we’re not doing, the feeling that we’re missing out, our need to control, the past, the future, a resentment, an unpleasant thought or feeling, mortality, a relationship, and the list goes on and on. Letting go means that we have stopped caring (in a healthy way) about something we’ve always been bothered by or preoccupied with, usually something to our detriment that causes us pain, angst or discord the more we think and care about it. Letting go can also refer to literally removing or letting go of things that do not serve us, such as an abusive relationship. When some person, place or thing has a negative hold on us, the idea is to remove it and let God take care of the rest.
Sometimes a particular thing can have a negative hold on us both internally and externally. For instance, when we are stuck in a toxic relationship, we must let go of the emotional pull this person has on us, but we must also let the person physically go by setting boundaries, limiting communication, or severing the relationship altogether.
Letting go is a certainly a process. You don’t just read it in a self-help book and suddenly you’re free of everything you were holding onto emotionally. I often found great inspiration in certain books about non-resistance and so forth, only to wake up in the morning still miserable and chained to my depression and fear. Eventually, I learned that when we work on ourselves consistently, when we stop blaming the world and the people around us for our problems, that is when we wake up one day to find that we just don’t care anymore. The emotional attachment is gone. The pull is gone. We are no longer tortured by what others think of us, by some outcome, by our own limitations etc. Whatever the case, we are empty and therefore free.
When we offer ourselves to God verbally, sometimes we get so caught up in the language of prayer that we wind up either resisting or rejecting both the words and the essence. Perhaps we get anxious about not doing it the right way. Certainly this is not the point of this Step, as it is intended to do the opposite of causing us tension or stress. If we see this prayer as a starting point on the path of removing self, it can be quite cathartic. We are letting go of the traps of power and control that have owned us for so long. We are stepping aside as the sole director and operator of our lives. We are removing the need to make fear-based decisions driven by our ego, intellect or selfishness. From now on, we are just going to do our thing and leave the outcome to God. He will be our new chauffeur, so breathe, relax, and take a back seat for a while. It’s nice to put down the load sometimes, or at least part of the load. It is easy to think that we have to go it alone and do it all by ourselves, but throughout this process we begin to realize that God is there for us.
“Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will." How beautifully this summarizes the very crux of our problem, as well as the solution. When I understood that my previous life was guided by an impulsive and self-centered frame of mind based on fear, pride, arrogance, insecurity and self-will, it was then I also realized that getting better would involve the removal of such a frame of mind. The view from inside an addict is narrow and narcissistic. I believed only in myself, positive I knew it all, supremely confident I was the only true power in my life. In fact, I worshipped only myself - my talent, my intellect and my body. Let me tell you, when this attitude cracks open and blows up in your face, it is one of the single greatest events in life. Everything changes when we finally wake up, when we step out of the darkness of the lower self and into the light of reality for the first time. To be sure, growth occurs when we get over ourselves and underneath something Greater.
What is God’s will as opposed to self will? I previously wrote in my blog that when we get out of our own way, what fills the space is God’s will. Sure we continue doing what we would normally do, but when we are confused, anxious and filled with RID (Restlessness, Irritability & Discontent), instead of plowing along impulsively, we slow down, breathe, and pray for God's will to be done. Then we get up and continue moving. There are many good prayers we can employ to help us better understand this concept and to carry it out.“God, help me to distinguish between my will and Your will.” “God, teach me what Your will is for me and give me the power to do it.” “God, help me to use my will to do Your will.” Better yet, make up your own. Go for it.
"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." No one can deny that we all have certain difficulties and character defects. Drugs and alcohol are one thing, but from any addiction or emotional/spiritual malady springs forth all manner of maladaptive behaviors, beliefs, attitudes and approaches. Humbly asking the unlimited and potentially mind-altering power of the Holy Spirit to remove some of these difficulties is essential to getting better, and it is not selfish. There is nothing selfish about getting better, as this allows us to be more useful, help others and serve God.
One of the brilliant things about this prayer is that it delineates the different ways in which we can help others - by Thy Power, Thy Love or Thy Way of life. Helping people based on Thy power is when we specifically bring others the solution by taking them through this Step process and hooking them up to God. Addicts and alcoholics absolutely MUST engage in intensive individual work with other addicts in order to strengthen themselves and remain free, but also that others may acquire and use these tools to experience spiritual power for themselves. This is true sponsorship. We help enable people to activate the power lines between them and God, and then we get out of the way. And service, of course, is universal. It will strengthen and free anyone, addict or not.
Helping others based on Thy love is the effect we have on others simply by being better people. When we change, that alone is helpful. By becoming more kind and loving, more tolerant and patient, we help and comfort those around us. We help when we are truly present with others and when we truly listen. By achieving clarity and becoming more calm, grounded and balanced, we help the entire world.
Finally, helping others based on Thy way of life is projecting a good example through our own lifestyle changes. How we choose to live is essentially an endorsement of that way of life. By properly taking care of ourselves, we serve as a good example, and as we continue to learn new things and grow in new ways, we can educate others on beneficial changes to lifestyle. Exercise, diet, creativity, service, work and meditation practices are just some of the things we can teach people to help them improve their own life experience.
Good prayer, huh?
We should think long and hard before taking this Step. Understand the mystical territory you are entering when making this sort of commitment. We are promising ourselves to follow our conscience for the rest of our lives, to go to any length to grow spiritually, to adopt a new purpose and to always be willing to help others. More importantly, we are promising this to God, so don’t take this Step unless you plan on finishing the other Steps and continuing this work throughout life. Our spiritual growth must come first before all else if we are to remain free inside. Trust me, if we make this vow and then break it or let it fall to the wayside, bad things will happen. Human beings make promises all of the time and break them. Few of us realize how dangerous this can be and the effect it can have on our souls. It is very important to follow through on our decisions. If we do not, we are not only dishonoring ourselves, we are dishonoring our new relationship with God, and trust me, that’s not something you want to do.
The most important question to ask ourselves when pondering this Step is: WHY NOT?! If we are suffering beyond comprehension, we may have to try something many of us would consider quite drastic - something spiritual. I don’t quite see it that way myself, considering more conventional forms of treatment to be much more drastic, such as pharmaceutical interventions and what have you. Is it really so drastic to commit to a life of personal growth and right action? Besides, if it works, is it not a fairly small price to pay? Whether we are addicts or not, what do we have to lose? If we continue with our current program of action (or non-action), we will be okay? Dig deep and ask yourself if what you are doing now really works? Are you getting better? Are you free?
Once we have decided to change, we go take a 3rd Step. We go with our sponsor or with a trusted guide or friend, get down on our knees, hold hands and recite the 3rd Step prayer out loud. That’s all there is to it.
Feel free to recite the prayer later on by yourself, and again as often as you like. It is a beautifully written prayer and helps us to set the proper frame of mind every morning as we embark on our day. Taking a moment in the morning before rushing out is crucial, at least it is for addicts and alcoholics. Take a few minutes to sit quietly and ‘turn it over’ for the day. If we can let go continuously, we can keep a clear and serene mind, and trust me, how we feel inside is the name of the game. When push comes to shove, isn’t how we feel all that matters? Who cares what you have, what you are doing, where you are or who you are with if you’re absolutely miserable and your life experience is veiled by depression, grief or anger? So feel free to let go and hurl yourself into this journey. You will not only change your life and the world around you but you will feel better… and who could complain about that?
*When we have fully understood and committed to this process - to giving our lives and our will to God, seeking only to do God’s will for us - and when we have gotten down on our knees and recited the 3rd Step prayer, we have taken a 3rd Step. If you do not want to know and do God’s will, don’t take this Step or continue in this process.