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

Step 3 AA – 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD) is not uncommon in the US. Namely, around 15 million people of all ages were estimated to have AUD in 2019, according to a nation-wide survey.1 Due to the numerous differences among those who struggle with AUD (age, gender, severity of the disorder, financial status etc) there need to be multiple approaches to treatment.2

The basic and necessary steps are behavioral treatment and medications.2 These are the main things to be done, yet people tend to seek additional help – mutual support groups. When combined with medical treatment, these groups can be very helpful in achieving sobriety. They normally take the form of 12-step programs called Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which are based on privacy, sobriety and giving oneself over to one’s higher power for guidance.2 

What Is Step 3 AA?

Alcoholics Anonymous are a fellowship where people come together to share their struggles, support one another and overcome addiction and all its challenges. The ultimate goal is sobriety, which is aimed to be achieved through 3 main ideas:3

  • Acceptance. The realization that you have a problem is the first step to recovery and also one of the most important actions. 
  • Surrendering. This idea permeates the entire philosophy of 12-step programs – you should give yourself over to your higher power.
  • Involvement. For the AA program to work, you should actively participate in each of the steps and activities in your group. With these 3 things combined, you can achieve sobriety and regain control over your life.

All of this is fueled by the 12 steps; and, for that matter, the 12 traditions. These 24 principles are the base for all AA meetings across the world.4 After the first 2 steps which include admitting to being powerless and realizing that a higher power could bring you back to sobriety, comes the 3rd step of AA: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.5

As previously mentioned, a large part of the AA journey involves trusting that recovery is partially out of your hands and that the necessary step to be taken is giving yourself over to God. Step 3 of Alcoholics Anonymous gives a further explanation – God is whatever you understand Him to be. The AA program has a religious nature, but it is not explicitly related to any religion. On the contrary, it gives the treatment-seeking individual the freedom to decide what God really represents for them.6

Secondly, although the insistence on letting go in step 3 is present, the prayer starts off with your own action – making a decision. It means that even though you should find guidance in God, you should be the one responsible and determinate to make that step and begin your recovery.6

And lastly, your life is not only turned over, but also just turned – into a different direction. The third step of AA is when you are ready to let the course of recovery really begin and see the actual change.6

Step 3 Prayer AA

The serenity prayer says: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.6

This prayer comes at a time when you are ready to really commence with the third step. The mistakes from the past are considered a “misuse of willpower”6, therefore now it is time you let go and follow the guidance of a higher power. In a way, this prayer also emphasizes your own will, as you are the one who has to make the decision and take a leap of faith in the step 3 of AA. It also points out that you should distinguish between the things you can and cannot control. Once you are aware of that, you will be able to take the next step.

Apart from the serenity prayer, the third step comes with a prayer of its own: “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 with Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”9

AA Step 3, 3rd step prayer AA and the serenity prayer all seek to redirect your faith to God (as you understand Him) and to make you trust the process of a 12-step recovery.9

What Is the Importance of AA Step 3?

For a long time, the clinical benefits of AA programs were unclear. However, due to the widespread practice and a variety of research that has been done in the last few years, the picture is a lot clearer. Although mutual-support groups cannot and should not replace the medical treatment of AUD, it is a useful addition to the process. Sometimes, it even proved itself to be more useful than some inpatient or outpatient continuing care.7

The importance of AA is primarily based on the behavioral changes that come with it. Step 3 of AA is the place where it starts. By making that step which allows you to let go and fully immerse yourself in the process, you begin to adopt other changes in behavior – not only through abstinence, but also by changing your social circle, learning new coping skills and elevating your own motivation.7 Another benefit of the AA experience is its cost, or the lack of it, compared to long-term continuing outpatient care.7

AA step 3 is, in the AA Twelve Steps book, compared to unlocking a door. You have the key – the willingness – all you need to do is use it. Unlike the first two steps where you only need to reflect and accept your situation, the 3rd step of AA requires action on your behalf. This is its most difficult part, yet the most important one for your life. When you manage to make it past that step, the healing takes place.6

How To Complete Step 3 AA?

