There are many that play mental gymnastics with this step. They insist that it is just making a decision, no action required. However, in the big book, it is plain that people are actually handing their will and their lives over to God and thus:
“if honestly and humbly made…”
“…voicing it without reservation…”
“…an effect, sometimes a very great one, is felt at once” (Anonymous 1939 p 63).
The reason why this step has changed to “just making a decision”, is that people nowadays are insufficiently ready; they are not metaphorically on their knees prepared to do anything to escape the “acholic pit” (Anonymous 1939 p79).
Notwithstanding the above, people who are not completely ready for this drastic and important step are permitted to continue with the work until they are completely willing. However, the step must be taken at some point without reservation, usually within the first six months. Irrespective of whether you are capable of performing this step in its entirety on the first attempt, a prayer within which you declare you are handing your will (desires; thoughts) and life (actions) over to God must be consummated. It is the suggested this occurs on your knees in front of your sponsor. In the past, prospects were taken to a room containing a few recovered alcoholics until such a time all were satisfied that the step had been performed correctly (Peter, G. UK). Anyone can take step 3 at any point, anywhere. God does not demand any special circumstances, albeit a sincere and humble approach. Successful completion of step 3 is not contingent on your sponsor being present or you being physically on your knees. The process was performed in this way to ensure the approach was humble and to determine your willingness to go to any lengths. It was a demonstration of your commitment. The following is an account of what happened to me.
Personal experience- my step 3 moment and declaration was not made sincerely until a little time after my first serious attempt of step 5. I was a very heavy smoker and had been “since I discovered alcohol”. We alcoholics use the aforementioned expression as if we had invented the drink. I suppose we use the phrase in such a way because our first proper drink was so memorable. Regardless, six months into my “recovery”, I had requested a chest X-ray. The scan highlighted what appeared to be a shadow on my lung. In my head I made what was a very small chance of it being something life-threatening, to a definite, “I was dying”. I was in turmoil, pacing around like a caged lion. I decided to pray to God and submit myself to what I thought lay ahead. I got on my knees suffering from what I now recognise as a psychotic breakdown and got up laughing, drunk from Spirit.
What had occured? I had voiced a prayer to the God of my understanding the content of which was approximately:
“God, no matter what your intentions for me, I submit myself entirely to your care.” Immediately I felt waves of peace originating from behind my naval and radiating outwards enveloping my whole body. What I had been looking for all those years in “the bottle”, I had found in God. I was effectively enlightened for five months until the “serenity bubble” burst. After which my first question to was, “what have I done?” I knew I had moved away but was unaware of why. The answer was simple, the reconstruction of ego.
I understand now that I was granted what I required, when I required it. Then it was time to “come back down to earth” and begin the work in earnest. Enlightenment is fine for Buddhist monks who can meditate the majority of the day however, I have come to realise that not only is this selfish because during such times I am unavailable to others but also it is entirely impractical. Nothing gets done. At the time we receive, all of us get what we need. A spiritual experience is something that keeps on occurring. A door has been opened and what results is a continuous process until we die.
If the above scares you, that is natural. If the steps do not hurt and cause much discomfort, then people exclaim:
“you are not doing them correctly”.
What does the book say?
On page 52 of We Agnostics, the book reads:
“Is not our age characterized by the ease with which we discard old ideas for new, by the complete readiness with which we throw away the theory or gadget which does not work for something new which does?” (Anonymous 1939 p 52)
On pages 47 to 48, the book attempts to inform the prospect that they need not be disconcerted by nagging doubts and the inability to accept things that seem illogical or even fanciful. We can commence at a simple level. We do not have at this stage, an alternative way to guarantee our survival (Anonymous 1939 p 47).
By the 1930s there had been much research exploring the characteristics of matter and atomic structure (U.S. Department of Energy 1999). It was therefore natural for the book to include such work but for good reason. The authors attempt to explain to the reader that things in the World of the material are not as they seem. Take a wooden table for example. Science declares that there is more space in the table top than substance, albeit it is effectively impenetrable. The book uses a prosaic steel girder as an example (Anonymous 1939 p 48). By the 1930s, everyone was familiar with electricity and accepted its existence albeit effectively invisible. On page 48 the book states:
“…does not science demonstrate that visual proof is the weakest proof?” (Anonymous 1939 p 48) Our acceptance of such phenomena appears dependent on them being grounded in what we perceive as fact.
