The 12-step program was created by the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, but it is used by hundreds of self-help organizations and support groups around the world as a way to reaffirm their commitment to staying sober.
Incorporating the 12-step program or a version of it into your addiction treatment plan can give you a road map to your new life and serve as a reminder that you are not alone on your addiction recovery journey.
What Is a 12-Step Program?
The principles of a 12-step program are meant to help guide those recovering from addiction and provide direction for continuing to live a sober life and avoid relapse. Along with the steps themselves, the program involves regularly scheduled meetings in a public place, typically a church or community center, and give those in recovery a place to share their feelings, fears, and anything else in a safe space with individuals who are experiencing the same things.
While initially put into use by Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12-step program has been adapted and changed to fit a variety of substance abuse support groups, including Narcotics Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, and Cocaine Anonymous, as well as non-substance-related addiction or compulsion support groups like Gamblers Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous.
The Complete 12-Step List
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Step 3: Taking Action and Turning Over
What sets Step 3 apart from the first two steps is that this one, and all the subsequent steps that follow, is predicated on taking affirmative action. For Step 1 and Step 2, you are asked to engage in reflection and introspection, to accept that you are powerless over alcohol and are open to believing in a higher power and the help it can provide. On the other hand, Step 3 requires more than just acceptance.
The Third Step is one of commitment and decision, though perhaps not in the way that a person might expect, especially if they were previously unfamiliar with the 12-step program. The Third Step asks you to decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand him.
For many people, this step is understandably difficult, for several reasons. First, the realization that this is a decision that is entirely on your shoulders can be a scary one. At this point, many decisions will have been made for you, either by drugs and alcohol, your family, a judge, a therapist, or a doctor. But now, like opening a door, you have to make this decision for yourself, and no one can do it for you.
Another aspect of the Third Step that can make it tough to grapple with is that it can almost sound like you are meant to be turning over your free will entirely, though this is not the case. It’s more like deciding to stop swimming mindlessly against a never-ending current and instead allowing yourself to follow the natural flow of your life and accept that the higher power you put your faith in at Step Two will do a better job of caring for you than you have been able to do.
This does not, however, mean that this power is going to control or run your life for you, or that you can blame it for any irresponsible activities that you indulge in. It means deciding to change what you are capable of changing, and accepting that there are some things that you cannot change and must be left in the hands of a higher power, and trusting that it will be all right. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s basically just a rephrasing of the Serenity Prayer, which is typically adopted at Step 3:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.”
Lastly, some people may struggle with the more explicitly religious nature of the Third Step, but that’s why the last four words are so important. It doesn’t end at turning your will and life over to the care of God, but to the care of God as you understand him. You are giving yourself up to your personal definition of God, whoever and whatever that may be.
In some of the more secular versions of the 12-step program, the Third Step is described as allowing yourself to be open to and directed by a positive spiritual energy, or making the decision to turn your life over to the AA program. No matter what you choose to call it, the task, and the goal, are still the same: making the decision to allow yourself to depend on something greater than yourself.
4 Tips on How to Best Practice Step 3
- Be sincere in your commitment to turn yourself over. No matter what greater power you decide to trust in, you must embrace it fully, just like in Steps 1 and 2.
- Understand that this dependence is not weakness but strength from which you can draw inspiration and motivation.
- Practice mindfulness, whether it is in the form of prayer or meditation. This will keep you from focusing on the aspects of your life that cannot be changed that you have entrusted to your higher power.
- In times of great stress or emotional duress, recite the Serenity Prayer. Even if you are still coming to terms with the meaning behind the words, just saying it can provide a calming effect. Let the prayer become a mantra you can turn to when you need it.
What to Remember As You Move Forward
Making the deliberate decision to commit yourself to making a change is hard enough, but having that change be turning your will and life over to something greater than yourself is even harder. You have to trust in it, deflate your ego, and understand just what this dependence means, and that this lack of self-sufficiency is not a mark of weakness. You can’t be self-sufficient while in recovery, not if you want it to work. You need the support of those around you, whether it’s family, friends, or your fellow support group members.
Much like the other steps in the program, Step 3 might not happen all at once, and that’s fine. Change this big doesn’t come all at once, and you will continue to work on it along with the other steps as you make your way through the program. What’s important is making the decision to take action to continue the work of the 12-step program.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse and looking for help to make a change, we at Pathway to Hope are here for you. You can call us 844-311-5781 or contact us online for a free consultation and assessment that will get you started on your journey to recovery.