Grieving and Gratitude: Important Components in Step 3

By Ken Wells - 06/26/2021


Series Two: Blog Forty

Step 3 of the 12-Step Program addresses the game of control in the life of an addict. It starts with making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. This step is fraught with problems for an addict. First, to think that you can control anything other than your choice of behavior to the world around you is an illusion. Nevertheless, addicts play the game of control in every aspect of their lives. Sometimes control appears glaring and obvious to the observant eye. Yet, inwardly the battle between control and surrender is often very subtle. True surrender can often be missed by the naked eye of an onlooker. Sometimes an addict will work step 3 with heart and soul and assume that h/she has completed the step, only to experience an overwhelming urge to fall back into clutching for control over and again.

People who work program can become like people who attend church. Church folk have a lingo all their own. So do the 12-step program folk. There are sayings and catchwords that program people use. Phrases like “let go and let God”, “one day at a time”, and “is your program willpower or Higher Powered”. There are many more. Addicts in 12-step meetings can recite the shibboleths like a Bible thumper can repeat scripture verses. Yet, underneath the catchphrase and the reciting of program talk, an addict can be raging out of control. I remember when I was both in a 12-step program and embracing the way of the church, I knew the important language. For example, if you were to ask me what do you trust when you are in a desperate crisis, I would know from the vantage of the church to say Jesus Christ. If it were the 12-step community, it would have been my Higher Power. Upon reflection and honest truth, what I really depended upon when I was in a bind was me working my tail off. I always knew how to dress up my action with language that would fit the church or the 12-step community’s expectation. The unvarnished truth was that I struggled with the need to control. This dynamic is a challenge for many, not just addicts.

The next challenge is to “surrender to a God of your understanding”. The term “God” means so many things to different people. Some think of “the man upstairs”. Others think of a Father/Mother and the list goes on. And, who do you surrender to if you simply don’t believe in any God whatsoever? Are you stuck and simply skip over Step 3? There is rhyme and reason to why Step 2 “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” is addressed before tackling the issue of surrender in Step 3. If the power greater than yourself referenced in step 2 had to be a religious God, then many addicts would be up a creek without a paddle. The reality is that it is your personal journey to figure who/what to reference to restore you to sanity. Many believe in a universal energy and life force that becomes an organizing principle that can restore sanity. Step 3 is dependent upon your own understanding of resource. You can change the name from God to whatever makes sense and eliminate the term “spirituality” if there is a better concept for you to engage. 

The challenge with Step 3 is to turn things over like self-hate, self-doubt, fear and resentment, compulsions of every kind and rage to an entity different from what got you stuck. Seldom is this one and done. For sure, those who experience success with surrender, practice “turning it over” daily. It becomes a part of the everyday regimen in 12-step living. 

All addicts cling for control, no matter how long you have been in recovery. It may not be with your historic drug of choice but the subtle struggle exists within your heart. Like the joke about the guy who fell over the rails at the Grand Canyon, only to grasp and cling to a lone branch jutting out from the canyon wall 20 feet below the rim. As he looked down at a 500 foot fall and certain death, he cried out “Is anybody up there?” Suddenly he heard a clear voice that said “let go” and he cleared his throat before asking “is there anyone else up there?” It is always intimidating to practice letting go and turning your will and life over to the care of the God of your understanding.

Letting go and turning things over to God requires grieving. For sure, life changes for us all. Addicts acutely struggle with change. So what we must do is embrace the process of grieving if we intend to let go of what we cannot control. Anger, sadness, grumbling, resentment, feeling down, feelings of apathy and deep regret all must be embraced in the form of grieving if you are to let go and turn things over. Grieving is a lifestyle healing tool to be utilized throughout your recovery life.  Choosing to avoid grieving will stymy your effort to turn things over to God and is another way of abandoning yourself.

Panic comes from wrestling with things you don’t want to let go of or things you don’t want to do. You can become immersed in things you want to do like becoming too busy taking care of everyone else to let God take care of you. What builds and rises up within is anxiety and eventually panic. Grieving is a way of tempering anxiety and reducing panic. It sets the stage for waving the white flag of surrendering what you cannot control.

The decision to let go of what you cannot control begins with open hearted and honest sharing with another person about your troublesome behavior. You will need to say it straight without trying to protect others. Impression management will need to be relinquished. You will need to plunge into others hearing about your fears and hopes. It is an important beginning. 

You will need to practice asking for help. Many addicts were shamed for being needy and learned to be wantless while growing up. As adults they practiced avoiding asking for help and believed that they were self-sufficient. This is a mistaken belief that will paralyze your capacity to let go. Asking for help opens the door of your heart and releases the death grip on controlling what you cannot. 

Gratitude is a healing balm that acts like a salve to the work of detaching from what you cannot control. In other words, when you let go gratitude applies hope and release where there was turmoil and frustration. It takes what is and makes it more. It is so simplistic that most underestimate its value and power. From a place of gratitude, you can allow life experience to come to you rather than to strive and clamor for your just due and compete for your space. Gratitude creates its own space and you will be in the middle of it.

Grieving and gratitude are powerful tools to practice throughout life. These are two important components often undervalued and frequently overlooked in the Step 3 process.  

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