This week’s writing on Step Three begins with a riddle (who says we don’t have fun working the steps?): Three frogs are sitting on a log. One decides to jump off. How many frogs are left on the log? I’ll answer the riddle further on.
For me, Step Three follows logically on from Steps One and Two. I admit that I am powerless, I come to believe that there does exist a power that can restore me to sanity, and therefore I decide to turn myself over to the care of that power. This is a commitment I make every single morning before I get out of bed. I say the Serenity Prayer, the first three steps, and then the Third Step Prayer (AABB, p. 63). I sometimes have to turn my will and my life over during the day, as well.
Let’s look at the Step in more detail. The answer to the riddle is that there are three frogs on the log. That’s because the one frog only made a decision. He didn’t do anything else; he just made a decision. And that’s all this step asks me to do: make a decision. Easy, right? So why is it so hard to do?
It's so hard because we are afraid. I'm afraid of the consequences if I make this decision. What if making the decision to turn my will and my life over means that I have to suffer? What if I'm uncomfortable? What if it means I lose something I have? Or I don't get something I want and am sure I need?
Step Three is the first action step, according to the AA 12n12, so another way to think about the decision I’m being asked to make in Step Three is that I’m making a commitment. We addicts (COEs) purely loathe commitments. We could never stick to any diet we went on; we would make appointments and then skip or cancel them because we were bingeing or recovering from a binge or were too ashamed of how we looked; we couldn’t keep our jobs, our friends, or our intimate relationships. Furthermore, we always knew that our way was better than following the suggestions or rules or laws others followed. Commitment was a dirty word. So to be asked, as Step Three does, to make a commitment seemed impossible, not to mention terrifying (see above, fear). But the reason that the AA 12n12 says that the effectiveness of the whole program rests upon this Step is that unless and until I make the commitment, I can’t go further. Willingness is the key (AA 12n12) and once I make the decision – the commitment – I am saying that I will not compulsively overeat, no matter what. Even if my hair is on fire. Even if my ass falls off. I won’t eat. That’s the most basic decision we’re making in Step Three.
Of course, life has a pesky way of continuing to happen to us, so there are going to be provocations that are going to tempt us to eat. We’ll go out with friends; we’ll go to a wedding or birthday party; we’ll see an ad on TV, or a billboard (when I was first getting abstinent there was a billboard I saw frequently for Dunkin’ Donuts. I ask you – was that really necessary? Really?). So in order to maintain our commitment (our decision) we need to turn over all of our will and all of our life – every single piece – to that HP we identified in Step Two. The AA 12n12 says that in all times of disturbance we pause and ask for guidance. ALL. “My tax bill is huge; turn over my finances to HP.” “My kids are driving me nuts; turn them over to HP.” “I hate my body; turn it over to HP.” If I don't turn these provocations over, I might eventually eat because - surprise! - this program isn't about the food (AA 12n12, p. 39). This program is about how to live sanely and serenely without having to practice any of my compulsions, including compulsive overeating.
What does it mean that I turn my will over? The AABB talks in depth about this. It says, "So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn't think so." In order to recover from this disease I am going to have to let go of my self-will. I am going to have to stop trying to do things my way.
The AA 12n12 points out that when we put down the food, our troubles feel more acute because we no longer have the food to numb ourselves out with. No matter how hard I try, people just won't behave! So this business of turning our will and our whole life over is going to be a way out of the pain. The catch is that – if you’re anything like me – you have been living by the belief that we have to try harder, figure things out, push more. We can’t trust anyone, least of all ourselves (we know that because we couldn’t even stay on a stupid diet) and so we have to do it all by ourselves. Unless my back is absolutely against the wall, I won't turn anything over. I will instead exert my willpower on a problem. But this step gives me another option: use my willpower to make myself turn my problem over to HP. It's that phrase "every decision" (OA 12n12, p. 19) that trips me up. When I came through the doors of OA I knew that I had a ton of willpower in every other area of my life except food. I couldn't figure that out - why couldn't I apply the willpower to food? I was quickly given an answer (in Step 1) and a way out of the dilemma (in Step 2) but I was still left with all that willpower that I kept madly applying to everything and everyone around me. Step 3 says, fine, go ahead and apply my willpower, as long as I'm using it correctly, that is, to align my will with HP's.
How will I know what that is? I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of working with a sponsor. I have at times been without a sponsor in this program. I could follow my food plan but the program then began to look like a diet-and-calories club. I began to see that without a sponsor I was losing my contact with anything other than the noise in my head. With a sponsor, I could check out my intuition to see if it made sense or sounded more like self-will run riot. My sponsors have shared with me their experience, strength, and hope on each of the steps and on life issues.
It took me an embarrassingly large number of years before I saw that word “care” in this step. We decide to turn our will and in fact our entire lives – every moment of them – over to the care of a power greater than ourselves. That means that I have to look for the care. I find this especially powerful when I am having a crappy day. “Look for the care.” Oh, look – what a pretty blue sky. This observation breaks the choke-hold of my funk and allows me to expand my awareness of options to deal with the crappiness (other than eating or complaining).The OA 12n12 says that "we give up fear and indecision" (p. 24) by using Step 3. Wow - that sounds great! (Of course, I have no idea what I'd think about all day long, but...). And that book goes on to say that if I ask HP for help, "we cannot fail to recover" (p. 27) and that we will - for sure - be given first the willingness to do the next right thing, and then the ability. I have a short version of the Third Step prayer; it goes: "Let's just assume that everything is going to be alright."
In the AABB it says, "We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection." (p. 60). Step Three is where I apply that principle. I may take my self-will back into my own hands many times a day, but the progress is that with practice I learn to make the decision to let go more quickly and with less fighting. The great teacher Rama Krishna said, "The winds of grace, they are always blowing. All we need to do is raise our sails."
Questions for Step Three:
1. Have you made the decision asked of us in Step Three?
2. What prevents you from making that decision?
3. What do you fear will happen if you turn over your will and your life? What's the worst that could happen?
4. Do you think you have made a commitment that you won't eat, no matter what?
5. What commitments have you made that you are keeping in your life?
6. What do you do when you are disturbed, upset, uncertain?
7. How do you know you're getting guidance from your HP? How do you know your self-will is properly aligned?
8. What part of your life are you still reserving to yourself, still not turning over?
9. In what area(s) of your life do you experience the greatest struggle to let go and turn things over? Where is the real sticking point?
10. What does the "care of" a power greater than yourself look or feel like to you?
The Twelve Steps