Gary S. Fisher, Psy. D., C.A.D.C.

healing, integration, authenticity

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Principles: Trust vs. Defiance

As the addict is restored to sanity in the second step, he or she now knows that something is wrong in their life, and that his or her own thinking and problem solving cannot fix it. By this time they may begin to stop acting in old destructive ways for a while. The old behaviors will return, however, if the person does not do more to address the real reasons for the behaviors. The addict must now make a decision to trust the process of the steps, not necessarily the person who is guiding them through the steps, although it will be difficult to go through the process of the remaining steps if the alcoholic does not trust the individual they are working with. This trust is inherent in any form of counseling or therapy, for that therapy to be effective. The addict is required to turn his or her will and life over to a God or Higher Power. What exactly is meant by “turning it over,” by “will and life,” and by “the care of?”

By the time an addict enters treatment (including counseling or psychotherapy), at least a portion of the important areas of his or her life (e.g., family, romantic and social relationships, finances, career) are usually in a shambles. This is many times the motivating factor for the individual to seek help, and what the addict wants to talk about and deal with. Step 3 requires the individual to put all of that aside, and to focus on the remaining steps. It does not mean that they should not go to work, deal with their responsibilities, etc., it simply implies that they should focus their attention away from the problem and towards the solution, which lay through the process of completing the remaining steps. This is very difficult for the addict. It is asking the addict to delay gratification (something that may be nearly impossible for most addicts), and to move in a direction where the results are not clearly visible to the addict. They cannot see how doing an inventory, reading the inventory, etc., is going to heal their marriage, get them a job, solve their legal problems, etc.

If we identify ‘will’ and ‘life’ with ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ respectively, then it becomes clear what is meant by turning it over. If the addict is faced with marital problems, for instance, whether because of their own chemical use, or their spouse’s, they may be trying to figure out how to fix it, or trying to decide whether to stay in the relationship or not. The third step asks the individual to turn what they want or need to do, over to some Power greater than themselves. In other words, to put any decision about that relationship aside while they look at themselves, and the role they have played in the situation, and that by the end of the steps, they will be very clear about what the right thing is for them to do. It also asks that the individual act in as loving and supportive way as possible toward the spouse while they are working through the steps.

That the decision-making authority is returned to them is clearly stated by the use of the phrase “the care of.” When I go on vacation, I may get a friend to house-sit. In essence what I am doing is turning my home over to the care of my friend. This implies that my home will be returned to me when I am ready to receive it (i.e., when I return from my trip) in hopefully the same condition or better, than when I left it. If I trust the person who is house-sitting for me, I will not spend much, if any, time thinking about how my home is doing, whether I need to go home early, etc. I will not worry about it at all. Instead, I will focus my attention on what is in front of me; having a good time on my vacation.

If, however, I do not trust the individual I have given my home to, I will constantly be in a state of worry about its condition, and will not complete the tasks in front of me, nor will I enjoy myself. It would have been better to have never left. This is the dilemma of the addict who does not trust anything or anyone above themselves. They will get direction and advise from others, but will ultimately be unable to carry it out. This will manifest itself either passively (e.g., listening intently to the advice and actually carry out a part of it, but always leaving out one or two key elements so as to ensure its failure), or actively, by way of the “yeah buts.”

I am not advocating or implying that the sponsor, counselor or therapist be an addict’s sole Higher Power, although to some extent that is what takes place many times in this process. What I am saying is that the client must be willing to follow someone’s advice or direction on how to face the daily decisions, etc., while the addict focuses on his or her recovery. This should, ideally, be someone who has a good grasp on the principles of healthy living, and practices them in his or her own personal and professional life. What the trusted individual must do at this point is to help advise the client. That can come from direct advice giving, or helping to guide the addict to come up with the right behavior, etc. him- or herself.