Step 3 of AA: Turning Your Life Over to a Higher Power

As hard as it is to admit a problem, accepting assistance can be even more difficult. Our egos get in the way, and we’re embarrassed that we can’t handle everything on our own. Step 3 of Alcoholics Anonymous removes the stigma of surrendering control over your life within addiction. Instead, you invite a higher power to guide you to a healthier place, with people who are meant to support you along the way.

What Is Step 3 of AA?

The third step of AA’s 12-step journey introduces the process of surrendering control over your addiction to a power greater than yourself. Step Three is written as follows:

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”

Like the two previous steps, AA’s Step 3 is meant to help alcoholics realize they don’t have control over their drinking. What makes Step 3 unique, though, is it requires a decisive commitment, rather than just acceptance. Step 1 asks you to admit your powerlessness over alcohol, and Step 2 introduces a belief in a higher power that can help you. Both of these steps are reflective; they ask you to observe and accept them to be true.

Step 3 is the first one that asks you to actively decide to trust that higher power and let go of things beyond your control, including your addiction. AA calls this step “the key of willingness,” which then opens the door to recovery. It helps you begin the process of de-centering your ego, which repeatedly tells you that you can—and must—maintain your independence at all costs. Instead, your decision to surrender means that you’re ready and willing to accept outside guidance and help.

Practicing Step 3 of AA

What does Step 3 look like in practice? The answer is very personal to you and your recovery. Remember, Step 3 requires you to make a decision—to acknowledge that you’re choosing to surrender rather than maintain control.

There are a few tips for how you might manifest your decision to “let go and let God.”

  • Choose your “higher power.” As you’ll learn more about below, “God” does necessarily mean a religious deity. Instead, think of it as your own conception of a higher power that you can trust and lean upon. Part of practicing Step 3 is acknowledging who, or what, your higher power is, so you can begin turning your will and your life over to that entity.
  • Turn to the Serenity Prayer. In fact, this prayer has become a staple of most Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Reciting the Serenity Prayer is a way to actively embrace your higher power and hand over control of things you both can and cannot change.
  • Observe and decide what is—and is not—within your control. By allowing a higher power to take over and guide you to wisdom, you can let go of the need to steer every single thing in your life all on your own. Instead, begin approaching each situation with the question, “Can I do anything about this right now—and if so, would that action be healthy or harmful for me?” Consider even creating a list of the most significant stressors in your life and place them into buckets so you can observe all of the things you’re able to let go to your higher power.

The initial decision made in Step 3 happens in an instant, yet it’s a decision you’ll continue to make each and every day throughout your life of sobriety. So, in a sense, Step 3 takes just a moment to complete but also takes a lifetime to practice. That’s why it’s important to find ways to express Step 3 that are sustainable and resonate with you throughout your journey.

Common Myths of AA Step 3

Myth 1: You Must Believe in “God”

Perhaps the biggest misconception of Step 3 is that you must believe in a Christian God to practice it. Step 3 does refer to “God,” but that doesn’t mean all members must be of a particular faith or religion to complete the step or even to join Alcoholics Anonymous.

While AA is a spiritually based organization, any person can practice the 12 Steps, whether they have a deep-seated religious faith or none at all. In fact, Step 2 uses the word “Power” instead of “God,” and Step 3 goes on to say, “. . .it is only by action that we can cut away the self-will which has always blocked the entry of God—or if you like, a Higher Power—into our lives.”

The phrase “as we understood him” in Step 3 is key—each person may understand the concept of God to be whatever they need it to be. Your higher power might be an overall sense of spirituality, or your family, or a set of close friends you love and trust. You can even choose your fellow AA group members as the power greater than yourself—any collective entity to which you are willing to turn for accountability and support.

Myth 2: You Lose Your Independence

Another myth of Step 3 is that it strips you of all autonomy. But the truth is quite the opposite. You don’t have to change all of your behaviors to be completely passive immediately. Consider that by joining Alcoholics Anonymous, you have already put trust in a collective group to support you and see you through your recovery—a decision that you continue to exercise each time you attend a meeting. If you have an AA sponsor, you’ve already turned to another for guidance rather than continuing to make all of the decisions for and by yourself.

Step 3 asks you to turn your life over to “the care of” a higher power. When someone or something cares for you, they don’t automatically dictate your entire life for you. Surrendering to another’s care allows you to trust that loving hands guide you toward a sober life. In fact, this decision is maybe the most independent expression of free will you’ve made throughout your struggle with alcohol. Instead of the addiction making your decisions for you, you are choosing this path for yourself.

After AA Step 3: What’s Next?

Completing Step 3 of AA is critical to moving on to the rest of your 12-step journey. In fact, Alcoholics Anonymous says that the “effectiveness of the whole AA program will rest upon how well and earnestly” you embrace and work through this third step.

This is because deciding to relinquish control over to a higher power is just that—a decision. Up next is the actual work to turn that decision into a plan of action, which then gets you out of the spiral of alcohol addiction. After all, you can decide to buy a new car, but that doesn’t mean your shiny new wheels magically appear in your driveway. You have to take actions that make your decision a reality.

Step 3 of AA eases you into the emotional work you will have to do throughout the rest of the 12-step process. It prepares you to accept whatever comes next because it’s now in the hands of your higher power. Whatever past you must reflect on, whatever future amends you must make, you have given them over to fate, God, or whichever power you acknowledge so that you can focus on taking the next right action.

Steps 4 through 12 provide a roadmap to doing just that. Step 4 requires you to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of yourself, a process that can be quite painful as you strip away layers of your addiction to reveal your own deeper truths. But with the support of your higher power, to whom you’ve turned over your will and your life, you’ll be one step closer to recovery.

Finding a Meeting and Starting the 12 Steps of AA

If you’re ready to overcome your addiction for good, there’s an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter waiting to support and guide you to sobriety. You don’t have to pay any fees or meet any qualifications to join—all you have to do is show up. You find a local meeting using the AA directory.

If you need more focused treatment, call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak with a specialist and explore your options. They can provide thorough treatment information and help connect you with rehab, detox centers, and more.

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