Step Three, as we are all cognizant, suggests that we turn our wills and lives over to whatever higher power to which we take a shine. The Twelve and Twelve calls it the first action step. (Although calling making a decision an action is a tenuous stretch at best; is it any more active than admitting something or making a decision as in the first two Steps?) In fact, it’s the first to come with its very own prayer! With the subsequent steps, the literature provides fairly detailed instructions. Make this list with these columns, do these activities after sharing this list with another person, and so on. Not so with Three; the directions are, best case, vague. At least they were (and to some degree still are) to me.
So what exactly does this “turning over” look like? Is it simply lying in bed, waiting for my Higher Power (HP) to send directions or answers to my quandary? To somehow teleport me to a meeting, a la Star Trek? Me writing all my consternation and tribulations on a piece of paper and slipping it into some kind of God Box? Making a genuine effort to go on with the rest of the Steps? Or simply being diligent and intentional in trying to do the next right thing and leaving the results up to my HP? Some combination of all of these?
Yet I look back at my countless detox week ones, attending meetings when I was in places so dark, so horrible, so nightmarish that turning anything over, much less my will and life, letting go and letting God, all that, could not have possibly meant anything more at that time than executing a steady progression of breathing in, then out. In, then out. Repeat. In those desolate pits, if this surrender had required one-millionth of a microgram, one insignificant little iota, more than simple respiration, I would have completely unraveled. Later in the game, letting go might involve some higher impact, life changing concessions, but in the top of the first inning, consciously giving some assistance to what is normally autonomous brain function is all I could manage.
One day at a time is a wise and eminently useful concept (as are the pared back one-hour or one-minute at a time versions often employed in times of higher duress), but in the Stygian canyons of despair, I was forced to take things one breath at a time, no more. To continue to forcibly will my derriere to stay in chair, my hands to clutch the arms of said chair, my teeth to clench to stop the incessant squirming, every nerve ending writhing in anxious agony. Respire (and too often, excessively perspire). When rational thought had evaporated in lieu of a singular and incendiary obsession to get-the-f-out-of-this-room-away-from-all-these-b.s.-platitude-spouting-people. Most who have suffered through the virtual eternity of an hour long meeting after a week or month long relapse know this mode of existing. The effusive proclamations of how wonderful someone’s life is after a year of sobriety, while intended to be uplifting, actually inspires, at best apathy, and at worst feelings of spiteful envy.
But. But. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the program is that all present at such a meeting understand. They get it. They empathize. And thus meetings are a safe place where, if I can fight through the pain, much can be gained from simply being present and enduring to the end. Where nothing is expected. Where, if I am called on to share, I can simply decline and no judgment will be passed.
That, to my thinking, is the most pure expression of the earliest phases of this “turning everything over.” In, then out. That’s all. Surrendering all but the most primitive physiological need. Concentrate on acquiring oxygen, then dispensing carbon dioxide. The processing of the air, the circulation of blood, the conducting of the meeting, others’ opinions of me, the rotation and revolution of the planet, the expansion of the universe, everything else… will proceed as they will. It’s amusing to me that this most basic state of being is found in the most painful moments I will ever experience. I believe that this is precisely the place in which my HP’s influence can flow most freely into me, as my concentration is on one simple thing, and thus all other conduits are completely open and accessible.