Step 3 of the 12 Step Programme - Surrender your will
The second step of the 12 steps instructs the participant to believe that a power greater than themselves (a higher power) can “restore them to sanity.” If we were to put a positive spin on this, we could translate it into something like this: it’s easier to change an embedded habit like drinking when you believe you can. When you have hope. And, when you acknowledge that you might benefit from help outside of yourself.
Step 3 takes this further and urges the participant to decide “to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God as they understand Him”. It’s often at this point that many people turn away from the programme. Its spiritual and religious roots are totally explicit here and to those people who are not religious, this can be a huge turn-off and too much of a “leap of faith” (sorry! 😊) to make.
Many people insist that “God as you understand him” doesn’t have to mean a deity but can refer to: a programme, a support group, health professionals, the process of getting sober, the innate strength of human nature, our connectedness to nature or the universe, or even your own support network. This step advocates surrendering will to a power outside of ourselves. The thinking being that we haven’t managed things very well so far, so we need some outside support. Whereas step 2 seems to be about a theoretical understanding and acknowledgment that we can change if we believe in the right things, step 3 seems to be more about taking action and “turning our will over”. Perhaps a more gentle way to put this is that it could be helpful to actively “seek guidance and support from outside ourselves”.
When you strip away the language and make this about seeking support and connecting with some kind of group, energy or force that’s outside of us, this makes sense, but again, it has been couched in language that doesn’t work for everyone and could do with updating to make it more accessible and helpful. Even when I recognise the benefits to gaining support and guidance from something outside of me, I still don’t want to “turn my will over” to it. I still want to be in control. I know that I have power over my will and I don’t want to surrender it to anyone or anything else. It’s a bit like step 1 requiring me to acknowledge I’m powerless. I don’t like all of this surrendering my own will and power. I want to reclaim my will and power!
But guidance and support from something greater than me is definitely something to be welcomed! I believe that there is some kind of interconnectedness between all living things on the planet and in the universe and there are energies and forces at play that I will never know or understand. Reaching into this interconnectedness at times of stress or challenge can be therapeutic. I remember a couple of years ago, dog-sitting for friends of mine in Spain. I was on my own and was experiencing high levels of anxiety and panic because I had stopped drinking and had lost my “crutch” of alcohol. My unconscious mind was panicking and throwing me into panic and anxiety attacks on a regular basis. on this particular occasion, I was on my way out somewhere and was terrified that I was going to panic on the way. I was in the process of creating a massive panic attack from the fear of panicking… I was very much creating my own reality! So, I stopped what I was doing and coached myself through a short but effective process to change the state I was in.
The end result of the process was that I stood in the garden next to the pool with the heat from the sun on my skin and imagined all the panic and anxiety gone. In its place was a pulsating, rhythmical core of light that started from somewhere in my belly and spread throughout my body. It then developed rays which spread out of me and in all directions into the universe. It was like there was some lifeforce or energy that began within me but was connected to and part of some greater energy that was in turn connected to all life everywhere. This sense of connection was joyous, energising and brought huge relief. I was able to resume my day in a happy and energetic state and, more importantly, with no fear.
Whether you believe in a god or deity, some spiritual force, some natural force, or whether you just believe that there is some sort of connection between people everywhere, reminding yourself of this connection with something outside of yourself and tuning into it, visualising it or fully immersing yourself into it in your imagination really helps to ground you. It helps you to stay connected with your motivation, your strength and your power.
But I don’t think of this kind of thinking or doing as “surrendering” will to something outside of you. I think of it more as a joining of forces and of recognising your place and connectedness in the world. That there is infinite energy and resources “out there” in the ether that you can tap into when you remember to connect with it.
What do you think? Is surrendering your will to powers outside of you a helpful and constructive way to think about things? Or do you prefer to join forces and retain your will and power?