This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Program and to the loving care of this group.

Hopefully, as you come to the third step, you have accepted one or more earthly higher powers. No spiritual or religious higher power can substitute for obedience to the laws of nature and society while you're still here with us. You can add a god if you like, but you can't escape the natural forces in this life that must be obeyed.

 article about surrender in recovery
The literatures of Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and other groups speak of willingness in discussing the Third Step. The decision called for is simply the willingness to follow a systematic program that leads to a normal, productive life. If those are not really your goals, you are in the wrong program. If you disdain regular employment, compassion for those around you, and responsible adult living, this program cannot help you. If you think you are special, wonderful and unique, you will get little from the program. Well, not really, of course, since all of these apply to just the kinds of people the Twelve Steps were designed to help. That's why willingness and an open mind are so difficult and so necessary. People must change what they least want to change.

Another point: the Third Step doesn't apply just in group meetings, it's supposed to be a part of you twenty-four hours, seven days every week. To make it work, you have to take it out onto the streets and into your home.

Feeling insulted? Don't be. Everybody has defects of character whether or not they have suffered an addiction. Please reserve judgment for now. Nobody is trying to hurt or insult you. It is hard to write about a Third Step attitude because so many newly recovering members are very thin-skinned, very sensitive to any kind of criticism or suggestion. Hopefully, readers will read with some detachment and not take anything that follows as a personal insult. Open-minded willingness is the key.

Does surrender in this step relieve you of responsibility?

The Third Step calls for a decision, and willingness cannot be forced or pretended since it applies to much more of life than what goes on in a meeting. The Decision to give up personal control and become obedient to some higher wisdom in life may seem like a decision to stop deciding and give up your free will. Personal responsibility, however, is increased through obedience, not removed by it. Once you have learned a new skill it is yours to employ creatively. Learning any skill requires hard work and obedience to the rules that make things work. Once mastered, however, what shall you do with it?

Once you become a master of the violin, of mathematics or of sewing, you must then decide upon the melodies you will play, the problems you will solve or the garment you will make. With skill you can play any tune, solve difficult problems that have baffled you and make your own, unique wardrobe. In fact, with skill, you can write new music, create a whole new mathematics or become a creative designer of clothing. Without skill and practice, nothing of any value can be done. Without the willingness to be obedient and follow the rules, skill can never be acquired and real freedom is lost.

The rule is always: Discipline is the stepping-stone to freedom, not its enemy. Freedom without discipline and skill is pointless rebellion. Those who pretend skill appear as fools in the eyes of others. Even revolutionaries must practice severe discipline in order for their cause to succeed, in order to achieve the freedom for which they long.

What we seem to call will or self-will is that rebel within who has rejected hard training, discipline and practice. Self will means that you want what you want and you want it now without having to do the work. And that, of course, is what addiction is all about: trying to get something for nothing just because you're you. Do not, above all, carry these old attitudes over into your search for recovery.

A Higher Power, by the way, is not a way to get something for nothing: more on that later.

Long hours spent studying game strategies or the odds or the track records of horses are not discipline since they are misdirected and neglect the fact that no one who offers gambling services will ever stack the odds in your favor. All the track owners want in a race are horses that are evenly matched, and so weights are added to help even out the chances and to make picking a winner difficult. Learning to gamble is like learning how to watch movies or like learning how to eat cookies. The ideas of training or discipline are irrelevant since there really is nothing to learn except how to cut your losses. Gambling is entertainment, and to pretend that it is anything more is delusion. It is, as you must certainly know by now, also very expensive entertainment. Delusion pursued as if it were reality often leads to death. Fanatic devotion to an addiction should never be mistaken for devotion to a worthwhile cause.

How much does discipline count in any addiction? A man told a story of standing in a long line waiting to place a bet on the number five horse in a certain race. He'd been up all night reading the track records of all the horses and jockeys. Then, just as it was his turn to step up to the window, he noticed that the man in front of him was wearing a very expensive sport jacket that had three buttons on the sleeves. The man forgot all his homework and impulsively bet the number three horse. The same kind of thing can happen to someone on the street trying to buy a particular drug, or to an alcoholic who thinks a certain drink will not get him drunk.