Another scientific advancement coming from north America was the discovery of flight. The book mentions Professor Langley’s “flying machine” and how it failed and sunk to the bottom of a river (Anonymous 1939 p 51). Two attempts at manned “heavier than air sustained flight” had been made by Professor Langley and his pilot. Notwithstanding professor Langley’s monitory backing from the Smithsonian Institute, both attempts failed (SNASM 2011). In contrast, the Wright brothers, two humble bicycle builders from Dayton, Ohio, attained in 1903 what was later regarded as the first heavier than air sustained flight at Kitty Hawk, north Carolina (uvuaviantion 2011). From what I can gather, the book was suggesting that as spiritual beings we are guided (inspired) to act in certain ways that make us more successful.
Considered one of the greatest minds of our time, Albert Einstein wrote:
“I never came upon any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”
The book suggests we have been victims of worshipping the thinking mind. For me, this was so true. I had to learn, just because I thought it, it was not necessarily so.
With regard to how we perceive ourselves as humans, on page 49 the book reads:
“human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all” (Anonymous 1939 p 49). Later it describes how people with faith have been “demonstrating a degree of stability, happiness and usefulness which we should have sought ourselves” (Anonymous 1939 p 49). On page 50 the book describes, how we judge such people by identifying in our minds their faults, whilst not considering our own (Anonymous 1939 p 50). Hence justifying why we should not try to be more like them. In my experience of Spirit there is no judgment.
When I first heard the following passage, I wholeheartedly acknowledged that it described me to a T. It reads:
“We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people” (Anonymous 1939 p 52).
The book refers to the above attributes as the bedevilments. The actual description is of the so called, “spiritual malady”. The book does recognise that what is termed a pronounced “spiritual sickness” is not uncommon in people suffering from alcoholism. However, it does not state or even suggests that a “spiritual malady” qualifies you as being alcoholic. Fred did not seem to have one (Anonymous 1939 p 39). Neither does it say that your “spiritual malady” will disappear or even improve as the result of the steps. Step 12 states:
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps… (Anonymous 1939 p 52).
What is spiritual awakening?
The term spiritual awakening and spiritual experience are interchangeable. For our purposes they mean the same thing. On page 27 of the big book, Carl Jung explains:
“Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them” (Anonymous 1939 p 27).
The beginning of my spiritual experience, the point at which I began to awaken to things within me and in others to which I was previously unaware, commenced when I realised me and others were “bonkers crazy”. My defects as the book expresses it, and the underlying motives that were driving me, became glaringly obvious. Excuse the biblical reference because the steps are not affiliated to any organised religion, neither am I. “I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). The true meaning of scripture has been lost in translation and is laced with metaphor (Feyaerts 2003).
When the sage points to the moon, all the majority see is the finger – Confucius.
A Question of Faith
Later the book reads:
“The Wright brothers’ almost childish faith that they could build a machine which would fly was the mainspring of their accomplishment. Without that, nothing could have happened” (Anonymous 1939 p 52).
In Bill’s Story on page 16 it reads:
“Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish” (Anonymous 1939 p 16).
Reading the above, you may wish to assert “that is okay for Bill” who had such an overwhelming step 3 experience as did I, however, I could never subscribe to blind faith. My concept of God and how it all fitted into the Universe had to make sense. My problem was one of trying to achieve the impossible; to fully understand God.
From my step 3 moment I knew God existed, I had and still do experience God daily, but I struggled with faith for many years. Faith was something I had to grow into. I still cannot explain it to you, but I now do not sell God’s power short. I know I will never drink again because I am in a position of neutrality safe and protected. This is how I react as long as I remember to live by a few simple principles (Anonymous 1939 p 85; p xxvii)
A Triumphant Arch
In the big book, there are many references to construction. Page 75 includes the sentence:
“for we are building an arch through which we shall walk a free person at last.”
“Is our work solid so far? Are the stones properly in place? Have we skimped on the cement put into the foundation? Have we tried to make mortar without sand?” (Anonymous 1939 p 75).
