Steps 2 and 3

Introducing AA Spirituality

Why should a paper such as this be titled "Introducing AA Spirituality?" An even more reasonable question might be "Why not use that term for Step One?"

A Short Note About Step One

Step One, as is commonly said in our meetings, is the “only step which must be done perfectly.” It very definitely introduces new members to the AA program of recovery, a new found opportunity for hope and an invitation for all of us to make a concrete move toward better times. Step One will be the engine that can power the new alcoholic member forward to all the other areas of work he will face. Once accomplished, Step One will provide this new, positive inertia in a way that will be constantly present. It will provide critically important perspective, reassurance and stamina every time he feels like abandoning his step work (or his sobriety), no matter where along the way he may encounter such indecision or discouragement.

All kinds of challenges accompany his acceptance of the ideas in Step One, and although many of them deal with his hopes for the future, its most important aspects deal very heavily with the present. His decisions about Step One will be made by the man he presently is, under the threats and burdens of his present (consequences of alcoholism) situation and with the compassionate and knowledgeable assistance of his fellow AA members at that present moment. Step One is to be done, and done completely, in the now. It is drastic, demanding and immediate -- without conditions.

Only after his understanding of the full meaning of this Step One entry into AA becomes more robust will it will be time to start work on Step Two. Plenty of AA meetings, both the “during” type meetings and the “after” type meetings, can lead to a sharper and fuller picture of the seriousness of the problem he has as a result of the disease of alcoholism. Sitting with other AA’s, probably still strangers, for breakfast, coffee or any other time in “after” the meeting meetings will be a critical asset to his Step One understanding. It will also be an opportunity more seasoned AA’s will hate to miss.

Any lingering reservations or other denial in the body of his work on Step One will undercut his chances with the remaining eleven steps, and, as expected, that kind of trouble will appear first in his work in Step Two!

Step Two

The Foundation of a Spiritual System That Works


When is he ready for Step Two?

Many AA’s have already been exposed to Step One before they take the next step of getting a sponsor. There are so many new things for the new member! So many questions! So many feelings which act to keep him from asking the questions. (“I thought being an alcoholic was depressing enough. Looking stupid seemed like way too much to add to that!”) Step One must provide the new member with a thorough knowledge of his condition.

Otherwise, his introduction into AA through Step Two will be based on something besides the idea of its absolute necessity as a foundation for his recovery. Without his acceptance of the obvious hopelessness of his condition, Step Two becomes an academic sort of exercise. That can lead to all kinds of mischief and confusion later. Of course, as a sponsor, this will be a matter of great importance.

Nonetheless, when the new member has embraced the full meaning of Step One, Step Two becomes the most important for the time being. The comfortable, sober AA can be a little philosophical about his past experience with Step One. But for the man just beginning his step work, Step One lands like a “ton of bricks,” and Step Two will be a step up, a promise of new, positive action.

My first sponsor, a great AA who died sober and happy in 1996, repeatedly emphasized the idea that many, or, even, most AA’s who fail to successfully adopt our program of recovery suffer a return to drinking as a result of their work (or lack of it) on Step Two. Of course, opinions are plentiful within our family of fellow travelers, and there is no shortage of members who would give this distinction to other steps. Nonetheless, after my experience with AA’s of all types, I have never found reason to place this assertion in question.

The same great sponsor told me this short AA anecdote. "You are in an airplane at 40,000 feet. The airplane is made up of twelve things (steps). One is the engine, another is the wings, another is the landing gear, and so on. Do you have a favorite part? Are you willing to think that one part is more important than another? Even more important, do you think that lots of extra work on one part will make up for not enough work on another part?"

The idea is fairly clear. AA was the first twelve step program, and possibly the most successful compared to all the other twelve step programs designed after its original concept. The AA’s who wrote the Big Book were convinced that we alcoholics needed to work all twelve steps the very best we possibly can!

If the new man is a little baffled when he first encounters Step Two, his new understanding of the seriousness of his alcoholism and the increasing gravity of its consequences can explain the necessity of his making, at least, a beginning in his spiritual progress. His attitude toward Step Two may depend on his trust in his sponsor and his confidence that this approach is  the one that can really produce the results he seeks.

First Things First -The Big Picture for Step Two

Sponsorship Suggestions
  • Have the new member try to imagine the following. It is two or three months before his first AA experience. Someone approaches him while he is drinking in a bar, presenting him with the words of Step Two. Nothing is said about quitting drinking or AA, just something about “coming to believe that a Power Greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Ask him. What would his reaction be?

    The likely response to such an idea, given the circumstances, wouldn’t amount to much. This would be a case of presenting the ideas of Step Two in the wrong context, in fact, it might be a case of presenting a really great idea at the wrong time!

    A sponsor will be responsible for making certain that Step One has done its amazing, transforming work before introducing Step Two.

  • Be certain to introduce Step Two with the idea that it has become necessary after Step One. There can be many sides to the idea of Step Two. Some of these are very helpful, and some are not helpful at all. Best explained, Step Two is a necessary part of victory over alcohol. Period. Step Two is not a part of any evangelical effort. Reassure him, it simply is what it says it is. As his sponsor, it is your responsibility to make sure that Step Two represents AA ideas about step work -- nothing more and nothing less.

  • When the new member offers up a blanket statement that he is already quite spiritual or religious, the sponsor is confronted with the responsibility of determining exactly what he is saying. Is this the real thing? Is it going to be sufficient as the foundation of the spiritual principles required for his journey into sobriety?

If all the signs point to a “yes” on this question, it is reasonable to inquire why this already existing spirituality seemed apparently inadequate in the task of stopping his drinking. Step Two has a different aim than most religious ideas. It is about not drinking. Most religious ideas have other goals. Our book emphasizes the point that there is no real contradiction between the spiritual side of AA and the religious traditions of the new member. In this case, “no contradiction” means that one does not exclude the other. They don’t compete! Step Two is not a conversion. When he is sober, he can use AA spirituality in his program of recovery and his religious ideas in his religious life -- all at the same time.

The sponsor will also need to make another determination here. We live in a culture which is awash with ideas from its prevailing Christian religion. In fact, our co-founder, Bill Wilson, was apparently a devout Christian, both before and after he got sober.

As a sponsor, however, you may be dealing with a church going alcoholic who sees his membership in a religion primarily requiring no more than a tacit agreement. He has attended church and, perhaps, religious education such as Confirmation School, and he has gained a good understanding of its religious traditions. He is not in a state of disagreement with any of the tenets of his religion. He considers this to be entirely sufficient now that he is facing Step Two.

Face facts. Alcoholism is a spiritual malady. Spiritual maladies require spiritual solutions. Was his church attendance a solution to his alcoholic drinking?

Bill Wilson saw the new member of AA as a person with a spiritual sickness, quite correctly, but he went on to categorize the alcoholic with this spiritual malady as an “atheist, agnostic or one who has fallen from faith.” (12X12 p33) Contemporary experience in AA suggests this approach may presume too much. Many of our new members incorrectly assume that “not disagreeing or rebelling” against the tenets of some religion will be enough, that the heavy-lifting for Step Two has already been accomplished.

If this is the case, the sponsor’s work is cut out for him. The work of Step Two will not be satisfactorily accomplished with a casual “OK.” It needs to result in a deeply held, exciting and reassuring new idea of spirituality. After all, there was nothing particularly casual about being a hopeless alcoholic. It will also require more than a passive agreement with some traditional religious ideas. That might have worked well enough for quite a successful church career, but alcoholism is a tough enemy. Step Two will need to deliver "real fire power" to the new man to start the real change he will need.

The good news is that Step Two, especially when accompanied by clear thinking, sincere sponsorship, can deliver incredible, exciting hope. Step Two has fulfilled this promise every time since we began when we’re completely prepared to work for it! The “we” that we are talking about is the new man, the determined sponsor and the Higher Power which guides this work.

The Doctor’s Opinion mentions that the message to alcoholics must have depth and weight. Step Two, along with the steps before and after it, will succeed when its work includes depth and weight. It is a perfect opportunity for thoughtful and effective sponsorship.

Working Out Common Hurdles

There are, undoubtedly, some new members in AA who work through Step Two in a flash, never challenged by any contradicting ideas from any source in the past. These folks just seem to grab it and run. Some of these fortunate few establish their spiritual work with enviable quality. On the other hand, it seems that most of our new members seem to bring with them very long lists of questions, stubborn attitudes and every other possible sort of alcoholic run-around.

The job of sponsors in this area can never be based on effectively disregarding all this reluctance. If it “arrives” with the new man, it will all have to be respectfully handled. Granted, Step One is to be done perfectly, but Step Two, no matter how imperfectly it is done, should not leave any loose ends. Good sponsorship calls for a full, honest treatment for every issue with substance and a cooperative and friendly discharge of those issues brought up as areas of contention. Confidence is the key here. A sober, sincere sponsor already knows that there is a way through any serious resistance to the ideas of Step Two.

This section deals with some of the most common objections encountered in the sponsorship of a new member through Step Two.