It often happens that an alcoholic resolves only to have a beer, but ends up ordering whiskey. The crack user decides to moderate by smoking a joint instead of using crack and, of course, ends up in more trouble then before. It's an old story.

So much for all that imagined self-control and yet that makes as much sense as thinking you are smarter than the track operators or dealers who constantly adjust the merchandise to fit the patterns of the people lined up to buy. Operating a racetrack or a casino takes a great deal of skill, experience and objectivity. Betting requires none of that and offers only the illusion of control. That's the way it is with all addictions: you make money when you own the game, and you lose everything if you play it.

Interviewing potential higher powers

So, you've become willing and have decided to hire or accept a higher power into you life. Just as you might hire someone to work for you, you should conduct a careful interview with your prospective HP or with all the HPs you plan to hire.

The questions in a hiring interview for a job candidate are the same you should be asking your prospective HP.

1. Have you worked well for other people and do you have references?

2. What is your minimum salary requirement, what do I have to give up or pay to get you to work for me? (If he/she says they will work for nothing, end the interview here.)

3. Would you mind sharing your workspace or responsibilities with another worker?

4. Do you have any criminal record; have you worked for evil causes as well as good ones?

5. Are you available twenty-four hours, seven days each week in case of emergencies?

6. Are your requests and suggestions clear and understandable, or do you speak in strange tongues at odd hours on subjects that I could never verify?

7. Do you have any bad habits?

8. Have you ever been fired from a job for inciting to riot, causing civil disturbances, burning people at the stake, a loss of compassion or for making people drink poisoned Kool Aid™?

9. Do you understand and obey the laws of nature, or do you think you are above all that? (If the applicant makes up his/her rules as he/she goes along, end the interview at this point.)

10. Do you have any questions about working for me that you would like to ask?

Well, fair is fair, so here are some questions your HP might ask a prospective employer (you) before taking the job:

1. Given my experience, what is the minimum you would offer in terms of obedience, willingness and support?

2. Have any of your previous HPs quit because of neglect or unfair treatment?

3. Would you mind if I worked for others on my own time, or do you insist on exclusive rights and ownership?

4. Will I be a slave, just an employee, or is there room for me someday among top management?

5. Will I have to bring you coffee, find your lost car keys, empty the trash, and shop for just the right birthday present for your spouse?

6. Are you willing to give me whatever time and effort it takes to accomplish worthwhile goals?

7. Are you willing to ask permission or do you just want to seek forgiveness?

8. Do you offer any benefits in terms of helping me with other outside projects I'm interested in?

9. For the creative work I do will you hold a copyright, or are you willing to share my contributions with others?

10. Are you available twenty-four hours, seven days every week if I need you?

11. Are you willing to offer a long term contract or is there a probationary period?

There may, of course, be other important questions from the both of you during this first interview, and a trial or probationary period may be a good idea for both employer and employee.

Both employer and employee are always required to start each day with the proper attitude. If you find your H.P. is subject to mood swings, fire him, her or it. Also, higher powers are never to be given time off, vacation days or even sick leave.

The trap of magic thinking: Higher Powers and the bailout mentality.

A useful higher power does not make your decisions for you; it should help you find the alternatives you may not have thought of. Einstein, when asked how he discovered his theories, said simply that he questioned an axiom that had been held by scientists for years. He just raised a question about the unquestionable, and then everything fell into place. Somehow he saw choices and alternatives others had missed. He did profess both a faith in natural law and in God; such dual faith in neither unreasonable nor unthinkable. In fact, I doubt that he even distinguished between the two.

While struggling with a problem of her own, a woman had to cope with her alcoholic mother who depended upon the daughter for support while drinking away her own small income. An axiom had been drilled into this daughters head at a very early age: "Honor thy father and mother." At last her higher power, in the form of a group sponsor, asked, "Exactly what does honor mean when it comes to parents?"

"Why, to give them anything you can that will help them," replied the lady.

