Staying Sober Without God – Practical Step Three
AA Version: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
Practical Version: Committed to a lifestyle of recovery, focusing only on what we could control.
The original version of this step is easily the most challenging for nonbelievers. We are expected to make a decision to turn our will (wants, desires, etc.) and life (behaviors) over to the care of a being that can’t been seen, heard, or touched. It is a sticking point for many atheists and agnostics, and for good reason. Step two is doable for atheists and agnostics because they can just interpret a “power greater than ourselves” to mean lots of things that don’t necessarily involve God. The third step, on the other hand, uses the word “God” explicitly, leaving little room for alternate interpretations. The practical version of this step keeps your life in your hands. Instead of turning anything over, you are empowering yourself to commit to a lifestyle of consistent self-improvement. Again, this doesn’t mean you’re doing this all without support from others, it just means you are the one driving the process and the rewards will primarily be a result of your efforts.
In this step, two major things are happening. First, you are not just deciding, but committing. A commitment is a big deal. It’s more than nonchalantly telling yourself that you’re going to give this recovery thing a go, it is making a pact with yourself and your support network to make this a non-negotiable priority in your life. This requires some thought and should not be glossed over. You are committing to fundamentally changing the way you live one gradual but meaningful step at a time. In order to do this, you need to feel done with your unhealthy patterns. You need to be able to picture your life without your toxic friends and toxic drama. If there is any significant part of you that is still holding on to your old way of living, you may need to approach this step with some diligence and remind yourself of why you wanted to recover in the first place. As with all things, this will ebb and flow. I don’t expect you to never have a single thought of returning to your old ways, but it’s important to make as strong a commitment as you are capable of.
The second significant action in this step is to shift our focus to the things we can control. I’ve worked with people in recovery for over a decade. Throughout my work, I have learned that the single most important shift that happens in a recovering person’s mentality is the shift from blaming to taking responsibility. It is all too common to see desperate addicts come into 12-step meetings still focusing on the external situations that “made them” use drugs, whether it be their romantic partners, their bosses, their geographical location, or any other person or situation besides themselves. We are in recovery for one thing and one thing only: to change the way we behave and relate to the rest of the world. It’s icing on the cake if things outside of our control fall into place, but expecting anything outside of our control to go a specific way is a recipe for frustration and resentment. Blaming others is characteristic of a victim mentality, which is disempowering. We’re going for the opposite.
I am not denying the fact that many of us have been victims of the actions of others. There is a significant distinction between taking personal responsibility and taking blame. We are doing the former. Perhaps you were abused as a child (or adult). I would never suggest that a victim of abuse take the blame for what happened to them, but I would strongly suggest that he or she take responsibility for their life moving forward. Yes, you were wronged. Yes, it was horrible, but what now? Do we continue to waste our precious time and mental energy focusing on what should have happened, or do we process what happened, move through it, and heal? The more we focus on the things we can’t control, the more we experience suffering. It’s like wishing for the weather to change. The weather doesn’t care what we want. It will do whatever the laws of physics dictate. We either choose to accept it or make ourselves miserable by dwelling over it. After we’ve shifted our focus to our own lives and the things we can control, we will be in a better position to identify our shortcomings and start taking actions to change them.
Working Step Three
For this step, I think it’s best to have a sponsor, therapist, mentor, or trustworthy friend to go through it with. Making a commitment is more meaningful if you make it in the presence of other people. Accountability is a powerful tool in recovery. If somebody knows you’re making this commitment, they can hold you to it and keep you honest. If you make the commitment alone in your bedroom with no witnesses, it will be easier to break.
Write a mission statement, an oath, or a contract in which you make a pledge to persistently lean toward a lifestyle of recovery. In this pledge, state your reasons for making this change, state when you will begin it, and state what your first actions will be. I’d suggest that your first action be to work through the rest of these steps, since that will create a foundation for you to then branch out and explore new avenues of self-improvement. Areas of self-improvement that aren’t covered in the steps will be discussed after this chapter.
Find your partner for this step and read them the written commitment. After you’ve made the commitment, go someplace quiet and reflect for 15-20 minutes (or as long as you need to) on what just happened. Remember, this isn’t like promising to do the laundry more often. You just committed to a new life. Soak it in and take some pride in it. After you take your time to reflect, go do something positive for yourself, even if it’s just something mindless and fun.
For an excellent review of the book, click here: Staying Sober Without God.
Jeffrey Munn was born in Southern California where he still resides with his wife and daughter. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has been working in the field of mental health since 2010.
Jeffrey works as a therapist in private practice and specializes in addiction, OCD, and anxiety disorders. In addition to his master’s degree in clinical psychology, Jeffrey earned a degree specialty in co-occurring disorders.
Click here to access the book on Amazon: Staying Sober Without God.
To visit Jeffrey’s website, click here: Practically Sane.