Earlier on page 17, the book reads:
“The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined.”
“The tremendous fact for every one of us is that we have discovered a common solution. We have a way out on which we can absolutely agree, and upon which we can join in brotherly and harmonious action” (Anonymous 1939 p 17).
The unity we feel is therefore reliant upon us sharing a common problem and a common solution; something that the majority of modern fellowships and groups lack. From this, one could gather that if we are not united in this way, the mortar will not be mixed correctly. The majority of people in modern fellowships are on a building site (Peter G. UK).
According to the authors, the arch we are constructing consists of a foundation stone (step 1); a cornerstone (step 2) and finally locking the entire structure in place, a keystone (faith in step 3). Remember these are only the first three steps. On their own they are entirely insufficient to overcome alcoholism. Image adapted from Ids.org.
Pertaining to Everyone
In recovery, I struggled mentally for many years due to a pronounced spiritual malady bestowed upon me in childhood by my primary caregivers. I have had the opportunity of recovering from most of the spiritual wounds I received as a child. After recovering from alcoholism, with a clinical psychologist, I explored my inner child work as described in Bradshaw (1991). The things that caused the spiritual wounds were not obvious traumatic events. What occurred was very subtle albeit “their” impact ran deep. No one has a perfect upbringing. All of us have things that can be described as shortcomings.
As very young children, anything that causes us to question our primary caregivers’ commitment is potentially life threatening and is thus experienced as such. We come into this world perfect and it is initially what is done unto us that determines our imperfections. Trauma at an early age can mean we stop developing in that area of our personality. Effectively we grow up physically without maturing psychologically. We become “four-year-olds in long trousers”.
As Alcoholics and Drug Addicts
As alcoholism progresses, we sink deeper into psychosis and our defects become ever more entrenched, pronounced, instigating misery and discomfort. Yes, our parents “***k us up”, but recovery is about having the ability to honestly take responsibility for those things. We make sure “the buck stops with us”. We do not wish to pass those things onto our children and put them through what we experienced. Nor do we wish to traumatise the people closest to us because:
“it hurts so much we need to give it to them to get rid of it”. To perpetuate the way of life of an active alcoholic, it is necessary to develop dishonest coping and survival strategies. These too become part of who we are. In recovery, we commence maturing in ways hitherto unattained.
At this juncture, I feel I cannot lend any further argument or lucidly to what is written in the following pages of the big book. Hence, I urge you to read from the top of page 53 to the end of the chapter on page 57.
This brings us to the start of the chapter How it Works. I have heard the beginning of this chapter read hundreds of times at meetings. I have read it myself on many occasions. I could perhaps recite it verbatim.
Chapter 3 exclaims we must be thorough and “completely give ourselves to this simple program” (Anonymous 1939 p 58). The last paragraph on that page states:
“At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely” (Anonymous 1939 p 58). So, unless we give ourselves completely and throw away our old ideas, we have absolutely no chance of recovery. This is why non-alcoholics and drug addicts do not benefit from the work as much as real alcoholics and drugs addicts. They will not completely give themselves to this program in the same way because they instinctively know all they have to do is make a decision to never indulge in their drug of choice ever again in what they perceive as step 1. Real addicts and alcoholics are capable of having the delusion that they are like non-alcoholics and drug addicts and thus also never give themselves to the work albeit they invariably die. A circumstance no doubt intensified by being surrounded by nonalcoholic and nondrug addicts abstaining from their drug of choice.
What are our old ideas? The challenge here is to separate our will from God’s and understand what our responsibility is, and what is God’s. To explain what that means to me may rob you of your own experience. Two wills manifest on earth; God’s and mans’. If you are up against a person in the “wrong” motive, then you are perfectly entitled to defend and stand up for yourself in order to acquire to what you are entitled. “No” can be a very important word with deep spiritual connotations.
Notwithstanding what you may have heard in meetings, acceptance is not the answer to all my problems. If someone is hitting you over the head with a stick, ask them to stop hitting you. If that does not work, you are entitled to force them to stop hitting you by any means necessary. The serenity prayer identifies I can change some things and ask for power the do so. In order to remain at peace, the things I cannot change I must accept. The suggestion is that initially before I can either take action or leave it be, I have to accept in the moment what is occurring. To not accept what is happening would be to oppose reality, however, that in itself is not a solution to what is going on. The way of Spirit does not make you a doormat, it empowers you with the gumption you always desired but where previously unable to muster. It permits the placement of firm immovable boundaries that are never rescinded.