The wise sponsor pulled out a dictionary and together they read the definitions of honor. In this particular dictionary they found nineteen definitions of the verb honor. None of them suggested giving material tributes of money, food or rent. Prizes for creative or noble behavior were mentioned, but these are not relevant to the case at hand in which we are dealing with a mother's behavior. None of the definitions talked about financial support. One of the definitions spoke of paying respect to someone for meritorious behavior. There was no mention of rewarding irresponsible behavior or even of giving continuing support for accomplishment. Nor was to honor the same as obedience, sacrifice or self-punishment; honoring had nothing to do with what the woman had been doing for her mother.

The sponsor, using only a dictionary, gave the woman alternatives other than the endless financial support that only made matters worse. The woman was encouraged to love, respect and offer advice to the mother, but not to sacrifice the money and time needed by the family at home.

"I'd feel so guilty," said the daughter.

"Yes, you will," replied the sponsor. "So why don't you feel guilty when you spend the college money you should be saving for your children in order to bail out your mother?" The woman's devotion to helping the mother materialistically was based on childhood emotions and beliefs, not on her mother's real psychological needs.

At last, the woman realized that she, too, could be a higher power for her mother not by trying to solve problems, but by showing alternatives that included Alcoholics Anonymous, treatment and various social service agencies. Advice about food stamps, elder care facilities and bus tickets for seniors were also among the many alternatives she could and did suggest to her mother.

The daughter, of course, had not completely surrendered her big ego that told her she had the power to fix, control and please others, especially her mother. Let us note that a good higher power is not necessarily a controlling authority; it, too, may have given up on the idea of controlling lives and may be content just to illuminate alternatives.

If a prospective H.P. wants to take choice out of your hands, fire it. If a H.P. increases you range of choices without making them for you, hire it. If you find yourself promoted to the rank of higher power for someone else, never take choice out of his or her hands either. Never do for them what they can do for themselves. By withholding material bailouts you give people the gifts of responsibility and independence.

Let's also not honor people by trying to make your own respect, love and worldly benefits into tools designed to change them. Changing you is the only important task at hand; let others take the responsibility for changing themselves.

The hardest part in the case discussed above, of course, was enduring the shouts of reproach and blame heaped upon the daughter by the mother who suddenly saw her chief enabler withdrawing from the game. Should the daughter cave-in once more or endure the insults with love and respect? These were the alternatives offered by the daughter's decision to give up trying to be the solution to problems that was not hers to solve. With the support of her husband and her sponsor, the woman persisted knowing she had done all she could do. She made her daily phone calls to mother, continued to urge that mother go to A.A., and deferred the mother's pleas for money with the truth that her children's needs had to come first.

"When all else fails, try truth," she repeated to herself many times every day.

One day the mother, in a drunken state, crashed her old wreck of a car into a pole and died. By then the daughter had learned the foolishness of misplaced guilt and was able to honor her mother at the funeral and at grave side knowing that she had been a loving and devoted daughter until the end. If all the other enablers had given up sooner, the mother might have learned to solve her own problems and might be alive today.

Most problem addicts have had many bailouts during their lives. Bailouts get to be a habit, and they may have been a habit before addiction ever started. The idea that there will always be someone there to help out if you get really stuck dies hard. There was a drug addict who had been sitting in prison for several years and his letters showed that he still had faith that some judge, somewhere, would understand his addiction and free him from captivity. A former insurance agent, he never thought of himself as a criminal for stealing money that belonged to widows and orphans, but, of course, society did.

Have I mentioned that society is often a very effective and sometimes vengeful higher power? Ignore it at your own risk.

By long experience and by occasional reward, certain false ideas may be prominent in the addict's thinking:

Someone will always be there to help me out; Ill never go to jail;

Things always work themselves out, no problem;

Whatever comes up, I (or someone I know) can handle it;

Social agencies will pick up the pieces if I make a mess of my life;

The judge and/or the jury will understand I couldn't help myself;

There's a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow;

My husband, wife, brother, children—whoever—will always come to my rescue;

I'll always be able to get an advance on my paycheck;

There's a silver lining to every dark cloud;

I'll make the check good before . . .

Grandma has money; she won't let my kids starve.

And so it goes with endless foolish optimism made to look like reality by the urge to use. You probably recognized this kind of thinking and know where it leads. This is the bailout mentality, and it's a deadly trap. Here it is applied to the notion of a higher power.