  • Mistaken Certainties

    These problems can be characterized as inaccurate or unexamined ideas which are held as fact in the mind of the new member. They are either factual or they are not. Either way, the new man will be prepared to defend them, a stubbornness which may stand in the way of his recovery. Once each one is clearly described (a process encouraged by the sponsor) and placed squarely in “the light of day,” it can be reasonably addressed and resolved.

    A favorite tactic of our common disease of acoholism is to mix a variety of these mistaken certainties into an irresolvable confusion. Aside from its obvious side-effect of  creating more alcoholic hopelessness, this creates a kind of hysteria which suggests that all these objections are truly insurmountable. Taken as a “knot of intertwined rattlesnakes” they can be quite difficult.

    Here, the experienced sponsor can respond with as much calm direction as possible. All these questions become much more manageable when they can be considered one or two at a time. An atmosphere of emotional panic (alcoholic hopelessness) is not the right setting for work on Step Two.

  • Baggage from the Past

    Plenty of AA’s have been “slapped silly” by well-intentioned people and institutions during the days of their alcoholic drinking. In many cases there were religious principles at play during these “slapping” sessions. All of this can leave some serious baggage, waiting to show up during the work on Step Two. Remember: It is quite possibly the case that these well-intentioned but misdirected people and institutions provided this new man with food and cover during his active drinking when no one else would!

    Nonetheless, it will be the sponsor’s work to enable this new man to move to some entirely new territory. Remember that parting with the past, no matter how unsettling a new position might be [or, how ridiculous we might think the old position might be] amounts to real work. The good news is that sincerity won’t be required immediately and all at once. If a sponsor needs to travel a full mile to meet the new man after he takes a single step [toward a new understanding], it will still be just the right place for both of them!

    "At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely." (BB p58) The determined sponsor will constantly remind himself that, although these new ideas are absolutely necessary for the path ahead, they will always belong to the new man. Great effort can be directed toward assisting this change, but the results will be the work of the new member, not the sponsor.

    There is no benefit in the fabrication of more baggage. The adversary --the disease of alcoholism --is a cunning, powerful foe. (BB p59) Whatever foundation may be built at Step Two, it must be honest, comfortable and durable enough to support the rest of the work.

  • Outright Defiance, Thoughtless Faith and Apathy

    All of these areas of reluctance at Step Two have a single thread in common. Here, the sponsor can, once again, remind the new man that he agreed to go to any lengths for victory over alcohol. Well, this is apparently going to be the “next length.” (BB p76) The single common thread is that all three are irrational.  Ask the new man why he might think that such ideas are necessary or even useful for the work which faces him. Such a discussion might lead to another bit of AA wisdom from our meetings:

    Smart won’t get you sober, but stupid can get you drunk!

    The watchwords of sponsorship here are passion and compassion . Dealing with this new man’s old ideas will not be a simple, intellectual discussion. Most likely he has already been through that. One central part of sponsorship will be a conscious effort to show him the passion you have -- let him know how important this has been to you, and let him know how important his progress with Step Two will be to him. Lots of energy! Lots of being personal!

    As for compassion, remember that alcoholic defiance is actually not such an insurmountable barrier. Worse, is the alcoholic run-around! This is a self-defense trait we have mastered through years of alcoholic drinking and alcoholic thinking. Using the “run-around” idea, we have worn down all sorts of folks who had the idea that we might be managed without too much effort. In the case of being reluctant to enter into the idea of Step Two, the new man may be using this old trick to soften up your suggestions before he starts negotiating.

    Compassion says “Be tolerant. Keep going.” “Bless his heart, let him rant. Besides, my gin would last longer than his preaching.” (BB p08) Bill Wilson went through this shady crossroads. If your new man is headed there, it won’t be the end of the world. It's all in a day’s work!

    Now to defiance. There are actually very few cases where a new man absolutely refuses to enter Step Two at the “Came to believe” part. Almost every case reveals, when more closely and compassionately examined, a man who is determined not to be controlled. Needless to say, such an attitude is almost always based on his experience of being controlled, especially by folks who were using their “extraordinary knowledge” of exactly what “God” had instructed  him to do, feel, think or, at least, submit to follow. Sponsorship here will not amount to simply encouraging him to try the same thing again!

    Three powerful paragraphs are found toward the end of Chapter Four, We Agnostics. The ideas contained within them are absolutely essential to the new man’s progress in his work on Step Two, yet each one is filled with the Christian religious speech of the 1940’s. Of course, this small problem is no reason why our new man must stop his chances of recovery here.

    Let us consider each one, and then attempt to extract the AA program’s requirements, leaving behind the difficult "bones of contention."

    "Actually we were fooling ourselves, for deep down in every man, woman and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that Power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself." (BB p55)

    Who will deny the obvious fact that we all exist in a world and a universe that were created? In fact, through some process not important here, our present human existence is also clearly the product of such a creation. The ideas and actions of religions of any sort exist quite independently from this fact, and are of no concern here aside from the use of several of their words to communicate this idea. Step Two is part of the work which produced the sober alcoholics you see in our meetings.

    "We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a friend. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He can be found. It was so with us." (BB p55)

    We see the inevitable reality of our creation. As humans, how could we avoid it? The challenge is not to find this evidence, but to see it with the eyes we are given. Seeing and accepting the Great Reality is our birth right. Its meaning is clear. There are no prizes or penalties involved. It is what it is.

    "We can only clear the ground a bit. If our testimony helps sweep away the prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway. With this attitude you cannot fail. The consciousness of your belief is sure to come to you." (BB p55)

    All the ideas that can possibly keep you from having this have no part in it. Nothing can keep you from having the complete understanding you need to go on besides yourself. Once you decide to have this, you will. The longer you live with these new ideas, the more comfortable they will be to you. The longer you think of yourself in this new way, the more sense it will make to you.

    Ideas about a Higher Power, regardless of its form, do not merit defiance. As sponsors we can certainly encounter defiance with respect to all sorts of institutional concepts and actions, but the exact idea of a Higher Power, when all these other influences are removed, is entirely attractive. If your sponsorship is running into this kind of defiance, you will be required to reset the framework, excluding all these worldly paradoxes and other baggage.

    Now to the equally dangerous idea that the new member can pass through this part of his journey with no more than a passive acceptance. If, after you have laid out both the necessity and the complete availability of a Higher Power, your new man comes up with a simple “Okay,” watch out. Step Two cannot be a mere extension of other things which have already not worked in his past.

    The essence of Step Two does deal with the nature of the Higher Power! Success in this new effort to make sense out of such an idea will be marked with hopeful excitement, not the minimum agreement required to “get this rotten sponsor off my back.” The Big Book’s reference to this new idea may be burdened with our book’s authors’ constant use of the word “God,” but, as sponsors, we must remember, they used the words available to them. Their sincerity and thoughtfulness about any alcoholic’s chances for recovery are presented to us in their thoughts, not words.

    There is no future in borrowing trouble. It has never been the purpose of the AA program to promote the Christian religion. It is completely inconsistent with our AA program to “wiggle” through Step Two with an insistent sponsor when the result is anything besides a deeply felt, new and beneficial picture of oneself and one’s universe which can be a firm foundation for continuing step work.

    Finally, we must address the issue of apathy on the part of the new man. There is, of course, an old Chinese proverb.

    There are three emotions at play in the life of a man. Love, Hate and Apathy. The first two breath fire into his life, but the third is the cold ash in the morning. Love and Hate can spur him to action, but Apathy is the most powerful of all. It can destroy him, day after day, for a lifetime.

    If a sponsor encounters this “Why do I care?” kind of thinking, it is time to bring the immediate relevance of both Step Two and the entire AA program to the table. The authors of our book emphasize over and over the necessity of spiritual progress for the alcoholic who wants to recover. Perhaps the most chilling statements along these lines occur in the beginning of Chapter Four, We Agnostics.

    “If, when you honestly want to, you find that you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.

    To one who feels he is an atheist of agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.”
    (BB p44)

    If these statements leave the choices of either apathy or insincerity on the table for the new man, it is time for the sponsor to go to work on the idea of “spiritual experience.” Like the new man’s concepts about his Higher Power, the qualities of this “spiritual experience” will be quite personal to him. At this point it is entirely appropriate to look at Step Twelve. What does our AA program say about this goal?

    Of course, Step Twelve describes “spiritual awakening” as a new condition which occurs as a result of AA step work and which makes successful sobriety possible. Those developments are part of Step Twelve, not Step Two. Still, it is not too soon for the new member to start thinking about his own “spiritual experience.” Step Two is the beginning of this new kind of personal spiritual progress. Where it is heading need not be kept as a secret for later!

    We can end this part of the discussion with the following anecdote. It is an account of an actual AA meeting long ago. Its effect on this member was immense and lasting. A note of caution: it includes a class one swear word.

    E was an attractive young woman who had attended our meetings for a number of months. She seemed to be making excellent progress toward sobriety. She was determined to follow the suggestions of our program, and her work showed its success.

