Personalizing Step 3

Remember that the 12 steps were what the first 100 men used to get sober. Step 3 says that they “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” This is commonly called the “surrender” step.

Continuing with our theme of personalizing the AA steps, step 3 is the first mention of God in the historical steps published in 1939’s ”Alcoholics Anonymous” book. Half of the 12 steps mention God, but this is the first time we encounter God (Him) in working the steps.

If we didn’t expect to be asked to acknowledge God as part of getting sober, this can be the first challenge for many of us as we learn about AA and its steps. One of my first sponsors skipped over this step, knowing I might have difficulty with it. But sooner rather than later, we all meet the generalized acceptance of God in AA rooms. If we are uncomfortable with this general acknowledgement of a religious God, we are given an alternative: “God as we understand him”. Does this work for all of us in AA? No. For some it is a barrier to accepting AA and getting sober with AA’s tenets.

The concept of a religious god or an alternative is not necessary for sobriety. What is needed in step 3 is simply to “let go”. Let go of our ego’s idea that it is in control. Let go of our delusions that we can get sober by ourselves when we were never able to in the past. In letting go of these things, we then are asked to trust something outside of ourselves.

Who or what can we trust in step 3? For some it still could be God. For more and more of us, this eventually becomes our sober self. Until we feel comfortable with letting our best instincts guide us, we may use the rooms of AA, sponsors, and our friends, families and counsellors.

Some alternative versions of Step 3 (again, from “The Little Book”) include:

1. We turn to our fellow men and women, particularly those who have struggled with the same problem.

2. Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us.

3. Made a decision to accept things that were outside our control, especially what already is and to do the best with it.

Is non-conference approved literature banned from AA meetings?

Some in the rooms of AA think that nothing can be read aloud at a meeting unless it is “conference approved”. Is that true? And what does “conference approved” mean anyway?

“Conference approved” literature and audiovisual material is that published by AA World Services, Inc, and has been approved by the Conference for this purpose. “The term has no relation to material not published by GSO. It does not imply Conference disapproval of other material about AA. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read.” (Service Material from the General Service Office).

One reason a group might limit the sources read at its meetings is because a group conscience has decided to limit them (eg, Conference approved literature only). However, there is no AA Tradition or guidance from the General Service Office to ban other literature.

What is the “Conference” and what does it approve? Each year a General Service Conference is held in New York, and it handles business which includes, among many other items, new material and revisions of already published items. These “approved” items are sold or given away by the AA General Service Offices. Obviously, it can’t review all other publications in the world; it doesn’t ban anything.

“In AA we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a universal suffering. Therefore the full liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy should be a first consideration. Hence let us not pressure anyone with individual or even collective views. Let us instead accord to each other the respect that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way towards the light. Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of AA, so long as he or she so declares.” (Bill W., from his speech to the General Service Conference held in New York City in April, 1965.)

Personalizing Step 2

As we did with Step 1, Step 2 in a 12-step program can be individualized to be more meaningful and personal to each of us.

Step 2 in the Alcoholic Anonymous book published in 1939 was this: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The key principle in this step is realizing that we can return to a life without substance abuse. We believe there is a path back to a normal life.

This “power greater than ourselves” could be anything that brings back the sanity we couldn’t achieve alone. When the AA book was published, the use of capitalized nouns (eg, “Power”) suggested something spiritual or more than human. We now know that there are many “powers” that can return us to sanity when we believe this is possible.

Some examples of that “power” can be more down to earth and easier to understand or grasp without requiring faith in a Judeo-Christian supreme being. Here are a few examples:

a. We came to believe that others who understood or had themselves recovered could help us return to and maintain sanity.

b. Came to accept and to understand that we need strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore our sanity.

c. We believe we must turn elsewhere for help.

d. Came to believe that we could recover.

These and other examples come from the compilation in “The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps”, by Roger C. (published by AA Agnostica).

Faces and Voices of Recovery, Part 2

In a previous post, the Faces and Voices of Recovery website was introduced here.

Although not connected with AA, this organization uses the voices of those of us in recovery to promote understanding that long-term recovery is a reality. Through activities and organization, Faces wants to build the capacity of the recovery community to address public policy.

Through their activities, the hope is to reduce discrimination that keeps people from seeking recovery or moving on to better lives. Further, once we have got recovery there needs to be support for recovery-oriented policies and programs.

If you would like more information, go to

No longer an “alcoholic” or “addict”

Faces and VoicesFaces and Voices of Recovery encourage us to drop the negative images we have of ourselves as “alcoholics” or “addicts”.

An estimated 23 million of us in the US are defined as “persons in long-term recovery”. Most of us over the years have been trained to say we were addicted — to  substances including alcohol — when identifying ourselves in meetings. This neglects to mention that we are now in recovery, from months to many years of abstinence.

The simple wording change from “addict” to someone in “long-term recovery” stresses the positive changes we have made in our lives. It lets us tell others — in meetings  and in our community, if we choose to — that we contribute positively in all levels of life.

Importantly, this claim helps us realize what we now are. It can change the way we think of ourselves. It stresses that we have survived being in active addiction, and that we live now in recovery.

I will post more about living in long-term recovery and the organization Faces of Recovery and what it can mean to us and our lives as citizens and for others joining our ranks after active addiction.