God (or other H.P.) will always be there to help me out; Ill never go to jail;

My H.P. will work things out, no problem;

Whatever comes up, He can handle it:

The church is my refuge, nothing bad can happen to one of great faith.

God may be your higher power if you choose, but don't think of Him as a bailout. Don't apply this kind of thinking to any higher power. Don't, if you are religious, trivialize God by expecting Him to do your legwork or pick up the pieces of a disorder life. That's your job because that's the only way to learn.

Well, you understand where we're going here. A higher power is not Mr. Money Bags, Santa Claus, nor a butler, errand boy, knight in shinning armor, messenger boy, insurance policy, loan company, substitute for intelligence, or a just a happy face. A higher power is not your servant, he she or it is your choice-giver and consultant. Above all, a higher power is not a bailout! It does not always include easy choices in its list of choices, nor should you automatically take the easiest of those that are offered. It's a boss that sets the limits within which you must play the game of life.

A good H.P. may not make life easier since some of the choices it offers involve work, sweat and tears. Finally, you can discover choices, but you don't get to make up the list of choices, and you don't add easy outs of your own to the list and pretend they came from good old H.P. Higher powers are not like casino dealers or slot machines, and you can't hop from one to another hoping to increase your chances of getting what you want. As if changing from whiskey to beer could solve an alcoholic's problem.

Self-esteem, empowerment and ego

In recent years, mental health professionals have placed great emphasis on feeling good about yourself. Self-esteem, once seen as the consequence of accomplishment, has been elevated to high importance and is now believed by many to cause success rather than to be caused by it. People of high accomplishment often have high self-esteem (and sometimes not). It was concluded that if we can just raise self-esteem in people who tend to fail often, then we would see them begin to succeed. A result was suddenly seen as a cause and the cart was in front of the horse. In fact, the notion of increasing self-esteem is taken so seriously that states such as California created a government-supported task force to promote the idea. Training in how to raise self-esteem was required for professionals seeking to re-new their licenses. Elevating self-esteem is seen as a primary task of public education and sometimes takes priority over the usual academic subjects. The fad will pass eventually.

There is nothing, of course, like an "A" in algebra to raise self-esteem.

The facts are, however, that very many creative people start out will low self-esteem and may never acquire it in spite of their accomplishments. One the other hand, many people with exaggerated self-esteem end up in addiction or in economic failure.

Empowerment has also become a slogan in many work and civic environments. Empowerment started out as a suggestion that workers could be motivated toward better work if they were given some control in how they did their jobs or organized their work. This is quite true; people love to use their experience on a job to improve the quantity and quality of output. But, suddenly, everyone must be empowered to do almost anything. Many empowerment projects are simply empty efforts that waste time and offer false hopes to those empowered. The fad will pass eventually.

It is not hard for a person to build pride and self-assurance through honest efforts and real accomplishment. The spiritual task, however, is not to promote an inflated and unrealistic sense of self worth or personal power. The task is to go beyond self to acquire the ability to be selfless, to live completely and fully in the present moment without thought or consideration of personal ambitions. We stand on the dust of ego to reach the stars, and in doing so we are without self, without pride and without self-seeking. We become a grateful and humble part of the world, and in deferring self-will in favor of obedience to a higher order of things we gain freedom.

Natural higher powers

Education in science has been sketchy in American public schools, and so most of us remain blind to the operation of forces greater than ourselves, forces that operate at all times and that shape our behavior, like it or not. A favorite childish fantasy is the dream of flying unaided through the air. If it ever happened it would be a miracle because it would defy the inexorable Law of Gravity. It would also probably lead to early death and or injury. Few people realized that the temperature drops about four degrees for every one thousand feet above sea level we go. Our fantasy flyer might end up with hypothermia, frostbite, turbulence beyond human endurance, and lack of oxygen.

On the other hand, to master the skills of real aviation is quite a booster of self-worth.

Educating oneself in science is optional. Obedience to natural law is not. The laws of physiology, genetics, biochemistry, and thermodynamics—to name only a few—control and limit our existence on earth. Smart people learn to use these natural laws to improve their lives. Egotistical people pretend they are immortal, invulnerable and beyond such material things. .

