The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: Step 3

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

As a stage in our process, the first three steps of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are designed to bring us to a point where we are willing to turn our lives over to our higher power, or God as many understand it. The remaining steps are the blueprint of how that is going to happen, and finally, how to keep us on that path. It’s important to remember, however, that we have to be willing to do the work before the work begins. This is the essential lesson of step three.

The First Three Steps

If we have taken steps one and two to heart, we have accepted the fact that we are alcoholics, that we are powerless over alcohol, and that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to “sanity.” If that specific word (sanity) does not resonate with some of you, you may substitute it for peace of mind, balance, normalcy, reality, or whatever makes the most sense for you.

If you have meditated on the issue of your higher power, perhaps you have arrived at some semblance of what it looks like to you. It’s important to note that “God,” in the context of AA, does not have to be identified with any one particular thing or religion. No matter what your symbolism is, if it makes sense to you then that’s what it ought to be.

Making a Decision

The third step of alcoholics anonymous talks about the decision to turn our will over to a higher power. Deciding is a key factor in your progress, but it doesn’t stop there. For example, you can decide that you’re going to wash your car, but that decision doesn’t make it so. You need to take action in order for it to happen. However, without the decision to do it, it would never come to pass. So a conscious decision must be involved for progress to be made.


The third step also precludes a willingness to commit to the action needed to affect change. This is two-fold though, as your will is what got you to this point in the first place. If it weren’t for your many failed attempts to control your “will” to drink, you may not be sitting where you are today. If you can agree that your will has not served you in your quest for sanity, then it is time to consider other options. You have arrived at this place willingly. You are willing to surrender your will to a higher power, and in so doing accept for your actions to be directed by that higher power. If your actions are directed by a higher power, then they are not directed by ego or self-will. Take heart in this, and know that by accepting the guidance of a higher power, you will never walk alone.

The Serenity Prayer

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, right about midway down page 60, you’ll see a paragraph that begins with the phrase “Being convinced, we were at Step Three.” Once we have accepted the first two steps, it would seem that we are indeed convinced and ready to hand over the reins to our higher power. There are many catchphrases that relate back to the third step, among them “let go, let God” and “turn it over” … but perhaps the most useful mantra, and one that you will continue to return to is the serenity prayer. It is the embodiment of the third step, in all its simplicity:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference.

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