Tuesday, March 10, 2009

3rd Step without Kneeling, without Prayer

99.9999999% of the time when I hear people talking about their "working" of the 3rd Step, their story inevitably seems to include the acts of kneeling and then saying the 3rd Step Prayer. The other .0000001% of the time? What I hear is lonely ol' me talking about my being worked by the 3rd Step without kneeling, without prayer. When I was worked by the 3rd Step, it did not and does not involve me kneeling down. Neither did it nor does it involve saying or praying what other people refer to as the 3rd Step Prayer. No step has me feeling as lonely and as isolated as the 3rd Step. And it's been that way since the beginning of my recovery in AA.

My very first sponsor was someone who took people through the book page by page. I didn't seem to mind that much at all, until we got close to the 3rd step. As we did that, he began talking about his experience of the 3rd step with his sponsor: how they walked up to the top of some hill in Pleasant Hill, California and then they both knelt down in front of a bench and together prayed the 3rd step prayer out loud. From the very first time he told me that story, I knew one thing for certain: there was not a way in Hell that I was going to kneel down with him or anyone else and pray this or any other prayer together. Not surprisingly, this sponsor was long gone before the 3rd step ended up working me.

For me, this sponsor's plan for me seemed totally contrary to everything I had been taught and had read in AA literature. What I had taken from the readings and the meetings was that we were free to come up with our own concept of a higher power, or not. We didn't have to accept anyone else's concept of God nor did we have to accept existence of God in order to stay sober or to be a full fledged member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

And if that was true, then why were we expecting (or even suggesting!) one another to take on a specific practice common to some, but not all religions or spiritual traditions, involving kneeling before one's God in prayer. If the words of the 3rd step prayer were really suggested as it is written in the Big Book, then why is it everyone seems to follow like sheep and use only those words of prayer to express their "decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God, as they understood him."

Nope. There was no way I was going to do that. To do that would make me a member of a cult. And to assure myself that this was not a cult, I was going to make sure that I could stay a full fledged and sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous without kneeling and without saying the 3rd Step Prayer. And I have done just that. [Thank you Dr. Earle!]

For me, my decision to turn my life and my will over to my higher power involved and still involves the simple and repeated daily acts of letting go. Letting go of the deep seeded but mistaken belief that I am God. Or at least God-like. The very act of my drinking was the clearest example of my learning to play God. With alcohol, I found a powerful means of changing myself, my feelings, my surroundings, my past. Everything. God could create the world. And in effect, with alcohol, so could I. Until I couldn't. Eventually, what I thought was a solution turned on me.

I was a flea on the tail, thinking it was wagging the dog.

All this said, I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that I do not kneel or that I do not pray. I do. I kneel most mornings when I do several stretching movements (based on a book, 3 Minutes to a Painfree Life). I also kneel when I meditate: I use a sitting stool which allows me to kneel down and sit on a stool just above the back of my heals. This meditation stool helps me kneel in meditation without any pain in my knees or legs and it allows me to keep my back/spine straight and my breathing slow and natural. I'd done this several months before I realized I'd broken my vow never to kneel before God or anyone else! Kneeling in prayer never made sense to me after I had the feeling that God's response to my kneeling was something along the lines of, "Hey, Mike? What are you doing down there?" And then we laughed at the silliness of it all.

I use a variety of prayers that I've memorized to help me become focused on positive and loving thoughts. You might even be surprised that I even use a version of the 3rd Step Prayer, which I call "My Version":

God, I offer myself to you to build with me and to do with me as you will. Take away my difficulties, or not, that victory or defeat over them may bear witness to those I would help of your power, your powerlessness, your love and your way of life. May I do your will always.

As you can see, my version takes out all the Thees and Thous and replaces them with today's English. And as I ask my God to take away my difficulties, I also add that "or not" to express that I don't have a big investment or desire to have my difficulties taken away: some, if not all, of my difficulties have been my biggest gift in life! Alcoholism being the greatest difficulty/gift! Victory over difficulties is nice, but defeat over difficulties has oftentimes been far more important: my 30 year attempt to "not be an alcoholic" has been my most important and life-saving defeat. God's powerlessness: as I see it, God is just as powerless over my alcoholism as I am. I'm an alcoholic whether God likes it or not. I don't subscribe to the view that God made me an alcoholic and/or that God had some sort of "purpose" in mind by making me an alcoholic. The God of my understanding doesn't seem to get involved in that sort of day-to-day stuff or to intervene in the ongoing creation process that was begun bzillions of years ago from a simple and complete act of love. And that commitment to do God's will always? God's will is nothing more or less that same simple and complete act of love. May that Love be the source of my will, my acts, my thoughts, my words....always.
Turns out then that neither the acts of kneeling or praying were part of the commitment or decision I made in the 3rd step----but they are tools I can use on a daily basis to maintain my commitment to let go of the idea that I am God-like and to accept myself as the particular human being I am today.
Mike L.


CJ said...

Awesome post Mike, thanks...


Jessica said...

Thanks for this post. I am stuck at the 3rd step, and make contact with HP as often as I can every day . . .I like your characterization of letting the step work you.

i.p.freely said...

your share on the 3rd step was awsome. you have alot of good stuff on this page. thanks for the help

Anonymous said...

who's dr earle? any suggestions for agnostics or atheists?

Mike L. said...

Dr Earle Marsh was my grandsponsor, author of Physician Heal Thyself story in the Big Book - he died with 49 years of sobriety and had gotten sober two days before I was born. He changed my sobriety and my life all for the better.

As to suggestions, this blog is full of them. I have been able to approach my own recovery and membership in AA from the perspectives of atheist, agnostic, theist and, ultimately, apatheist (one who, in terms of his recovery at least, simply care whether God exists or not).

As the author of A Members Eye View of AA pamphlet said, "the longer I'm in AA less I believe in a God of my understanding and the more I come to believe in a God who understands me."

Mike L.

Anonymous said...

Narcotics Anonymous is similar, but I've found that there is a much, much larger percentage of people in NA who don't kneel or pray in that typical way. I find that NA is much less "religious" seeming than AA.

Anonymous said...

Great post mike. I asked you about 3rd step suggestions and this seems to be exactly what I've been searching for. The " no way in hell " is totally how I feel. I already knew I wasn't doing that bit! Anyway, thanks for the words of wisdom. Be seeing you. Long Beach Chris

Anonymous said...

Just trying to write my own 3rd step prayer/vow, found your blog, thanks for the inspiration....