In some religions the term Tau (pounced dow) is seen as the way of the universe. It can be used as a term that accepts things as they are even when complete understanding is lacking. We have many ways of trying to discover how things in the world work, and understanding the natural world is the basic business of science. Since there is so much to learn about natural higher powers we could spend an entire lifetime in just a single area of knowledge, and some scientists do exactly that.

Life, birth, aging, death, illness—these are only a few of the mysteries that control our lives. If you are not a physician, find one you respect and let that person be a higher power in taking care of your health. The physician gives you advice and offers choices while you retain the right to choose among the alternatives offered. (If he/she doesn't to that, get a new one.) If you know nothing of real estate, admit that ignorance since there is no dishonor in that, and find a real estate agent you can trust. If you are as baffled by our tax laws, as many of us are, let you tax advisor discover your alternatives. If you drive an automobile and know nothing of mechanics, take it to an expert.

You can go through life ignoring good advice and valuable authorities, or you can pretend you know it all. Humility and willingness go a long way in our modern, complex world. Nevertheless, knowing the laws of nature gives us choices. Ignorance keeps choice out of our hands

Social higher powers

We all have so many higher powers its hard to know where to begin. Loved ones certainly must serve in our lives as limited higher powers since we are willing to give up so much and to work so hard for family. At least, that is the ideal case. A spouse deserves constant consideration and you can ignore or honor the life choices your spouse offers. When it comes to children, if you want to really understand yourself, ask your young child what he or she thinks of you; just try to listen to the answer without judging or defending.

The law certainly should be regarded as a form of higher power. Our elected and appointed officials interpret and apply the law and, like it or not, one way or the other, society has a way of making sure that illegal behavior and defiance of the law are punished. Jefferson said that obedience to the law is the foundation of democracy. In other words, law is a path to personal freedom when it is understood and employed. Study the law, know the law and love the law. Work to change the law if you wish, but don't make up your own laws and pretend others will respect them.

One of the most difficult jobs in the world is that of policeman whose job it is to enforce the law. But, he is, after all, a higher power. The choices he gives are limited: obey the law or get arrested. Ignore him at your own risk; love him for what he does for all of us. Law is the glue that holds society together.


Again and again we hear people say they want to find a sponsor with whom they are comfortable. They may want a sponsor similar to themselves: of the same age, same sex, same religion, same race and same economic status. It's almost as if they were trying to find a carbon copy of themselves with a little more clean or sober time. So, can you or your twin be your higher power? Not a good idea. My advice is to look for the meanest, toughest, most honest s.o.b. in the room and ask this one to be your sponsor. Pick someone as unlike yourself as you can. If it really doesn't work out you can change later. But, give it a good try and follow that person's suggestions. It is not a sponsor's job, nor is it the job of any higher power, to make you comfortable. Flight into addiction made you comfortable temporarily, as long as the money lasted. Try sweating out the hard work for a change.

The group

Many recovering addicts use a home group as a higher power to discover alternatives to old ways of thinking and living. In speaking to your group you can always mention problems that you are struggling with at the moment. Ask the group for their thoughts. While they may not be able to break in just as you are speaking you can give your phone number or go for coffee after the meeting. When members do offer their ideas, the rule is to shut up and listen. Let them do their Twelfth Step work and reserve your judgment. Do not be defensive; just listen with open ears. Don't try to explain or justify. The alternatives you gather will always be yours to take or ignore, but if you want them to continue being interested in you and your problems, just give them a fair hearing. Ask questions. Take notes. Repeat in your own words what you think you've been told. Show them the courtesy you would show to any higher power. And don't forget to say "Thank you," when others show caring for you.

Some writing and discussion topics

· I've said that gambling is, at best, mere entertainment. Is this true for other addictions? Can you think of examples?

· Job interviews are usually carried out by a team, not an individual. Who would you put on your hiring team when you decide to hire a higher power?

· Now is a good time to write down a list of your candidates for higher power. Include as many and you think you need.

· Share your list with a trusted advisor and continue to make changes as needed.