    One day, however, she spoke in our meeting about some difficulties she was experiencing in her life. Her talk went gradually to an expression of her disappointment in the part her Higher Power was playing in the resolution of these matters. Her talk portrayed a real discomfort about her growing doubts. Her Higher Power was not, in her mind, living up to the great promise she had accepted through her step work. Her account of this continued for some time, underlining her concern about matters of faith.

    At the end of her sharing, a very young man, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, introduced himself from the back of our meeting room. He was definitely a bit of a stranger to the meeting group, and worse, he was dressed in an extreme sort of Goth outfit, complete with earrings, make-up and other accoutrements. Yet,his short words made a very beneficial and lasting impact on me.

    “Lady, don’t you know that God is completely out of fucking control?!”

    Afterward, I became determined to get out of the business of defining what my Higher Power had to be. It was clear that my job was to accept, as precisely as I could possibly see, what it was. Period.

    This was some more necessary work I need to accomplish on my Step Two.

Considering the Parts of Step Two

Three Elements Comprise the New Man’s Doorway to New Hope

As sponsors we will need a working understanding of Step Two as we lead a new member through its revolutionary and liberating work. Looking at this important step from this point of view, we see that it is actually three connected propositions. In the step itself, we see the following:

“We came to believe ...”

“... that a Power greater than ourselves could ...”

“... restore us to sanity.”

This is one of those parts of the Big Book that can seem to be taken in painlessly, yet it is similar to a fabulous meal. We can swallow the whole thing in giant gulps, only to later wish we had gone a little more slowly, enjoying the flavor of each bite a little more!

So, let’s try tasting our incredible Step Two in smaller bites! Further, one of the most illuminating ways to do exactly that is to also consider the alternative to each one as we discuss it.

1. "Came to believe," aside from being the title of an excellent piece of AA literature, is an essential part of Step Two that cannot be neglected. Still, these words bring to mind the evangelical zeal of the Catholic Spaniards invading the pagan territory of South America. Step Two cannot be an instruction to convert this new alcoholic to some sort of religion or some idea, no matter how strongly held, by his sponsor.

So, what were the authors of our Big Book talking about here? A few words such as “Came to believe” are clearly describing a change in the thinking of the new member. It will probably have to mean more than that this new member “believed nothing” before he encountered his work at Step Two, then “believed something” afterward.

The change which is sought here is not so much directed at the new man’s concept of his Higher Power as it directed at him as the instrument which now seeks a new understanding of such matters. Alcoholic arrogance, as it manifests itself in our crazy self-centered approach to everything -- an "everything" which includes our refusal to see ourselves as participants in the universal whole -- has led most of us to focus almost entirely on ourselves. As drinking alcoholics, suffering from the disease of alcoholism, we simply didn’t waste much time trying to make sense out of ourselves or our lives in the framework of the rest of the world or the rest of the universe. We were too busy trying to use our old egocentric approach (BB p61) even though it had never worked particularly well before.

If a new member can begin to see this differently, his inclination to be egocentric about all matters of life may be weakened. New questions -- and answers -- may become part of his thinking. These new ideas seem to go directly against the old alcoholic thinking which started every thought with the idea that everything and everybody in the universe was rotating around himself.

“Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another person's conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps. We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.” (BB p46)

This wonderful passage seems to present the “Came to believe” idea in the wide-open freedom it deserves, but right here we see other ideas, limiting ideas, which actually have very little to do with the central purpose of Step Two.

The “however inadequate” concept is troubling. At the exciting moment of entering into the Realm of the Spirit, why would anyone want to judge his work as adequate or inadequate? Adequate compared to what?

The idea that “God does not make too hard terms” is another puzzling idea. First, a reasonable “God idea” suggests that It makes whatever “terms” It makes. Will it be the alcoholic who, arrogantly, will decide if such terms are too hard? Now that really does smell a bit like alcoholic thinking!

Second, the suffering alcoholic, defeated by his spiritual bedevilments (BB p52), is experiencing the incomprehensible sadness of demanding that “God’s terms” be somehow different than they obviously are! We are seasoned experts with regard to where a lifetime of that sort of thinking (self-delusion) leads us.

And third, once we, deep in the pit of the disease of acoholism, decided that these “God’s terms” were unfair to our self-centered view of everything, we simply laid the whole affair aside, determined to tough it out however the blocks might fall. “If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were, we believe there is no middle-of-the-road solution. We were in a position where life was becoming impossible, and if we had passed into the region from which there is no return through human aid, we had but two alternatives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.” (BB p25)

“Coming to believe” is “accepting spiritual help.” As sponsors, we must remember that the new man is in this exact situation as he enters the work of Step Two. “Accepting spiritual help” need be neither difficult nor desperate. Inflicting difficulty or desperation on a new member of AA in an effort to introduce humility in him seems entirely different from inviting him to “...deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God’s universe.” (BB p25)

Now, a note on the prospects of defining and comprehending God. “We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God.” (BB p46)

Every man, alcoholic or not, finds himself surrounded by the same evidence of the Creation. To this extent, the entire affair is quite comprehensible (and even definable). Once the matter departs this realm of solid evidence, it becomes both smaller and more suspect with respect to motives. The incomprehensible nature of “God” is a bulwark of Christian and Islamic religions. All that and more awaits any who seek it there. Step Two deals with immense, yet quite down-to-earth ideas -- ideas with the kind of “horsepower” the new man will need to make headway against his alcoholic thinking.

There are still two more common AA traditions (not from the Twelve Traditions --those make sense! These don’t.) which seem to bear on the “Came to believe” concept. The first is the idea that “coming to believe” is exceptionally hard work. It isn’t. If the “hard work” idea seems to be present in the new man, it will inevitably be a result of his difficulties with ideas from religions being incorporated either by his own accidental efforts to understand, as a result of what he hears in meetings or by his sponsor’s unintentional direction. No matter how subtle these little toxins may be, they will never comprise any essential part of Step Two’s meaning.

Second, we arrive at that wonderful AA phrase, “A God I can do business with.” Sorry, an alcoholic will probably not be able to define such a “God” which will make the changes in Step Two manageable. Step Two deals with necessary changes in the alcoholic, not necessary changes in the “God.” Creating a carefully crafted Higher Power, one made more comfortable, palatable or limited, betrays the critical idea of spiritual progress.

Unmanagability with respect to our lives became a central point in Step One. In our work there we began to see that controlling everything was not a solution. Instead, we had to go to work on ourselves in just about all areas to become fit to face the things an unmanageable (that is, not managed by us) life might bring to us. Of course we found the spiritual side of things a great comfort once we understood these new ideas.

Yet, no sooner than the time that passed before Step Two, we slid right back into the control business! How can we expect to hold in awe some idea of spirit that we had constructed to meet our own alcoholic demands for control? Who would want to support something as important as sobriety on such a shaky foundation? The answer, of course, is us alcoholics! We have an appetite to control everything until it is just the way we want it.

This part of Step Two is often, when considered independently from the rest of the step, made into a sort of supplication, suggesting that the new member had believed nothing before, and now denoting the surrender of this previous self-will in payment to some deity for it’s grant of relief. Nothing could be further from the ideal of Step Two.

This new believing is absolutely a new action for the man seeking sobriety. It cannot be “simply more of the same” kind of believing that he might have pursued before. This “believing” itself will amount to far more than he has experienced before. Anything less may spell trouble.

There is plenty of time at Step Two for the conscientious sponsor to get this accomplished. “Coming to believe” has nothing to do with surrender, religious mythology, contrition for past misdeeds or negotiations. It will be the action of man striving to save himself through the miracle of our steps. He can hold his head up high for having come this far from his previous hopeless state. “Coming to believe” is the most reasonable, logical and effective decision he can make.

The alternative is extremely straightforward in this case. If he trusts his sponsor’s intention to present the program of recovery and if he trusts the program of recovery itself, all he will be required to do is fall forward. Anything less means more sponsorship. Take your time. Get this done.

2. “... that a Power greater than ourselves could...” Each of our individual understandings about a Higher Power is based, at least after a period of sobriety, on the role we see that Higher Power playing in our lives. What can it do? After a while we stop expecting to “get checks in the mail, just in time,” have certain people in our affairs become more forgiving, more romantic or, even, more sober, receive promotions at our jobs or accomplish challenging degrees or occupations. “We ask especially for freedom from self-will, and are careful to make no requests for ourselves only. We may ask for ourselves, however, if others will be helped.” (BB p87) In sobriety we realize that when all these things have been made possibilities in our lives, and they do, indeed, become possible, the Higher Power has already worked.

Step Two, encountered here by the man just beginning his step work, describes a Higher Power with one specific kind of higher power! As is the case in all our dealings with the spirit, we are seeking a way forward for ourselves! The nature of this relationship does not depend on the opinions of some observer watching our miraculous recovery. Hopefully, it is not his disappointment with us that has finally brought us to this place with such great promise, and it will not be his praise or relief to which we look to sustain sobriety.

