Step Three: Journey Through the Twelve Steps


This year, we have a monthly series discussing ways to engage and work each of the Twelve Steps.  Stemming from the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, the Twelve Steps have made their way into the treatment of many addictive behaviors.  Our specific focus will be on sex and love addiction, particularly in Christian women.  If you’re interested in finding an in-person, online, or phone meeting for sex and love addiction, check out Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.  Before you read this post, check out our introduction to the Twelve Steps to learn about support and resources.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

In working through the steps, you’ve come to understand and accept the powerlessness and unmanageability inherent to your addictive behavior, and you’ve realized that relying on your Higher Power (referred to as God) is the foundation of your hope for experiencing healing.

Step Three builds on the work we did in Step Two.  It is subtly different, however, moving from affirming God’s trustworthiness into acting upon that belief.  Steps Two and Three go hand in hand, as you need to have a foundational belief of God’s goodness fostered through spiritual practices in order to choose to submit to God’s will and receive His care.

If you have a background where God has been depicted as a shaming, punishing overseer, it can feel incredibly difficult to submit your life to Him.  If this is part of your story, seek to connect with those aspects of God that contrast with the hurt you’ve experienced.  Affirm those aspects of God as you work this step.

Here are a few things Step Three does not mean.  Turning control over to God doesn’t mean seeing God as a taskmaster who will make you feel guilty and force you to do things you don’t want.  You have free choice, and you can choose to invite God in to help you make choices that are best for you and are in alignment with His love and care.  It doesn’t mean that you have to have a perfect understanding of God.

What does it mean to make this decision?

It means we actively seek out living in a way that honors the desires we have for our lives (our will) through our daily actions, thoughts, and words (our lives), submitting in trust to the wisdom of God.  As Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”  Step Three involves learning to care for and nurture yourself in the ways that God longs to offer.  It’s an every day choice to continually decide to turn control over to God.

Working Step Three

Ask for help.

Your ability to trust others reflects on your ability to trust God.  You’ve likely already surpassed the first hurdle of trust by involving a sponsor or other 12 Step group members into your recovery.  You may also involve a spiritual guide in this process.  This could be your sponsor, or it could also be a spiritual director or church leader.  Continue the daily spiritual habits you began in Step Two under the guidance of this spiritual leader.

List faulty beliefs you had about your need to remain independent or do it all on your own.

Your beliefs about your addictive behaviors or about your definition of sobriety have likely been questioned in recovery.  You may have heard others sharing about their deluded thought patterns, and you were shocked to find that you had similar thoughts.  Maybe you thought, “I just need to try harder and then I’ll stay sober,” or “I don’t need any help.”  Name these distorted thoughts and surrender them to God to release their control over your life.

Act “as if.”

Often those faulty beliefs that echoed throughout your mind when you were acting out led you to respond to your addictive behaviors with strategies that didn’t work: minimizing and denial of how bad the addiction was, or “white-knuckling” and forcing yourself not to act out.  Likely these patterns have not worked to end the addiction, but you find yourself returning to them because you don’t know what else to do.

Loosen your grip on these failed strategies.  Instead, act “as if” you believed God was in control of your recovery.  Ask yourself: what would your life look like if you trusted God and believed that it wasn’t all on your shoulders to overcome your addictive behavior?  What would change?  What wouldn’t you be afraid to do anymore?  What would look significantly different than it does right now?  Take steps to begin living that way.

Choose to grieve.

As you try to achieve sobriety on your own, you often experience loss.  You may have lost time, money, relationships, mental health, physical health, or any number of other losses.  Letting go of the addiction itself is another loss: it is as if you are giving up an old friend that helped you to cope or escape from painful life experiences.  While trusting God does involve experiencing greater peace and freedom, that doesn’t mean that your journey will automatically become pain-free – in fact, the opposite is often true.

Write a list of the areas where you’ve experienced loss.  Read it to your sponsor or your spiritual guide.  Talk about what it means to have suffered and experienced pain in your addiction, and what it will feel like to give it up. See your suffering and difficulty in light of your new knowledge that God is experiencing that suffering alongside you.

Engage in greater self-care.

You may view God as punishing, or you may have been deprived of adequate nurture by authority figures in your childhood.  It is important for you to take steps to receive the nurture that God longs to give you.  Prioritize time for self-care activities.  Take on a childlike posture and engage in more time for play.   Seek to have a beginner’s mind in all areas, humbly learning and growing.  Take a walk in nature and pray.  Take quality care of your body and physical health.

Write a prayer in a letter to God expressing what it means to turn your will and life over to Him.

What does it mean to you personally to turn your will over to God?  Your life over to God?  Even if you aren’t ready to turn over 100% of control to God, sit down and write out a letter to Him expressing your desire to do so.  Tell Him the roadblocks that are holding you back from fully committing to surrender all of your will and life.  Read this letter to your spiritual guide or sponsor to receive encouragement and support.

Engage in a regular practice of prayer.

Pray daily in the morning right when you wake up for God to help you achieve another 24 hours of sobriety.  Pray in the evening each day expressing gratitude to God for His assistance to get through the last 24 hours.  Invite God in to decisions in your life through prayer and asking for His guidance.  Pray the Serenity Prayer, which encompasses the learnings from Steps One Through Three: “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.”

Seek insight from God and others.

You’ve been in a place of growth through your involvement in 12 Step, learning more about your addictive behaviors and admitting your pride by breaking through denial.  Insights occur throughout the course of recovery, and you become more open to them as you continue to create distance from the addictive behaviors.  The energy you used to spend on your addiction is now free to express itself as emotions and memories.  Through this process, keep a journal or dream log and spend time sharing the insights gained from those interactions with your spiritual guide or with God. 

Accept that surrender is not a one-time thing.

The Third Step is not a one-and-done kind of situation.  Yes, the initial step to surrender is often the most significant.  But surrender to God is a process that will continue throughout your recovery journey in the rest of the steps.  You’ll recognize moments when you try to take back control in some area or another, or you resist the surrender God is calling you to.  Use those moments not to shame yourself, but as an opportunity to return and surrender to God.


Are you afraid to turn over control to anyone other than yourself?  Do you struggle to surrender to a God who seems distant, cold, or judging?  Have you continually tried to overcome your addictive behaviors with little to no success?  I understand how difficult it can be to recover from addictive behaviors, and I know there is hope and freedom that can be found.  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to those of you who are trapped in sex and love addiction and desperate for a way out.  Call me at 734.656.8191 or email me to schedule an appointment at my Novi or Ann Arbor therapy offices.