Completing any step takes time and commitment. Step 3 AA is the first in the 12-step journey that requires action, therefore it needs special attention. Once again, the step says: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 

First of all, many people coming into the AA world have a secular approach to treatment. Even if they don’t, chances are that your group will not be homogenous and people will be of different ages, genders and religious beliefs (or none at all). This is why everyone will have to find a God for themselves. The 3rd step clearly says – as we understood Him. In practice, this proved to be true: everyone understood God in their own way.8 

However, since this step entails action, it is not enough only to understand Him, but also connect with Him. For many people in a recent study, that meant daily meditation. Sometimes this involved “talking” to God, and sometimes just relaxing in silence. The important thing that the participants said was that the daily meditation did not feel like an obligation, rather that it was a needed part of their routine. Once you reach this level of comfort with the idea of giving yourself over to the higher power – the 3rd step of AA can be considered to be achieved.8

What Are the Tips for Completing 3rd Step AA?

Completing the 3rd step AA takes time and devotion. Since it is the first of the 12 steps that goes further than reflection, some find it almost impossible to begin with. However, the experience of hundreds of thousands of people has proved that it is more than likely to succeed.6

As the step 3 is rather spiritually-oriented, to many practical people it may seem distant or far-fetched.6 Yet there are many tips from people’s previous experiences which can help with approaching this very important milestone in an AA recovery journey:

  • Choose the higher power. This concept is normally used interchangeably with the term God – yet, as the 3rd step AA itself suggests (“as we understood Him”), you are the one to decide how you interpret that power. For some, it is a religious feeling, connected to their spirituality. For others, the higher power is just something beyond themselves, but not necessarily religious – e.g. some consider their fellowship or the group the power to which they give themselves over.8
  • Examine the idea of (in)dependence. The 3rd step AA requires letting go of emotional independence and accepting that somebody or something else is perhaps better when in control than ourselves. By accepting the first 2 steps which say that we are powerless in the face of our addiction, moving on to the third one means giving up complete control, which for the most part, was not our own anyway. The Twelve Steps book explores this idea in everyday life – we are all dependent on electricity, for example, and would not change that for the world. Similarly, we should rely on the higher power willingly for the recovery to take place.6
  • Turn to the serenity prayer. If all else fails, the serenity prayer is there to remind you of your goal. In moments of indecisiveness or crisis, remind yourself that you have to accept the things that you can and cannot change. Remember that you need to be brave to do what you can on your own, but also that you need to be wise to realize when you should step back and the higher power shall take over.6

Step 3 AA Worksheet Questions

Going through step 3 does require action, but also reflection. Here are some questions you could ask yourself while going through step 3 AA:6,7,8

  • How has acting on my own self-will affected my life? How has it affected others?
  • How can I take action to turn it over?
  • What is the difference between my will and God’s will?
  • How is my Higher Power working in my life?
  • Is my current concept of a Higher Power aiding my need to change?
  • What does “to the care of“ mean to me?
  • How might my life be changed if I make the decision to “turn it over?”
  • Am I unwilling to do things in my recovery that are being suggested? If so, why?
  • How does surrender in the first step relate to or help the third step?

These are questions from the AA step 3 worksheets which can help get you through the 3rd step successfully.

How to Interpret Step 3 AA: What Should I Do Next?

Step 3 AA is like a springboard for all the other steps. Once you have decided to fully immerse in this process, not only through will but also actions, you have completed the 3rd step and are ready for the next one. In this one, you will learn to let go and trust the process.6 In the next one however, you will go even further, as the 4th steps says: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.5 

Addiction often comes with moral shortcomings, yet in the AA process, nobody is judged. On the contrary, you ought to accept your past and face it in the process, which is the purpose of step 4. It is a difficult one, yet the 3rd step AA is there as the perfect preparation for it.

How Can I Get Help from the 3rd Step of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)?

Step 3 of AA is just one in a row, but the entirety of 12-step programs can be extremely beneficial for your recovery. However, it is vital that you seek help if you need it, whatever the program may be. Different facilities have different costs, some are covered by insurance and some are not. 

By contacting some of the hotlines or American Addiction Centers, you can learn about the nearest rehab centers, how much they cost, what part your insurance covers (if you have it), and what the payment methods are. The experienced admissions navigators will have all the information that you need, so do not hesitate to call some of these lines:

  • American Addiction Centers  – it has all the information about rehab that somebody struggling or their family members might need.10
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-487-4889 – a free service available 24/7 in English and Spanish.11
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 1 (800) NCA-CALL (622-2255).12