The new man will see the inescapable power of this new “spirit” idea as he moves toward a sustainable and rewarding attitude about a revolutionary and overwhelmingly powerful new outlook “...toward life, toward our fellows and toward God’s universe.” (BB p25) Only such an exciting and reassuring development will have the “horsepower” to go up against the disease of alcoholism.

The alternative to accepting a Higher Power with sufficient “horsepower” to solve his problem will be a return to the disease of Aacoholism’s favorite tool: hopelessness. Looking around any AA meeting provides example after example of alcoholics who were able, some way, to overcome the incredible consequences of their drinking --jail time, sickness, loneliness and disgust. We seemed to be incredible soldiers when we faced these difficulties, and that meant that we didn’t ever give up or lose hope no matter how bad things became. However, the prospect of escaping our alcoholic drinking always seemed so hopeless that we hardly ever even attempted it with more than a passing effort.

This part of Step Two is all about dumping alcoholic hopelessness like a dirty shirt! The great news the sponsor brings the new man at this point is that “Where there’s hope, there is a way.” The new spiritual side of a real, possible solution to out-of-control alcoholic drinking brings hope to this dark place, and the nature and reality of this hope is of equal or greater importance to the new man’s recovery than the nature and description of his Higher Power.

There is no reason to expect that the Creator of the Universe manifests human like qualities. We encounter this language often enough in religious traditions and even in our Big Book, yet hesitating even long enough to imply that this might be the case only degrades the possibilities in Step Two’s immense spiritual side. There is a very big difference between any aspect of religious literacy or blind and unwilling acceptance of dogma and the unconditional willingness to accept spiritual help. As sponsors we must not confuse our motivation. The new member will need to exactly understand that we are here to help. That is what he asked of us. (BB p18)

Every time we start to think in these religious terms, we need to remember that our book and it’s inspired authors set a very high goal for us. Our prayers are to ask for victory over our alcoholic selfishness. When we speak of “God” in a serious, religious sense, we are announcing to all who might hear our words that we know something they don’t.

Inserting such a notion into to our work against alcoholic self-will is a tricky business indeed.  The idea is to move beyond the "bondage" of self-will all together, not to simply replace the "old self-will" with a "new self-will."  Flaunting a claim to a new member that we are privy to esoteric knowledge of supernatural "certainties" is inconsistent with moving beyond the ravages of self.

3. “... restore us to sanity.” This part of Step Two seems to be a instant invitation for alcoholic intellectualism [also known as the alcoholic run-around!]. For most us, when we were new members of AA, this part meant nothing less than a full scale launch for our very best thinking to take on the problem of the meaning of “sanity.”

Alcoholic intellect is not necessarily excluded from the path to recovery. However, when it produces nothing but more hopelessness, despair and, of course, more drinking, we can place it squarely in the destructive alcoholic run-around category.

“The prosaic steel girder is a mass of electrons whirling around each other at incredible speed. These tiny bodies are governed by precise laws, and these laws hold true throughout the material world. Science tells us so. We have no reason to doubt it. When, however, the perfectly logical assumption is suggested that underneath the material world and life as we see it, there is an All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence, right there our perverse streak comes to the surface and we laboriously set out to convince ourselves it isn’t so. We read wordy books and indulge in windy arguments, thinking we believe this universe needs no God to explain it. Were our contentions true, it would follow that life originated out of nothing, means nothing, and proceeds nowhere.” (BB p49)

Remember we are discussing the “sanity” of Step Two here. So, we may as well start our efforts to be sane right away.

As for (BB p49), sorry Bill, the answer, along with the baby, is with the dishwater you just threw down the drain! If this matter were as simple as the words Mr. Wilson places in the mouth of his imaginary agnostic, the work of Step Two would be almost automatic. The beginning of this paragraph demonstrates the inspired understanding “the first 100” members showed all through our book. The last part of it is another serving of overstated self-will, quite different from its promising beginning.

We can quite comfortably disregard the errors in physics concerning the electrons. They neither add nor detract from the incredible thoughtfulness of the description of the alcoholic run-around. On the other hand, why sacrifice the immense meaning of the order of the electrons for the much more limited idea of “God?” The “All Powerful, Guiding, Creative Intelligence” is, in no possible way, “underneath the material world.” It is the material world, and it is irresistible evidence of this material world’s origin, meaning and ultimate purpose.

Not to mention that the physical properties of this physical world all function extremely well with each other -- far better than we managed to function during our alcoholic drinking and thinking days.

The selection of such a limited term as “God” to account for this miracle is little more than an excursion into the inevitable paradoxes and confusion of psychological spirituality, full of control and limits and devoid of the incomprehensible immensity of the fact. It is no surprise that such a notion is so appealing to us alcoholics! Step Two is an invitation to start facing facts.

Back to “sanity.” The alternative here is that nothing can restore us to sanity -- alcoholic hopelessness. Step Two promises that sanity is present and existing in this world for us because that is the way this world is made. That idea reflects on the spiritual nature of the way this man, this world and this universe was created, and our worst symptom for showing our lack of sanity was our unwillingness to seek the evidence that is in everything around us.

How could we, as despairing, drinking alcoholics have missed this fact for so long? “Rather vain of us, wasn’t it?” (BB p49) This describes the hope-crushing certainty and the resulting hopeless arrogance of the alcoholic who has drunk enough to finally slip into the black hole of a total, crazy, self-centered identity! Once we had entered that nether world, the voice of the disease of alcoholism kept repeating, “There is hope, maybe even foolish hope, for every problem besides your drinking. That is hopeless and unchangeable.” Well, being hopeless is being insane. “Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid.” (BB p62)

Step Two represents AA’s promise that this change can be made! We don’t fault our book’s authors for using the words from their world to express this timeless, important idea. The “entirely getting rid of self” concept had best be tempered with a bit of our claim to “...spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.” (BB p60) In any event, arguments of sanity devoid of self may as well be left to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Sanity may as well mean that I have a place in this world, a correct place. If my self-driven-craziness lets up enough as a result of working these steps, I will be able to find my way back there. Much will depend on whether or not I can release my alcoholic demand that I be something [more] than what I already know that I am. If I can do that, I will be enough. That is the simple promise made to us by the Creator of this Universe. This glorious place was not made as a torture chamber where hopeless men can expect nothing more than relentless alcoholic lives of suffering and pain.

Alcoholic insanity is not necessarily sinful. It simply represents an inadequate solution to successful living. The Creator of the Universe doesn’t seem to be particularly anxious to personally punish anyone for alcoholic insanity. Rather than that, we have to assume that when insanity propels one far enough beyond the Universal Program, extinction is the result. Extinction may well be an unpleasant experience, but there is no “getting even” by a supernatural power involved. (Contrary to our alcoholic ideas of our importance, we are not that important!)

Finally, "I can do this, and it will be enough!" That is the simple promise made to me by AA and my sponsor!

Step Two requires sponsorship that can keep the new man’s work on the tracks. It requires sponsorship that will really get this job done! Completely done.

Step Three

The step, the prayer and the contract

Once the ideas of Step Two are firmly in hand, Step Three should be engaged without delay. There are no apparent benefits from delaying now.

I had been attending AA meetings every day for several months. Although I was delighted to have quit drinking, I had no sponsor, I didn’t own a Big Book and I was convinced that my cocaine addiction was going to be a permanent attachment to my separation from drinking. Because of this it was necessary for me to attend noon meetings. Later in the day I was in no shape to appear before my sober, fellow members.

In this first group there were secret conspiracies afoot among the senior members, Thank fully! Without warning one day I was confronted by one of them who informed me that we were going to “do” Step Three, right here, right now, in a small room off to the side of our meeting place.

My answer to this proposition of his was a flat “no.”

He responded that if I didn’t agree, I would probably start drinking again. With this threat on the table, I conceded. Once in the little room, I countered his suggestion that we kneel and say the Third Step Prayer together with “I don’t believe all this stuff. The last thing I need to do now is jump into some more phony religion.”

His answer to that crack left a lifelong memory burned into me. “Well, we are going to do it, and afterward you had better start acting like it worked!”

Yes, we said the Prayer. After we had finished, I can remember that I was beet red with well-seasoned case of self-righteous alcoholic anger. I stomped out of the room without a word. It was a damned set up! I felt like I had just lost an unfair arm twisting bout with my Higher Power. Happily, I was right. That is exactly what had happened.

Those guys were good. They were also filled to the brim with love for their fellow alcoholics including this one, even though I wasn’t particularly lovable at the time!

Does the account of this experience present a good argument for such an approach? Maybe. It seems to have produced excellent results in this case, but can we responsibly employ this same idea in a general way? Is there an unacceptable chance for confusion, misconceptions about our steps or outright and unnecessary complete rejection of the AA program?

I, having no sponsor, had done little with AA steps at this time. I was probably quite familiar with Step One and its meaning from what I had heard in the meetings I had attended, but as for Step Two, I had done nothing. That “nothing”included not even trying on my own!

