John’s Recovery: Step Three
AA Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to God as we understood Him.
My Step 3: Made a commitment to seek, seriously consider, and when appropriate, act upon suggestions from others who were committed to living a sober lifestyle.
By John B
Newly emergent honesty and the beginnings of humility were strengthening my commitment to not drink. In both cases the necessary self-appraisal was enhanced by suggestions and helpful self-disclosures from my two sponsors. The real life example of sobriety that they portrayed was the evidence I needed to shove aside doubt and uncertainty concerning the possibility of my own success. Neither of the first two steps required me to add anything new to my value system. I didn’t need to re-invent honesty; I just needed to let it re-emerge. After decades of playing and coaching basketball I had a clear understanding of humility – superior opponents and the game itself frequently taught me that lesson. Honesty and humility were now trending upward and the desire to drink had never been weaker.
Retrospectively, after 35 years of sober living without any divine intervention, I am amazed that the wording of Step 3 didn’t motivate me to turn and run like hell away from AA back there in 1980. Here it was in 1984, and again looking back, a clear answer emerged. The wording of the steps and AA literature in general had little to do with my constant returns to the rooms of AA after each binge. The power that drew me back was the understanding friendship and camaraderie that AA involvement provided. At that point in time the only thing I knew about alcoholism I had learned in a 15 day, 12 step oriented treatment episode in 1980, and from my intermittent AA attendance. The only sober alcoholics I knew got sober in AA. Turn and run? Run to where?
Let me digress. The reader should keep in mind I am speaking of the year 1984 (forget about George Orwell). It would be false to say treatment for alcoholism was not available in the 1980’s. Just the opposite was true. Franchise like treatment programs boomed throughout the country. You can get a detailed picture of some of these businesses in William White’s book, Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America. My point is that nearly every one of them was joined at the hip with AA. The 15 day program that I attended in N.E. Indiana brought in two AA speakers each week, AA volunteers drove us to local AA meetings in the evenings, there were in-house meetings two nights a week, and the main qualification possessed by the program manager was that he was AA sober. In those days, with rare exception, the road to recovery was routed through AA. In 1984, I and those like me were faced with the challenge of how to make AA work for us (friendship, support, camaraderie) not by conforming to the literal dictates of the steps, but in spite of those dictates. Here at step three was more direct confrontation with the God of AA.
Some progress had been made at this stage of my recovery. I could feel it and others could see it. Nevertheless, an alcoholic of my type still has to deal with egotism, arrogance, selfishness, and the tendency to let self-will dominate. Entrenched propensities this powerful won’t dissipate on their own, and left unaddressed would destroy any chance for sustained sobriety. How was I to acclimate myself to the AA community, find my own comfortable niche, and let the God of AA wander about on his own? The path I took, a path that served me well and led to long term sobriety, was to use the words of Bill Wilson himself to validate my godless approach to 12 step recovery along with seeking information from literature outside the inventory of AA publications.
I am keenly aware that the word God with a capital “G” is ubiquitous throughout AA literature and a majority of the sober alcoholics I know believe the word refers to a supra-human entity that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Obviously AA literature can be used to support this line of thinking. What far too many “elders” in AA fail to realize or in many cases choose to ignore, is that the same body of literature grants significant latitude to skeptics like me to define God “as I understand it”, which is my interpretation of the AA phrase, “as we understood Him.”
One of my two sponsors recommended that I study the chapter, We Agnostics, in the Big Book. I found the chapter to be just plain goofy – the equivalent of what I had heard as a youth coming from the mouth of a traveling tent revivalist. Wilson assures the reader that through diligent searching, “The consciousness of your belief is sure to come to you.”(Big Book, p. 55) Sure enough, it did come to me. No need for God.
Personally, I came to understand and connect with a spiritually grounded higher power based on quality personal relationships. This humanistic power served me effectively then and is now stronger than ever. Regarding Humanism, I would recommend to anyone in recovery to read the Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles, compiled by Paul Kurtz. This constitutes a great outline for becoming fully human.
The recovery landscape in 2019 has definitely changed for the better. Let’s pretend my recovery began in August of 2019, rather than August of 1980 with that 15 day treatment episode. What could evolve differently from August of 2019 onward compared to the options that occurred to me beginning in the summer of 1980? It is a logical assumption that I would continue to develop more sophisticated internet skills and would learn about web sites like AA Agnostica, AA Beyond Belief, and others. These powerful mediums will assure me that I am not alone in my minority viewpoint world. Today (August 8, 2019) AA Agnostica shows an enrollment of 2,030 and I’m sure AA Beyond Belief equals or exceeds that number.
No such thing existed in the 1980s.
The only book of daily meditations I was acquainted with in early recovery was The Twenty-Four Hours a Day book – about the equivalent of reading the Bible. In 1986, Hazelden published Touchstones, a book of meditations for men. It was a slight improvement over the 24 hour book, but still way too godly – the reading for August 4, the day of my last drink tells me “…to be open to the healing powers of God.” Around 1990, AA saw dollar signs and entered the meditation business and published Daily Reflections – more God.
Those of us entering recovery in 2019 were given the opportunity to escape stuff like this. My copy of Joe C’s Beyond Belief musings was getting a bit tattered and marked up. When I told my sponsor I was less than enthralled with the wording of Step 3, he told me not to worry about it and referred me to The Little Book, by some guy named Roger C, where all the steps were re-worded by some sophisticated, yet practical thinkers. Amazing! Hell, maybe I’ll do my own rewrite.
Better yet, one of those web sites mentioned a new book by some counselor entitled, Staying Sober Without God, a book loaded with suggestions about how to change thinking and behaviors in order to combat addiction. Apparently, he is a counselor who does more than take the money and then tells the client to go to AA. I was learning more and more about sober living from non-AA sources, and the more I learned the more I looked upon Mr. Wilson’s Big Book as a collection of anachronisms.
Yes, the landscape has changed and I’ll take advantage of the new views. BUT – I have the feeling it would not be healthy for me to disengage from AA. I need the camaraderie.
For a PDF of all his Steps, click here: John’s Recovery: The 12 Steps.
John is an eighty-three year old sober alcoholic with 35 years of continuous sobriety. Married to Helen for 53 years; three kids in their 50’s. Spent 17 years teaching and coaching at the high school level in Indiana and Illinois. Owned and operated a bar and restaurant for 13 years which led to the acceleration of his alcoholism, which led to treatment, and eventually led to a career as an addiction counselor. Retired in 2001 from the Marion, In. V.A. Served as office manager for a major AA intergroup office in N.E. In. for six and a half years. Was an excellent high school and small college basketball player. Still goes to the gym three days a week and shoots 200 three point shots and does some light weight lifting. Passionate about family, recovery, basketball, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Reads 20 to 25 books a year, and three or four quality periodicals on a regular basis; mostly about politics, economics, science, history: about anything going on in the world that strikes his curiosity.