We Made a Decision...

The 3rd step in the Narcotics Anonymous program is "We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him."

This step is powerful and in no way vague. It is very precise and all inclusive.

According to the 12 step process of recovery, by the time one reaches the 3rd step those in recovery have been through the first two steps and these first two steps have enabled the person to move on to the third. The first two steps state:

  • "We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable." and 
  • "We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity". 

The first three steps in AA, Al-Anon, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, and almost all other 12 step programs are practically identical.

There is a saying in recovery; 'the steps are in order for a reason'. I believe this to be very true. These first three steps are the foundation to an understanding of us, our relationship to addictive substances, behaviors, emotional conditions, and they inform us where we must turn for help. They build on one another and create a platform that empowers us to move on and recover.

A primary attribute of addiction is loss of control and the outcomes in life that come from it. What this means in a functional sense is that we do things that have negative consequences in our lives even when we have committed not to do them. 'I will not take any additional pain medication', 'I will not work more than 8 hours today', ' I will not buy a lottery ticket today', "I will stay on my diet today'. There are many ways to act in addictive manner.

Part of the American Society of Addiction Medicine's definition of addiction states;

"Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one's behavior and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response." 

A foundational aspect of successful recovery is found in the understanding that we cannot control our addiction. To quote the Narcotics Anonymous text, It Works, How and Why: 

"We often told ourselves that, given the right set of circumstances, we might still be able to bring our lives under control."

 If we cannot control our own choices, then what hope is there? That is the lesson of the first three steps. Simply stated the first three steps teach: I cannot, He can, I will let Him. This is a lesson for everyone, as we are all, self-defined as an addict or not, in need of His assistance in every decision we make. 

"To turn our will and our lives over..." 

When I hear these words I often think; "What remains? What else do I have, what more is mine than my will and my life"? The answer is obvious, nothing. The third step is a call for me to turn over all I am and all that I have to God. 

My favorite quote from all Narcotics Anonymous literature is from the introduction in the Basic Text, it states: 

"We were in the grip of a hopeless dilemma, the solution of which is spiritual in nature." 

This is my favorite quote for many reasons. First, in my experience it is profoundly true, progressive recovery is found in consistent spiritual practices that continually deepen, (plateauing - just staying clean - is not recovery it is stagnation or the denigration of recovery). Secondly, it gives me great hope. There is a solution, the problem will not exist forever and the solution is defined, it is found through spiritual practice. 

We begin to find the solution to our own inability to exercise our agency in productive ways (however frequent or infrequent) by understanding our own powerlessness over even ourselves when we are acting on our own. We must come to the truth, we must know that there is a Power available that can empower us. Knowing this we must then turn ourselves (our will and our lives) over to that Power to recover. This is not just the answer to addiction, it is the answer to all life's emotional challenges and the key to happiness, freedom and a fulfilling life. We of our own 'power' are not enough. We need to know that, we need to know God and to follow His guidance and thereby obtain His power for us to begin to live and to live up to our potential. 

My perspective of recovery has vastly changed over the past 25 years since going to my first meeting. Recovery is now more discovery to me. I am no longer recovering something that was lost, I am discovering myself, my potential, and the true power of God.

Continuing a review of the steps... Steps 4, 5, 6 and 7 are about self discovery.

With the right size perspective on our place in power and life we are then emboldened and empowered. With this newfound strength we are ready to go inwards and begin to find who we are (the why of what we have done). We start to uncover the areas within us that need to change and then having uncovered our strengths, weaknesses and shortcomings we take the 7th step which states "We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.' We have come to know ourselves and where change is needed and we seek the only trusted and true source of power for our lives, God, for help in that change. 

Having been put on the path to be 'set right' within ourselves we then move on to steps 8 and 9 - to make amends and set things right with others, or at least set our interactions with others right within ourselves. 

Then step 10 asks us to continue to look inwards and take responsibility for our actions while step 11 calls us to deepen our relationship with God. 

"We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out."

We relinquish our will completely and seek only what his will is and the strength to bring it to pass in our lives and the lives of others.

And then finally in step 12 are are called to serve, where having been given so much we continue to grow by loving and serving others. 

"Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts and to practice these principals in all our affairs'. 

The steps are a formula that help us to understand our place in the world, to know where our power comes from while providing a way to understand more of who we are morally, to become better, repair damage in relationships and finally be well enough to help others as we grow with and through service. 

The steps in their simplicity are a formula for life that everyone can benefit from but are 12 step programs necessary for all of ones life? Do we need meetings and do formal step work forever? According to most 12 step programs the answer would be a very firm yes, but I disagree. 

Please know I would never recommend anyone leave meetings simply based on my experience. I actually encourage people to attend meetings almost on a daily basis because I know their value. I also want to be clear that without meetings every day for many years and then meetings several times a week for the rest, I would not be who and where I am today. I owe much of the happiness and freedom in my life from what I have learned in going to meetings for 25 years. 

We each have our own recovery journey, this is simply my experience. 

As I have deepened my commitment to turn my will and my life over to God and as I have learned to 'practice these principals' in all my affairs, and as I slowly come to understand the true purpose of life and get to know more of the source of all things, God, I see that life itself can be a process of recovery. After 25 years in 'the program' and 24 years 'clean' I have found that meetings now have more of a negative effect in my life than a positive. 

I no longer feel the need nor have I the desire to define myself as an Addict and what is more, I no longer believe I am an addict, at least no more so than most of humanity. 

'We do recover.' 

I no longer need or desire to hear the stories of pain and suffering from the addiction of others. I know how devastating addiction is an individual life. I do not need reassurance that 'It works', I know it does. I do not need the ego building acknowledgment of 'clean time', for I know that what I have is of no credit to me it is simply a gift earned through learning how to turn my will and my life over to God. 

What I need is more of the cure, more of God, more of His will playing out in my life.

This, God, has been the source of my recovery since I first worked step 3 over two decades ago. Well, more accurately stated, He is the source of recovery and progress for us all, always and forever. As I learn to deepen the practice of turning my will and my life over to the care of God and as I 'improve my conscious contact with God', I get 'better' in every way.

I am far from perfect, but as I live according to the guidance I receive from God and from what I know to be true, I 'recover' in ways I thought impossible as I sat in meeting after meeting. (I am also aware that each meeting was necessary for me to grow). I now find real and lasting freedom from actions, thoughts and behaviors that go far and beyond from what was ever offered within the halls of recovery through living the Gospel as best I can. 

Recovery has no limits, neither does progression. 

The 12 steps are a gift from God, and there is so much more He has to offer. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is insanity. There is value in just staying clean, but there is so much more recovery to get from God when we step out and take a greater chance on Him. When we try our faith we receive this witness. The more we try our faith the more witness we receive.

The only limits on our progression are self imposed.

Sometimes we need to leave the safety and security of what is familiar to grow and take great leaps of faith to receive great rewards. 


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