Unless our sponsorship (even if it is unofficial sponsorship) is confronted with the most drastic of situations, we will need to be more thoughtful and responsible than this. Step work is formal work. Although well directed conversations about any step can be very helpful as a preparation for the formal work to finally be done by the new man, he deserves to know the difference between casually getting ready to do and the actual doing.

Too much of the goal of continuous and successful sobriety depends on step work. As sponsors, we must be committed to a thorough and serious approach. Anything less than this, although it may seem to make sense at the time, can cause terrible consequences later. (See a further account in “Sponsorship Suggestions: Inventory Steps 4 and 5,” page 35)

Step Three: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” (BB p59) The new man might read through this step, generating what might seem to be a very reasonable answer.

“Okay. Why not?”

He might think that if such an unobtrusive idea lies on the path to recovery, it should be no problem at all to simply nod his head in agreement and then proceed to what will inevitably be more difficult steps down the line. He might have this attitude based on people in his life as he watched them pursue either religion or spirit. However, the necessities of his case will be met at much higher stakes, much more personal involvement and quite a different approach. As sponsors, we know that this comfortable “agreement” is most likely to be much less than what will be required for lasting sobriety.

So, does this mean that the first order of business for our sponsorship will be to make Step Three either more complicated, more confusing or more more invasive? Perhaps a bit of religion could be injected, making Step Three more provocative and difficult for the new man. No, our first effort will be to completely divorce Step Three from these ideas. No complication. No confusion. No invasion. No provocation. And, hopefully, once the work is understood, no difficulty.

Getting Ready for Step Three

The last portion of “How It Works” traditionally read at the start of our meetings, clearly describes three points the new man will understand before starting his Step Three work.

“The “A, B, C’s”

“Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after make clear three pertinent ideas: (a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism. (c) That God could and would if He were sought." (BB p60)

The initial foundation for part (a) will have been established in the new man’s work on Step One. The inability of “human power” to solve his alcoholism deals directly with the almost inevitable failure which comes from treating alcoholism as something other than a disease. If “AA is really the last house on the block,” we, as both sponsors and as fellow alcoholics, can reasonably assume that our new man has tried all sorts of other things before he found us.

As part of the approach to Step Three it will be constructive to review all of these previous efforts. In almost every case they included the normal consequences of alcoholic drinking, each one, at first, offering the hope that it would end the problem, only to later prove itself to be, once again, insufficient. (BB p30) Part (b) is one of those statements in our book which can too easily be simply agreed with and glossed over. A thorough review of the detailed history is always worthwhile because part (c) is the central theme of Step Three.

What are some common examples of these previous efforts? They are generally stories littered with alcoholic crises, threats, promises, jails and trials, hospitals and even self-imposed decisions to quit. (BB “methods” P31) The new man must understand that Step Three is part of a program which is not insufficient. The AA program of recovery, even if the new man is thoroughly disheartened by his other efforts, offers him astounding evidence that this one really works -- there's evidence in every meeting!

As sponsors, we can certainly expect the new man to compare his AA experiences to these previous efforts, especially if he, as is the case with many of us, found himself in one form or another of facility with ties to a religious charity. We can state this sponsee's interest as similar to repeatedly going to a doctor with an infection. On each visit he is quite hopeful that the next antibiotic he is prescribed will cure the problem, yet, his treatment fails. We return to him, receive yet another different medicine, also administered with great hope, but it also fails.

AA must not slip into the new man’s thoughts as simply another medicine. The great curative benefits of the new spirit in Step Two and Step Three can only be harmed if they are measured as no more than another, different “antibiotic” for the new man’s alcoholic problems. The determined sponsor will make it clear to him that AA operates in an entirely different “ball park” from the things he has tried before. The biggest difference, of course, is that AA works!

Another important idea which can be emphasized by the sponsor at this point concerns the nature of our AA spiritual experience. Bear in mind what sort of experiences the new man has seen before in his life. There have been conversions, confirmations, communion and others, high impact affairs which originated in various religious traditions. Religious life includes many cases of similar events. They comprise a strong invitation to community and religious “fellowship.” Members of congregations share these accomplishments. The commonality of them can be a foundation from which members have shared experience and commitment. Many of them lead to religious observances which can, afterward, be done together such a attending and participating in mass or weekly services.

Once confirmed in these traditions, many aspects of faith become uniform. Important, defining details of these religions are taught and accepted in such processes. These events, based on common articles of faith, lead to a strong central understanding of the church’s history, rules, beliefs, traditions and direction. The members of such congregations, once they have been indoctrinated through this religious training, largely agree with one another about the essential teaching of the church.

These elements of devout religion may well comprise the background the new man will use to “size up” the work required by both Step Two and Step Three. Yet, the meaning and purpose of AA spirituality is quite removed from such traditional affairs. Generally speaking, the intention of a church is to lead a man to a pious life and, perhaps, salvation at his death. The purpose of AA’s spiritual side is to provide a man with a sufficiently powerful and compelling new model of this universe, including his place in it, that can effectively combat his alcoholism. (see “Appendix B: Step Two, Humility and Spiritual Pride,” an appendix to this paper.)

There is no competition between what is required for successful sobriety and the duties and beliefs accompanying a religious faith. The reason they do not compete with each other rests in their fundamental differences. They each have very different purposes. They each arise from a very different basis. They each hold very different incentives. They each are the product of very different work.

A successful caveman learned how to run. For him, running was an immediate, high stakes “game.” He ran after food. He ran away from predators. On the other hand, a modern Olympic runner also masters the “game” of running. He runs to compete for a gold medal rather than for his life. Neither of these runners would compete with the other. There is nothing about one which contradicts the other. There is nothing about one which is superior or inferior to the other. They are simply different. This analogy describes the difference between the AA program and the religious tradition. They do not compete.

This idea of the “gravity” of both efforts marks the important difference between the two. The Olympic runner could quit that profession and become a plumber. If both became the very best at “running” in their respective worlds, would the “running” be the same? Would any of this change much, even if the caveman took up Olympic running as a hobby?

Successful sponsorship through Steps Two and Three may very well require these two areas of spiritual endeavor to be held apart, at least long enough to allow the new man to fully benefit from the shocking reality of his sobriety and its spiritual necessities.

A further note. It is seldom constructive to criticize the “help” he has received before he ran into us. He may be quite attached to parts of it. The important point is that it simply didn’t solve his problem, not that there was anything particularly wrong with it. Go ahead and say it. “The kind of alcoholism you’ve got to deal with simply requires more ‘horsepower’ for a solution. Those other places and people are probably well suited to cases which aren’t as serious as yours.”

The more “horsepower” solution is what our book speaks to in part (c). As mentioned before, the disease of alcoholism has very definite psychological attributes. (BB p62 - p63) Yet, the disease of alcoholism is not a psychological malady. If it were, it would have a psychological solution. It doesn’t. It has a spiritual solution, and it will be the sponsor’s task to make that spiritual solution as material, personal and durable as possible.

There is yet another challenge to sponsors at this point. The man who holds, or claims to hold, access to these religious ideas presents a bit of a paradox. “Why didn’t the religious faith solve his drinking problem?” It is, actually, an unfair question. Religion has one purpose, AA has another. (Is a new Ford better than a pair of socks?) Still, the sponsor will guide him to the AA work of Step Three without declaring “combat” on the belief structure he may have brought with him. Such a dangerous conflict offers very few benefits to his path forward. (BB p25, p42,43)

The Big Book Describes Step Three

What is it getting at?

The most critical idea is expressed first. “The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good.” (BB p60) Here, the exploration of the disease of alcoholism begins its departure from the details of our consequences toward a larger picture of causes and conditions. (BB p64)

What is there, in our nature as alcoholics, which has caused all this turmoil? Our understanding of the turmoil is important, but what is there about us that makes this so seemingly hopeless and inevitable? We will need to start with some conclusions from our work on Step Two.

A new idea about our place in this universe, on this Earth and among other people is an unavoidable part of “... restoring us to sanity.” (BB p59) We can revisit two interesting, hypothetical questions. What if everyone on the planet were just as alcoholic as we were? What if we were to live out our lives alone -- without the difficulties we encountered while living close to other people --  on a deserted island with an endless supply of whiskey?

Two Amusing Hypotheticals About Alcoholism

First, to the imaginary world where everyone was an alcoholic. Would the human race still be so successful? Or, are there attributes of the disease of alcoholism which would either make us extinct, or at least, far fewer? Imagine our alcoholic inclinations to be selfish and self-centered beyond all reason transferred to, say, an ant colony where every ant acted as an alcoholic. What if every dog on Earth were driven by this alcoholic personality? When we add dandelions, bacteria and mosquitoes to our conjecture, it becomes a nightmare.

Yes, of course there were clashes between us and our fellows based on the ways we thought and acted thanks to our alcoholism, but transforming everyone into an alcoholic could hardly be a solution. That imaginary world would find itself without most of the advances which make our lives possible. Those achievements almost always require some sort of calm, enduring, sober and well motivated cooperation, a condition hard to picture if every human involved were to be as alcoholic as we were.