Scripture describes God completing creation on the six day and does not mention Him lifting a finger since. From this we can gather that it is our responsibility to perform God’s work on earth. However, we also have to deal with the practicalities of life. After our first time through the work, having received our will back in step 10, you will feel that, we must remember that our needs and wants are important. By then we should be in “right” motive. The first time through the work, we must without reservation, completely give ourselves to God and the program. It is an absolute requirement.
On page 59 it reads:
“Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon” (Anonymous 1939 p 59). The book uses the expression “half measures”. I cannot recall the number of times I drank a half pint. It was not many. We took alcohol in full measures. The book appears to be suggesting we need to immerse ourselves in the program to the same extent we immersed ourselves in our drug of no choice; exclusively in full measures. Each step requires executing 100 percent, no less! Naturally I am an all or nothing persons.
What I understand the turning point to be is related to the passage on page 152:
“Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end” (Anonymous 1939 p 152). Prior to fully conceding that our power is useless for combatting our drug on no choice, and being unfamiliar with how alcoholism manifests, the above passage informs us that with regard to our own resources we will reach a point of complete bankruptcy. This is the juncture when some people take their own lives. The “jumping-off place” is in reference to the “black Tuesday” stock market crash, 29 October 1929. “The papers reported men jumping to their death from the towers of High Finance” (Anonymous 1939 p 4; History.com Editors 2010).
When we understand fully what it is to be a real alcoholic or drug addict; we have experienced our moment of clarity whilst admitting we are of that type, and have successfully negotiated the perceived contractions in step 2, then we will have three alternatives:
- We could take our own lives;
- We could: “go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could”;
- Or, we could “accept spiritual help” (Anonymous 1939 p 25).
In step 3 instead of drinking ourselves to death or taking our own lives, we turn to God for the solution; “the turning point” (Anonymous 1939 p 59).
In early recovery I closely adhered to the principle of rigorous honesty. Not only honesty in the way I dealt with others, but also and most importantly, I ensured I was honest with myself. Until I was able to see who I was and what I suffered from, I was destined to remain a pickled sot; a “poor unfortunate”.
On page 60, the book reassures us that in essence, the 12 proposals contained in the steps merely signify a willingness to grow spiritually (Anonymous 1939 p 60).
Also, on page 60, the book presents 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.”
The inference above might be in reference to the north American saying:
“as easy as ABCs”
Before taking step 3 the book states:
“The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success” (Anonymous 1939 p 60). The key here is the underlying motive. Why you do the things you do and how that motive provokes in others retaliation, anger or consternation. I regard Spirit as something I can align myself to daily in order to experience greater success. One of my sponsors explained using the analogy:
“If you walk up to a door and you have to use a jackhammer to get through it, that is your will. If you walk up to a door and you touch it and it opens, the that is God’s Will” (Bill M. UK).
When I think back to how I used to live, the motive I had for doing something was to achieve what I desired. In other words, it was selfish. I did something in order to gain something. Now for the sheer enjoyment of giving of myself, I am capable of doing something for others in the way they have asked. The most important phrase in the above sentence is: “in the way they asked”. It is not for me to volunteer my help or try and “help the old lady across the road” if she does not want to cross. Before I only helped people in ways I thought they required. I also would attempt to rescue them by doing things for them in the absence of any request. A truly selfless act is helping people for the sake of helping, not so you can metaphorically “pat yourself on the back” or gain anything including a false sense of self-worth.
Referring to Everyone
The book goes on to state:
“most people try to live by self-propulsion” (Anonymous 1939 p60). The book is referring to everyone. All people – or at least the unenlightened majority. The book then enters a unique and informative discussion of how self-will manifests in peoples’ everyday lives. It is suggested you read from the last paragraph on page 60 to the end of the first paragraph on page 62. The passage concludes with the statement:
“Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably (every time) find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt” (Anonymous 1939 p 62). Think deeply about that statement. Try and identify a instance when you caused a rift between you and another having previously been driven by selfish motive.
