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Understanding AA’s Third Step

Quilt artwork copyright Mary Koons

Working Step 3 in AA

Can you believe it? It’s March, and we’re already 3 months into 2019, so it’s time to take a look at the 3rd step in AA’s 12 Steps of Recovery: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Maybe the most important thing to understand about the 3rd step of recovery, is that while the first 2 steps are about reflection, the 3rd step calls for action.

Some common questions about this step include:

-How does AA’s third step work?

-How do I practice AA’s Step 3

-What are some alternatives to God for Step 3?

-Can I practice Step 3 if I don’t believe in God?

Everyone brings something different to this step. Some will have  had a religious upbringing that was unfulfilling or negative. Others place themselves into an agnostic or atheist category. Opinions can range from “open but confused,” to “staunchly opposed.”  For those that balk at the “God” part of this step,  here are some alternatives to God to try on:

Group of Drunks

Bring your fears, questions and all the rest of it to the rooms, the fellowship and the experience you share with your fellow alcoholics and addicts. Many people in recovery describe their spiritual relationship as one where they ask their higher power for help, and then receive that help from other people.

Good Orderly Direction

Consider the natural order of nature and try trusting in the examples of balance and order observable all around you. Look for proof in nature, science and math to find elements of purpose and order in the universe and see if that is enough to put some trust into the idea that you are right where you are supposed to be.


Many people report finding a lot of peace, comfort and spiritual recharging happens when they interact with nature. This can be a walk in the woods, time in the garden or watching ocean waves lap the shoreline.

Something Borrowed

Much the same way you might check out a book from the library or borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbor — many newcomers will borrow a Higher Power or investigate other forms of spirituality. The result can be creating a Higher Power and spiritual practice that incorporates elements cobbled together from different sources.

Step 3 says God can mean whatever you want it to mean and you are free to build and evolve that idea as you go. All that is required is an open mind and willingness to try. 

Serenity Lane

Next, we come to the part about turning over our will. What does it mean? The act can be broken down into four parts

Asking for Help

Surrender ego, ask for help whenever you need it, or whenever the path to recovery becomes too much.

Learning to Pray

Prayer here doesn’t have to be seen in a traditional sense. Once you’ve identified your higher power, have a conversation with it, in whatever form that might take. Ask questions, or express gratitude.

Learning to Meditate

Take time every day to reflect on what has been, what is now, and what the future could hold.

Practicing Acceptance

Surrender control, and take your life as it comes, while learning to focus on what you can really control.

At its core, step 3 tells us to get out of our own way, to understand, and turn over our will, to whatever power it will take to get us into recovery. It’s about admitting we need a power beyond ourselves to beat drug and alcohol addiction.

Have Questions about Getting Sober?

Call 1 (800) 543-9905 to speak with one of our substance use disorder specialists, they can answer your questions and provide some ideas for next steps if you need help. You may also submit a confidential inquiry form to request an appointment or ask some questions.

We also offer clinical assessments, special family programs, long term treatment and recovery support for a full year.

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