Step 3 of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step program designed for people who are struggling with alcohol addiction and abuse. The goal of the program is to help you maintain long-term sobriety.1
Step 3 of AA can be tricky for some people. It requires that you decide to turn yourself over to a higher power.1 This step is intended to help you change your life by adopting a new attitude.
What Is Step 3 of AA?
Step 3 of AA is specific and direct. According to the official AA handbook, it reads:2
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”
For many people who don’t believe in religion or God, this step can be difficult. Even if you do believe in God, you may have felt abandoned during your time of alcohol abuse, which could have shaken your faith.
But luckily, the 3rd step of AA isn’t as religious as it may seem at first glance. In fact, AA says it is not a religious organization.3 It doesn’t require you to attend religious services, read holy books, or consult with faith leaders. Instead, it’s more about encouraging you to rely on something greater than yourself.
Even if you don’t believe in a god, you’re still just a small part of a big universe. That’s why you need to look outside of yourself for support and guidance. If the word “god” troubles you, other atheists have thought of it as “good orderly direction” or “group of drunks” as a way to jokingly ease tension.3
How you define this power as greater than yourself is up to you. But the main goal here is to find someone or something you can rely on to abstain from consuming alcohol.
AA Step 3 Prayer
Once you’ve identified your higher power, many AA program participants will begin to use the Serenity Prayer from The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It reads as follows:
God, I offer myself to Thee
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
If this sounds off-putting to you, keep in mind that you need to come to terms with the idea of seeking a higher power. That said, the higher power doesn’t necessarily have to be God or related to religion. It just needs to be someone outside of yourself who inspires you in order to admit your powerlessness. Luckily, you’ll have already defined your higher power in Step 2, so you should already have this tackled.4
But if you need more guidance, here are a few examples of higher powers you can refer to during these steps:
- The AA organization
- Existential freedom
Anything that exists outside yourself and independent of your ego can act as a higher power.
Ways to Follow the 3rd Step of AA
There are many different ways to follow step 3 of AA. You’ll need to ask yourself several questions throughout this step to ensure you’re holding yourself accountable and following this step seriously. These can include:
- Am I resistant to making changes during my recovery? Why?
- How is the higher power I chose affecting my life?
- What are some ways I can turn myself over to the care of my higher power?
- How has my life been so far without the intervention of my higher power? Have my individual choices affected others?
- How do I understand the term “to the care of”?
- How have the first two steps prepared me for the 3rd step?
- How does my will differ from my higher power’s?
When you keep these questions in mind through your journey, you’ll find it easier to stay on track with the 3rd step of AA. You’ll also want to learn to identify what is in your control and how to be open to guidance.
Learn What Is in Your Control
When you’re struggling with alcohol addiction or abuse, you may try to mask your feelings of being out of control. You might feel ashamed, and as a result, try to control everything else in your life. In fact, feel this shame could even lead you to suffer worse consequences from your drinking.5
The 3rd step will help you learn to distinguish what is in your control and what it isn’t, which should take away some of your shame and controlling tendencies. A good way to use Step 3 is to ask yourself if you have control over something that’s upsetting you. If you don’t, let it go. Trying to make everything perfect could just be fueling your desire to drink.
By doing this, you’ll also be admitting that you don’t have control, which is in turn following Steps 1 and 2 while also putting Step 3 into practice.
Openness to Guidance
You may be reluctant to accept any help or guidance, as you may always want to be in control of certain situations. In some cases, you may even spend time and energy actively trying to resist help from your sponsors, counselors, and therapists instead of trying to change your lifestyle. This is going to hamper your recovery from alcohol and affect your ability to progress through AA.
In Step 3, you’ll need to work on being more open to accepting help from all sources. Your higher power should be your main source of trust, but that higher power can also work through the hands of your support team. For example, they may be enabling your sponsor to help guide you toward better behavior and a more positive mindset.
In particular, your AA sponsor should play a big role in your recovery. Their main responsibilities are to:6
- Encourage you through the steps of AA.
- Provide emotional and practical support through regular contact.
- Carry the message of AA by sharing their experiences.
You’ll need to be open to their help. Even if you resist them at first, a good sponsor will always be willing to help when you need it.
Getting Help with Step 3 of Alcoholics Anonymous
Are you ready to admit you need help for alcoholism? If so, you’re probably wanting to change your life and work on maintaining long-term sobriety. AA’s 12-step program is an excellent resource for building the support network and behavioral, mental, and spiritual changes you’ll need along the way.
When you’re ready to get started, finding a support group or meeting in your area is easy. Just browse the AA website, where you can search by ZIP code to find the nearest location. You’ll also find that many local chapters also maintain their own websites, so trying searching for those.
Next: Step 4
Previous: Step 2
. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2017). This is A.A.
. Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.) Step Three.
. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2018). The “God” Word.
. Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.) Step Two.
. Luoma, J. B., Guinther, P. M., Lawless DesJardins, N. M., & Vilardaga, R. (2018). Is shame a proximal trigger for drinking? A daily process study with a community sample. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 26(3), 290–301.
. Whelan, P.J.P., Marshall, E.J., Ball, D.M., & Humphreys, K. (2009). The Role of AA sponsors: a pilot study. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 44(4), 416–422.