Our second hypothetical solution would be to live alone as the alcoholics we are, comfortably isolated on a desert island with an endless supply of our favorite liquor. In this case there would be none of the clashes our book discusses. Yet, we can hardly think that all would be sheer alcoholic bliss. Is it possible or likely that as the years passed, a few hundreds or thousands of cases of good scotch whiskey, all consumed without any nagging or policemen, would simply be enough to keep us happy and contented? Dream on.

These two strange hypotheticals are in conflict with Step Two’s idea of “... restore us to sanity." Part of our new idea about our world will include the absolute need we have to exist in the community of other humans. And to exist successfully! In a certain sense it is not the alcohol than finally succeeds in driving us into AA, it is the people! You know, those other people we are supposed to live with here!

When we consider the long and successful survival of the human race, we can conclude that the Creator’s idea about human life on Earth was going to include community, and not just as an aside, but rather as a pivotal force which might keep all of us from going extinct. The “restore us to sanity” idea goes far beyond religious goals, at least in this immediate moment. “The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And for us, to drink is to die.” (BB p66) There is nothing about this statement which is the least bit over-dramatic or exaggerated.

Our book points out the responses of the alcoholic to situations involving other people. And, they are legend. “... wants to run the whole show.” (BB p60) “... if only people would do as he wished.” “... mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest.” “... life doesn’t treat him right.” “He decides to exert himself more. He becomes ... still more demanding ...” “... other people are more to blame.” “... angry, indignant, self-pitying.” “... a producer of confusion rather than harmony?” (BB p61)

To call such an alcoholic player “a producer of confusion” is actually rather generous. We all know that, in our individual ways, we were berserkers, savagely injecting destruction and chaos into the worlds of those around us. Of course, in every case, thanks to our disease of alcoholism, we warmed up by testing these skills on ourselves!

Now, an aside about the nature of what is said in our Big Book. Perhaps the most incredible quality we find in its life saving pages is its amazing tolerance. Rather than launching a general criticism of our alcoholic natures, it constantly returns to one description after another of the conflicts they inevitably create with other people. It doesn’t condemn alcoholics. It explains exactly the difference between a normal, non-alcoholic man and a normal, alcoholic man. In fact, it very often describes us as we are seen in the eyes of such non-alcoholic players.

To cite a few examples (There are many.): “You may think our illustration is too ridiculous.” (BB “jaywalker” p38) That “jaywalker story is not so ridiculous to us alcoholics! “The almost certain consequences that follow taking even a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter us.” (BB p24) Hey, this is the way a non-alcoholic sees it. We were not thinking about consequences. We were thinking about beer! “Why does he behave like this?” (BB p22) Another case of our behavior as seen by the non-alcoholic. Such questions needn’t handicap our drinking. You non-alcoholic spectators can worry about them. We alcoholics will get on with our business.

It is the sponsor’s job to make certain that the new man knows we are not nagging or complaining about our alcoholism. What we are doing is clearly pointing out the differences between an alcoholic and a non-alcoholic. A major problem we have as alcoholics is the way we have treated these other non-alcoholic people, the alcoholic thoughts that made that treatment seem to make sense and our unwillingness to accept the idea that we would possibly have to coexist with them if we were to ever be successful human beings. We, during our drinking, may have started toward that realization, but it seems we only got as far as the “unfair” part of it.

Because we rely on the great message of our Big Book for our recovery, we need to remember that it is on our side! Plenty of other books, detailing every kind of alcoholic inflicted injury, have been written for the non-alcoholic observers of our lives, but our Big Book is written by alcoholics for us. It provides a welcome and friendly refuge for those of us alcoholics who could not previously understand exactly what our problems were and could not, in that state, even comprehend what the solutions might be.

Are we doomed to be permanent outcasts from family and society because of this? No, it doesn’t mean that at all, but what it does tell us is that we will have to change ourselves and our alcoholic way of seeing the world around us if we want things to ever be different. Here, the sponsor can cite example after example of successful living for sober alcoholics in the AA program. While non-alcoholics may demonstrate occasional suspicion about sober AA’s when the change is still new, after a while, these same doubters become more confident that the changes they see reflect more than a temporary fix.

Likewise, the successful beginnings of a new, spiritual outlook and attitude, although it may not be particularly credible to those still reeling in pain from an alcoholic’s drinking, will need to be considered a permanent, growing and always present new view for the new member. For this reason, Steps Two and Three must not be allowed to saunter by with a passive nod of agreement. Progress in all parts of the AA program will be required to rebuild a life.

Now, we move ahead to a correlation between all the forms of self described in Chapter Five and the rather cryptic words of Step Three. How does making such a decision relate to selfishness, self-centeredness, self-seeking, self-delusion and self-pity, all aspects of the disease of alcoholism described in our book? (BB p62)

Is the new man to simply ask “God” to handle all of these psychological manifestations of self (of alcoholic thinking)? We all know better than to think this. The new man, on the other hand, may be quite confused. So far, all the benefits of spiritual progress have made good common sense, but here it seems as though the AA program has literally “thrown him under the bus,” again.

If Step Three’s promise is viewed this way, it really will be far too similar to what our new member has probably already encountered in his previous experiences with religious people. Remember: a.) the spiritual relief of Steps Two and Three is, above everything else, tangibly real, and b.) the words of those well-intentioned religious folks who spoke to him of this previously turned out to be not real. He drank again.

Well, that is definitely not the plan this time! The sobriety offered by the AA program is durable. It cannot be achieved when approached with conditions. He has managed to pass through the work of Step One without conditions. His embrace of the powerful spiritual side of our program is no place to start having or accepting conditions.

Actually, one of the most serious responsibilities of the sponsor will be to lead this new member through all the steps of our program, making certain that there are no conditions (excuses, negotiations or caveats) allowed anywhere! Conditions in step work can lead to conditions in sobriety. Given the incredible killing power of our adversary, the disease of alcoholism, no sincere sponsor would ever let this pass for legitimate step work.

Sorting Out Religion and Step Three

At the very beginning of our book’s discussion of Step Three, it promised that it would tell us how to proceed. “Just what do we mean by that, and just what do we do?” (BB p60) In the fairly direct religious language of the 1940’s used by our authors, the next three paragraphs (BB p62 - p63) before the Third Step

1. Again, the “not real” label applies to recovery from alcoholism, not salvation. These people might be experts on the latter, but no more than genuinely altruistic amateurs on the former.

Prayer continually refer to ideas that may not mean much to a new man from the 21st Century. No apology is necessary. The ideas contained here remain astonishingly relevant, sincere and inspired. They hold the key to the new man’s work on Step Three. (see “Appendix D: Spirituality in Contemporary AA,” an appendix to this paper.)

Still, there is the problem of the language used to express them. Whether or not we had a problem with this in our own recovery when we reached Step Three, as sponsors here and now, we must remember that our job is to make sure the new member gets the whole benefit from this step. Again, religious literacy, even though it might make things easier, is not a part of what is required for his successful Step Three. (see “Appendix A: The Christian Religion and AA Spirituality,” an appendix to this paper.)

Then, what exactly are we talking about? “Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid.” (BB p62) Okay. How will we “... get His aid?” Right about here, the new man may be remembering his experiences with religious people in his previous attempts to get sober. This kind of “pie in the sky” approach failed last time. What's going to make this any different?

We can continue with similar questions. “Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.” (BB p62) Any new member who has participated in a religion is already quite suspicious that this will include many complicating factors, yet, the idea of our book’s authors is inescapable. What will be needed to be victorious over alcohol will come from the spiritual side of our program.

“This is the how and the why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His children.” (BB p62) The clear implication from this language, especially when it is presented to a new member without a religious background, is that “God” is, in fact, a supernatural man (a Director, a father, an employer). If this does not present a problem, great! If it does, the sponsor has more work to do.

The religious origin of concepts such as this one takes great pains to prepare the believer to “weather the storm” of the paradoxes it brings with it. If the new man is completely devoid of such mitigating issues of faith, or if he utterly rejects it on the basis of his past experiences or his own thoughts on the matter, he will be understandably, and unnecessarily strained. Is the mission to persuade him to accept a rather lengthy list of articles of faith before proceeding? (BB p49, and BB p55) Of course not.

As sponsors, we cannot downplay the great difficulties this might present. This is the reason that the work product of Step Two is, in a very important way, so different from what might seem to be similar religious beliefs. Taking things for granted right here could sabotage his chances! Insisting that he accept all sorts of things which have essentially nothing to do with the work of Step Three, especially when we are prepared to say “He isn’t ready!” should he balk, is also no solution. The “not ready” proposition probably doesn’t apply to him, but it might apply to us!

This is no time to forget what we are doing! The responsibility of keeping step work “on the tracks” falls to the sponsor.

Continuing toward the Third Step Prayer, we encounter “Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.” (BB p63) This definitely speaks to making progress against our disease of alcoholism.

