Step 2 and 3 of Alcoholics Anonymous discussion.

Here is another podcast about recovering from alcoholism. This one talks about the good and bad side of Step Two and Three of AA and is the second of a series of discussions with Jon who has his blog at about the 12 steps which make up the core of the AA programme and are described in chapter 5 of the Big Book. Jon was an AA member for many years but has also done CBT type therapy and read a lot on other solutions. He has helped take people through the steps and has many years of continued abstinence from alcohol. At one time he thought that AA was correct in all its ideas, but has modified his views over time. I was always cynical of the religious side of AA and just accepted it was from the mid west of America in the 1930’s and really made use of the fellowship rather than “the Steps”. I always used to dislike chapter 5 being read out in meetings and always felt the need to take personal responsibility for my recovery. We talk about the concept of a “Higher Power” and the fact that more and more people are turned off the idea of recovery when they see these steps that talk about God.

Step 2 of the 12 steps of AA

“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Step 3 of the 12 steps of AA

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

Jon describes how he would help a sponcee with these two steps and we discuss some of the reasons they do help some people but not other people. When you are working step 2 and 3 you are starting to take on the beliefs of the AA group, and conform to the 12 step way of thinking. Members who do not do this are generally not fully accepted by the group, and I was one of these!

Here is my “higher power” that I mention in the podcast, do you really think Harry can save you from Alcoholism?

Harry Cripps

We hopefully carry on and record step 4 and 5 soon, when we both have time as we are extremely busy at the moment, but it will hopefully be done in the next couple of weeks.



Commenting area

  1. Thanks Mike. Hope this makes sense to any listeners. Not sure I got the name correct when we were taking (very poor memory for names) but the person responsible for “God as you understand him” was Jim Burwell – not Bill D. Slip of the tongue there, sorry about that. There’s an excellent biography of Jim Burwell at AA Agnostica by Bob K, a wonderful writer on early AAs:

  2. Another good podcast. I appreciate how fair you guys are to AA, as opposed to many hostile websites and resources.

    Have you guys seen all the alternate versions of the 12 steps available online? Some are pretty good.

    One such alternative is the PROACTIVE 12 STEPS.

    1. I get it. What I’ve been doing is self-destructive. I need to change.
    2. I see the big picture: The way to stop relapsing into self-destructive behaviors is to build a healthier sense of self.
    3. I have an action plan: From now on, I am squarely facing everything that is in the way of feeling satisfied with my life.
    4. I honestly look at the effects of my actions on others and myself.
    5. I take responsibility for my actions.
    6. I see that my knee-jerk reactions have to do with being in the grip of more or less conscious fears.
    7. I strive to find my motivation in a deeper sense of who I really am, rather than fear and defensiveness.
    8. I stop blaming and feeling blamed, with a willingness to heal the wounds.
    9. I swallow my pride, and sincerely apologize to people I’ve hurt, except when this would be counterproductive.
    10. I live mindfully, paying attention to the motives and effects of my actions.
    11. I stay in touch with a broader sense of who I really am, and a deeper sense of what I really want.
    12. A growing sense of wholeness and contentment motivates me to keep at it, and to share this process with others who are struggling.

    Not bad, eh?

    • Thanks Tony, these steps make more sense in the modern world. I found that the idea that looking at resentments were so important for beating alcohol addiction to be flawed and it is often the step 4 that opens up old wounds rather than heals. I certainly see the steps that involve apologising when wrong etc as useful.
      I think some people read too much into the steps and that they have turned AA into more of a religion than a fellowship. This does depend on the type of group you go to, but in recent years I feel that the 12 steps have been given far more importance than the fellowship and this was not always the case.
      The Big Book is certainly written in a confusing way with ideas taken from the Oxford Group and from other places such as Peabody. I do think it could be improved and certainly found that talking through my background with two trained professionals was much more helpful than with any of my sponsors. When I look back I see that the group gave me a lot of support when I needed it and a sober community, but I would not have got such a good insight into what I needed to change by simply working the steps.
      Hopefully we can do step 4 and 5 soon, but I ave some big family commitments at the moment so they may be delayed.

  3. Oh, I did want to add something else in response to steps 2 and 3.

    I have always found HOW IT WORKS to be very disturbing reading, mostly because of its descriptions of who is capable of rigorous honesty, were certain people born incapable, etc. Alarming and shaming to those who try to be honest but have competing trust issues.

    Then someone pointed out that HOW IT WORKS is clearly linked to WE AGNOSTICS, as it follows WE AGNOSTICS. Reading them as a unit, I found a troubling link… Bill seems to be saying specifically that some people who do not succeed at the program were not only incapable of regular honesty as a disciplined practice, but–again reading the two chapters as a whole–in addition seems to be saying that the people who calls out for not being rigorously honest are the agnostics who will not admit the honest voice inside themselves that says YES THERE IS A GOD, for example.

    This whole time I had thought that Bill was saying that our rigorous honesty *in recovery* would be the thing that helps us. But now I see it as his saying that our “honesty” is the honesty of admitting you believe in God of a Christian variety.


    “We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we
    have for a friend. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as
    we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He
    may be found. It was so with us.

    We can only clear the ground a bit. If our testimony helps sweep away prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway. With this attitude you cannot
    fail. The consciousness of your belief is sure to come to you.”

    So much for “as we understood Him”?

    • That’s a great point, Tony. Many sections of the book were designed to be read side by side. They repeat the same message in different ways. So what you’re doing there is entirely justified and well observed. Hadn’t thought of it that way before, but my chats with other current AA on Facebook groups certainly also support this idea. Many of them don’t seem to have a problem with that interpretation – particularly those in the USA or in more hardcore UK meetings. Thanks for the kind words. Best wishes, JS

  4. Jon-
    3 months sober and just beginning to work on steps 2 and 3 with my sponsor. I’m having difficulty with the “higher power” concept and was looking for a podcast discussion to help me think it through. You’ve given me so much to think about, and it’s a relief to hear non religious alternatives to these steps. The AA Agnostica tip is greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for being out there to share and help. Beth

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