Referring to Real Alcoholics or Drug Addicts
The next paragraph starts with the passage:
“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” (Anonymous 1939 p 62). The book then goes on the explain we could try to be better people, but the necessary change was impossible without God’s help. It continues:
“First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director” (Anonymous 1939 p 62). People often think that step 3 is a complete submission to God and God’s Will. Our first step 3 is, although as already stated, in step 10 we receive our will back; “it is the proper use of will” (Anonymous 1939 p 85). By then our awareness levels will be sufficiently high to see the motives that underpin our actions and thus we will want “to do the next right thing”.
When living this program, we have a partnership with God. On earth, we do God’s work and in return, we are placed in a position of neutrality, safe and protected from our drug of no choice. This may not seem an attractive proposition the first time through, however, aside from the practical side of living, now I want to live a selfless life. That is what I want.
The last sentence on page 62 reads:
“Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom” (Anonymous 1939 p 62). It is suggested you read the first paragraph on page 63.
We are now considered ready to utterly abandon ourselves without reservation to the God of our understanding. Are we really? Any sneaking reservation will prevent this step from being fully realised. On page 63, there is a step 3 declaration.
When attempting to hand my will entirely over to God on a daily basis, I struggle now more than ever. I have to keep changing what I say to ensure I complete the step properly. I use expressions such as:
“I utterly abandon myself to Thee without reservation”
“I unreservedly place myself in Your care and direction”.
The latter is part of the step 3 prayer described in Bill’s story which I used for many years. It reads:
“I humbly offered myself to God, as I then I understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost” (Anonymous 1939 p 13).
…and in the first person:
“God, I humbly offer myself to Thee,
I place myself unreservedly in your care and direction,
Of myself I am nothing,
And I know nothing,
Without You I am lost”
The hope is by admitting “I know nothing” it will permit me that day to experience Spirit anew. It replaces the set-aside prayer which can be found by Google search.
Perhaps for the first time, you are now able to utterly abandon to God. What will occur is not a small subtle thing. The effect may be enormous. In appendix II it explains that not everyone experiences deep and profound spiritual experience in step 3. They grow into it more slowly. If I manage to take this step correctly, to this day, I attain a state of enhanced peace (Anonymous 1939 p 567). This state is far removed from the inner turmoil of active alcoholism and thus the contrast should be very apparent.
Notwithstanding the above, it is sufficient to make a firm decision to go ahead with the rest of the work and in so doing you are effectively perceived to be doing some of God’s work. However, majority of your actions and thoughts will remain uninspired.
Naturally next time we will be exploring my favourite tool for ensuring I raise my level of awareness, relieve my discomfort, and get to know myself and my motives. Explicitly, the fearless and thorough moral inventory of Step 4.
Anonymous (1939) The “Big Book”. Alcoholics Anonymous Fourth Edition (first printing 2001). Alcoholics Anonymous World Service Inc. https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/alcoholics-anonymous [last accessed 1 May 2020].
U.S. Department of Energy (1999) The Manhattan Project- an interactive history. https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1890s-1939/exploring.htm [last accessed 30 July 2020].
SNASM (2011) Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Samuel P. Langley and the Aerodrome A. https://youtu.be/M-5DeIvOJ7Y [last accessed 30 July 2020].
Uvuaviation (2011) The Wright Brothers – Early Flight. https://youtu.be/RHIlZ8p8U8A [last accessed 30 July 2020].
Evernote (2017) Albert Einstein’s Unique Approach to Thinking. https://evernote.com/blog/einsteins-unique-approach-to-thinking/ [last accessed 30 July 2020].
Feyaerts, K. (2003) Religions and Discourse. The Bible Through Metaphor and Translation: A Cognitive Semantic Perspective. James, F. (ed.). Peter Lang Publishing.
Bradshaw, R. (1991) Home Coming: Claiming and Championing your Inner Child. Judy Piarkus Publishing Ltd, London, UK.
History.com Editors (2010) Stock Market Crash of 1929. History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/1929-stock-market-crash#:~:text=The%20stock%20market%20crash%20of%201929%20was%20not%20the%20sole,30%20percent%20of%20the%20workforce. [last accessed 4 August 2020].