After all, the fear of not getting what we need, or in slightly different words, the fear of not being what we need to be, rests somewhere quite close to the root of our disease. Aren’t these the very irrational fears we keep hearing about in our meetings? Further, becoming less interested in ourselves is a great idea given how self-consuming our disease had made us. However, these are issues of behavior and psychology. Step Three has, on the other hand, a definitely spiritual goal. There is a difference between seeking a psychological answer to our alcoholism and “closing the deal” on a spiritual awakening.

And, if “feeling close to Him” means thinking of our Higher Power often, or even all the time, this suggestion stands firmly on its own merit. However, when it comes to “performing His work well,” we, once again, meet the paradoxical thoughts of religion. How will a sober, recovering alcoholic “perform His work well?” How will he know what to do? If someone tells him what to do, isn’t Step Three moving closer to the ideas presented in those previous religious efforts?

The new member knows what do do. These answers are already in him. Should he approach his sponsor with a demand for details concerning decisions he faces, the decisions are not the problem, he is. The new man, at this point, is standing squarely before the AA issue of spiritual progress. His spiritual commitment, made right here in Step Three, is nothing more or less than a conscious decision to do the right thing.

The sponsor faces the division between “sharing experience about sobriety and spirituality” or enjoying a moment of “authority” and reverting to the approach of simply claiming to know the answer. The decision that is the basis for Step Three is the new man’s decision . It is not subject to the judgement of a sponsor or anyone else. So long as he thoroughly understands the idea, he will either work to honor his decision or not. Any other arrangement will not prepare the necessarily independent foundation for his unconditional sobriety.

Sponsors have agreed to make every part of their experience with staying sober and progressing toward a spiritual life available to the new member. This responsibility is not an automatic, mechanical affair at all. There is no part of sponsorship through Step Three’s work which can be satisfied with an uncaring, “one size fits all” attitude from the sponsor.

Step Three had better be quite personal for the new member. Consequently, it had better be equally as personal for the sponsor. Successfully setting this environment is the responsibility of the sponsor. (see “Appendix C: ‘I am responsible.’” an appendix to this paper.)

The Big Book’s discussion of Step Three (BB p60 - p64) departs from the simpler accounts of alcoholism, especially accounts of drinking alcoholically, expressed in the chapters leading up to it. The examples cited in this portion of Chapter Five depict alcoholic thinking as it appears in the behavior of the “actor who wants to run the whole show,” “the retired business man,” “the minister” or the “outlaw safe-cracker.” (BB p60 - p62)

The important point for sponsors at this juncture is that the disease of alcoholism, while, of course, causing all sorts of consequences resulting from drinking, also causes serious behavior consequences which are the result of alcoholic thinking. Step Three doesn’t mention an escape from drinking. This step is all about “being delivered” from self-crazed alcoholic thinking.

It is quite reasonable to expect the new member, as he considers this side of the disease, to begin thinking about his own behavior. At Step Three he may bring some of his own problems into the sponsorship discussion. He may wonder about the consequences that his alcoholic thinking has caused in his life. Here, the sincere guidance of the sponsor is critical.

With respect to such inquiries made by the new man to his sponsor, especially with respect to personal decisions he faces, responding from experience is everything, unthinkingly claiming any sort of spiritual authority is only asking for trouble. In matters of advice and counsel, the simpler the answer the better. Of course, ultimatums such as “Follow my advice or end my sponsorship.” are nothing a sponsor should ever demand. If mistakes are to be made, let them happen while the new member is sober and enjoying the honest and frank, caring counsel of his AA sponsor.

This doesn’t mean that these things should not be discussed in sponsorship. It does mean that such discussions should point out ways to apply AA principles from our book to these real life situations of the new member. The sponsor’s experience in sobriety is, no doubt, founded on the ideas in our book. The assistance of his sponsorship will amount to helping the new man see his situation in this same light and derive his solutions from this same source.

A constant reminder might be the suggestion to “Live decent, and don’t drink.” The decision in Step Three means finding his right answers based on his own right thinking. It cannot possibly mean another explanation of what is right or wrong. We know from our own history that sober thinking takes time to come to its full potential, and Step Three says in no uncertain terms, “Now is the time to start.” The new man has made the decision. Spiritually, he has either “closed the deal” or he has not.

Don’t expect too much from a new man’s passive re-dedication to religious ideas which he considers to have fallen aside during his drinking. Another lazy, thoughtless slide back into religion will probably leave him where it left him last time.

The Third Step Prayer

This amazing prayer is, at once, an incursion into the most arcane and extreme Biblical language of the King James era and a critically valuable tool to understanding of the lethal mortality of the self-driven alcoholic craziness described in Chapter Five. The exact words of Step Three: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.” suggest all kinds of possibilities but few working details to the typical new member.

Further, the real-life accounts of the alcoholic personality presented in the book’s discussion of Step Three (BB p60 -p63) may seem to have a strange, personal relevance to the new member, yet fail to drive home the most important thought about “self.” Thankfully, our book’s amateur authors, perhaps seeing the same dilemma, carefully phrased the Third Step Prayer, adding it as a powerful, precise final statement. Any question about just what they were thinking (and trying to present to future alcoholics in the way of a solution to this problem) is firmly and reassuringly expressed in this prayer!

In my first year of sobriety, I went weekly to a youth facility (prison) in Anchorage to chair what was “billed” as an AA meeting. Those attending were teenagers and younger. They had little interest in our formal meeting structure, but an abiding interest in simply “chatting” about the experience of alcoholism. They had already felt the “first nip” of the disease. Over time, we developed a working format. It included a bit of AA orthodoxy and a larger bit of simply talking.

Although a great part of this effort could be characterized as being no more than “planting the seed,” there were a few very positive cases. One promising candidate was very enthusiastic in his interest in Step One and Step Two, but when he reached Step Three, he foundered. He was fourteen years old.

The exact words of Step Three, in his mind, described a process that was simply too easy. Directing him to the Third Step Prayer as a way to amplify his understanding of the idea of Step Three, resulted in the equivalent of a “spiritual tantrum.” His response was, as are most discussions with a fourteen year old felon, corrosively direct. “What the hell is this crap? Why is it written like this? Is this some kind of a trick?”

It was clear that I would need to make an effort to meet his situation on two levels. It would be necessary to transliterate the old English of the prayer to a modern form which he could more comfortably understand. Second, it would be necessary to explain each of the statements of the prayer to an aspiring new member with apparently not so much as even a shred of previous religious familiarity.

I wasn’t there to comment on the practices of his family. I also wasn’t there to introduce arguments for a conversion to Christianity. That meant that the parts of this wonderful prayer which relied so heavily on a foundation of Christian religious traditions would either have to “carry their own water” or be dropped from the final version which could reach this boy.

Before you run, screaming “Heresy!” to gather your pitchforks and torches, consider the following questions:

Are the presumptions about the Divine nature of the Deity, that is, the foundations of Christian religion, required for the work of Step Three?

Are we so ingrained in this cultural and religious cosmology that we overlook the Third Step Prayer’s reliance on these specifically Christian articles of faith?

Is the message of our Step Three so compelling and universal (for alcoholics, that is) that it can work effectively without excluding someone who needs to receive it simply because of his past history of family religious traditions (or the lack of them ...)?

We can address these problems in the body of the this paper. As for the young felon, I still hear from him every so often. He is eighteen years sober and very involved in sponsorship. What kind of alcoholics are his main focus? Nice, savage, Alaskan teenage felons, of course.

Now, to the questions posed about the Third Step Prayer. First, we will note how this prayer appears once the old English language is modernized. After all, our book states very clearly: “The wording was, of course, quite optional so longs as expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation.” (BB p63)

[1.] “God, I offer myself to Thee -- to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.” [2.] “Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.” [3.] “Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would [4.] help of Thy Power, Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.”“May I do Thy will always!”
[5.] “Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.”
[6.] “Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.”
[7.] “May I do Thy will always!”
[8.] We thought well before taking this step making sure we were ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him. (BB p63)

Now, considering each of the seven sentences (element number seven above, is not formally a part of the Third Step Prayer, but its idea is so central, it is included here.), how could they be expressed in more modern language and to what extent are Christian (cosmological) traditions required to support the idea?

“I am going to stop trying to live independently in my own dream of self-creation. I want to become the complete man I was created to be.”

“I am determined to perceive myself as a part of this Universal Creation. I will strive to become what it is proper for me to be, to fully accept myself as what I actually am. I accept the idea that I was created with both responsibilities and assets which are intrinsic in me as a part of being a human being, as part of my humanity.”

“This new understanding of my place here will provide a means to quit the alcoholic thinking which has condemned me to always think of myself. When I can live free of that way of thinking, I can fulfill the possibilities of my existence.”

“I now fully acknowledge as fact the proposition that my problems arose from alcoholic thinking, from alcoholic selfishness. I understand that recovery from my disease of alcoholism will depend on my realization that this selfishness can not coexist with my actual, living place in the Created Universe. I completely accept the idea that, as a result of this new way of thinking, I will participate in assisting other humans who share my problem to benefit from the same realization.”

“I honestly and sincerely strive to rebuild my thoughts from the wreckage of selfishness and fear so I quit suffering the mistakes of that old way of thinking. Let me show others who suffer the same dilemma the solution I have experienced as a result of making these changes in my thinking.”

“I will leave the path of the alcoholic sickness and seek the path of the healthy man. I no longer fear that I am not enough or that there is no place for me. I know that I can live in this world the same way other men live here.”

“I will do everything from now on fully aware that I am a part of Creation. I now know that living human people like me have necessary duties to complete their humanity.”

“As of right now I intend to live as a product of the infinite design of Creation. I will constantly remember my life-giving connection with everything that has been created with me. I will always work to be what I am, to do things which can be a helpful part of all life and to live beyond my selfishness in every possible way.”
“I have searched all my thoughts and found that I completely agree with this proposition. I will let my old selfishness and fear fade away to be replaced with this new idea which is far better for me and for my life.” “I accept all parts of this without any lingering doubt or reservation. With all the life in me, I decide that this is what I will do, what I intend to be. If I should ever depart from this commitment because my selfishness has returned to my life, I will at once strive to return to it.
 
Now, back to the questions of the teenage felon. We will begin with the second question. Responding to it will encompass most of the answers to first and third questions all at once.

Are we so ingrained in this cultural and religious cosmology that we overlook the Third Step Prayer’s reliance on these specifically Christian articles of faith?

When we say “God, I offer myself to Thee -- to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.” what exactly do we mean? The idea of “offer” implies a sort of transfer of ownership. We have already tried out the idea that we own ourselves, independent of any obligations which might arise from the fact that we are alive. Isn’t most of the self-will problem actually a tantrum that we, as those who suffer from alcoholic thinking, have thrown under the misconception that the universe owes us more or better than we have received?  Haven’t we constantly assumed that we were being treated unfairly? Hasn’t this idea been the foundation of our alcoholic fear and anger? As alcoholics we “dumped” the idea that we were part of Creation in favor of the idea that we were somehow quite special. Hadn’t we “created” ourselves to fulfill this “special” classification?

Yes, this use of the word “offer” does in fact mean a transfer of ownership. Step Three requires us to accept the inescapable idea that we are a part of everything else, no more and no less, regardless of our dreams of “creating” (tricking the actual Creation?) ourselves in a way we thought superior.

“... to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.” is not too far removed from the idea of giving a young man his belly button for a birthday present. Being created as a part of everything else that was created means that we can fulfill the entire possibility of our creation. No matter what we pretended in our alcoholic scheme of self-creation, all this is now both real and legitimate.  After all, an earthworm or a palm tree inevitably fulfills the natural potential of its creation. Neither has the capacity to pretend to be anything other than what it is. Both are designed in a way that guarantees a life corresponding to its creation. No earthworm ever acts as if it were a collie. No palm tree ever dreams of pretending to be a kangaroo. The possibilities for a human being are more varied, but none of them can be based on the idea that this human is actually something else, or even the idea that “being something else” would be desirable to being a human being.

We have been created as men. It is within this creation that our needs will be met. Living with the reality of the earth and the reality of all the other humans is simply not optional, although we may have previously behaved as if we thought it were. As sick alcoholics, crippled by out-of-control alcoholic thinking, we were driven into these ideas by our alcoholic fear. We were very suspicious of the idea that we had even so much as a fair chance for a normal life. Once we had accepted that as a fact, there seemed to be no limit to the misery we could “create” for our “self-created” selves.

Being suspicious and afraid that the entire universe (Creation as we were inclined to see it) was a system that could not depended on to even possibly meet our needs in life proved to be somewhere quite close to the very root of what had been wrong with our thinking. If it had been simple paranoia, we might have presented ourselves for a psychological solution right away, but thoughts this immensely destructive cannot be characterized as anything but a deadly “spiritual malady!” (BB p64)

Step Three says, “This is the end of these wrong ideas. It is time to consciously join the rest of Creation, to participate in life as we find it and to be reassured that we can actually do that successfully.”

Next, this young felon descended on “Thy will.” (BB p63) How can an alcoholic ever know what this means? In fact, isn’t an idea like this simply an invitation for more alcoholic thinking? My young friend had already been told several expansive, detailed variations of exactly what this meant. His problem wasn’t with the details of these explanations of God’s will, it was with the tenuous nature of the source. Exactly how was it that these various people explaining this to him had gotten all these “facts” they were presenting?

Step Three

A “Contract” for Successful Living

First, a quick note about contracts in general. Every contract contains both “rights” and “duties” for the parties being contracted. Consider the following simple example.

I am going to hire you to paint my car. We agree that the price will be $1,000. From my point of view, I have a “right” to have my car painted, but I have agreed that I also have a “duty” to pay you a $1,000 to do the job. From your point of view, you have a “duty” to paint the car and a “right” to be paid $1,000 for doing the work.

We all know that such an agreement is subject to all sorts of human frailties. Perhaps I have tricked you. After you paint the car, I might say “Oh, I thought you were going to pound out that dent as part of the deal.” Perhaps you tricked me. When the job is done, you might say “Oh, the price I agreed to included using really cheap paint.” Being aware of this possibility, our “contract” begins to get longer and longer as it includes the dent, the paint, the schedule, the mileage that the car might be driven to get in and out of your shop, insurance, gasoline -- well, we know how much we can complicate things. We also know that sometimes such a complicated solution is the best chance to keep everyone satisfied.

Now, back to Step Three. We arrive again at the “Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.” (BB p63) The idea is, of course, that with this new way of thinking, the recovering alcoholic is going to “get with the program.” He is not only going to try to live with a constant acceptance of the fact that he is a part of Creation, but also with the idea that his “part” comes with certain duties. One of these will be to assist other alcoholics in their work to get sober.

“Rights” and Duties?” Once this “contract” between the alcoholic and the universe is executed, the alcoholic will have the “right” to live a sober life, and he will have the “duty” to participate in Creation by, among other things, helping suffering alcoholics. Simple enough, but what about the details?

Easy. There aren’t any.

This is the reason that we can’t negotiate conditions as we accept the idea of a Higher Power. There is nothing to negotiate. For us alcoholics with an admittedly “hopeless condition of mind and body” which only a spiritual solution can solve, there is only one contract on the table. Apparently, we can agree to that “contract,” or we can walk away. The following story may express this idea.

The alcoholic is invited to play poker with God. The game will be played naked using a steel table. That will prevent the alcoholic from cheating in any possible way, even though he is a pretty accomplished cheater. The game will be Five Card Draw.

God is in a very happy mood. He deals out the first five cards for each hand. The alcoholic picks up his cards and looks at what he has been dealt. His heart sinks. His hand has a jack of clubs, a seven of spades, a deuce of hearts, a ten of diamonds and a five of clubs. God, on the other hand, seems quite satisfied with his cards.

At first, the alcoholic decides to throw in the cards, but God suddenly glares across the table at this shivering, naked man. He booms as he throws in his chips for an ante. “You’re going to play aren’t you?”

Reluctantly, the alcoholic stammers back, “Uh, sure. Of course.” as he tosses his ante out on the table.

Now God seems to be quite jovial again. “So, how many cards do you want?” He asks, laughing.

The alcoholic decides to hold the jack and dump the rest. “Four, please.”

God quickly deals the make-up cards. The alcoholic, now already becoming rather pessimistic, picks up his cards. Counting the jack of clubs which he saved from the first deal, he now also has a three of diamonds, a six of clubs, a seven of hearts and a deuce of spades. He prepares to throw in his hand, but God, now becoming frighteningly insistent, reaches over to block his movement.

“Time to bet, little guy! How many chips are you going to bet?” God booms good naturedly.

The alcoholic, deciding it will be better to lose a few chips than to upset God by giving up, tosses a few of the low currency chips out on the table.

Now, God roars, “You little piker! Throw the rest of those chips in! What do you think you can do with them if you quit now?”

Terrified, the alcoholic slowly moves all of his chips out onto the table. “Okay.I’ll call.” he mutters disconsolately.

“Yeah!” yells God, now beaming, quickly laying down His hand. “I’ve got sixty three Aces of Hearts! Can you beat that?” Without waiting for an answer, He walks away from the table, roaring with laughter.

The alcoholic, shocked at the way the game played out, turned to another man who had been watching. “Gee whiz? Is it always like that?” he asked.

The observer laughed a little, then responded good naturedly, “Of course! Did you think you were going to win?”

The alcoholic mumbled back, “Well, it was the only game in town.”

The observer laughed again, this time even harder. “The good news is that IT’S RIGGED, STUPID! YOU CAN’T LOSE! Now, aren’t you glad you bet everything?”

Only alcoholics who have worked Step Three will find any humor in this story. Nonetheless, the “spiritual solution” is the only game in town. The great news is that there is only one contract on the table. There is nothing to negotiate.

Don’t worry about trying to improve your position by messing around with any of the old, alcoholic details. This “contract” is a great deal just the way it is!

One of the great joys of sponsorship is helping this new man see Step Three for exactly what it is. Exactly as it is offered!