Steps 6 and 7 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous say:
“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Yesterday I met with my sponsor to go over my 6th and 7th step. This isn’t my first go around with the steps, or even my second. I believe that true recovery and spiritual fitness only comes when we continually work on ourselves, so I will keep working the steps for as long as I’m around. I know that doing step work is one of the things that helps keep me from picking up a drink and from becoming the out of control, self-loathing lunatic that I once was.
Step six is all about identifying our character defects and becoming willing to let them go. When I first got into Alcoholics Anonymous and learned about the steps, I thought that this step was a no-brainer. I wasn’t even sure why this thought warranted its own step. Of course I wanted to get rid of my shortcomings! Why wouldn’t I? It was like step three in which we decide to turn our will over to God – I wanted that too! My will had gotten me no where, and fast. I knew that it was time to let someone else run the show. Sometime later though, just like with step 3, I realized that letting go wasn’t as easy as I thought it was. No matter how negative and detrimental some of my defects are, there’s a reason that I hold on to them. They are serving some purpose for me, even if it’s hard to tell what that is. Take for example, avoidance, which I think is one of my biggest defects. I am a champion avoider! I do not like unpleasant things (I know, who does?) and I will stick my head in the sand and hide for as long as I can to avoid dealing with difficult situations. So what’s the payoff? I can list the problems that avoiding situations has caused, but understanding what I am getting out of holding onto the behavior is harder. In this case, I think that the payoff for my avoidance is not having to face my fears. If I don’t talk to someone who might say something negative, I avoid the fear of hearing what they might say. If I don’t get the mail, I avoid seeing the bills I’m afraid I can’t pay. If I don’t make a dentist appointment, I avoid my fear of the drill. The list could go on, but it all comes down to fear.
I won’t bore you with a list of my other defects (oh my, that would be a LONG post), but suffice it to say, they nearly all lead back to fear of some sort. I think that the realization that the root of my defects is fear and that I am really doing myself a disservice by holding onto them, is what the sixth step is about. Knowing those two things is what has helped me to be ready to let my defects go.
Step seven is about letting them go, and doing so humbly. It is an action step, it requires prayer:
I am now willing that you should have all of me, good & bad.
I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character
Which stands in the way of my usefulness to you & my fellows.
Grant me strength, as I go out from here to do your bidding.
My problem with step seven is, again, like my problem with step three. I ask for God’s help, I turn things over to Him, and then at some point, I pick those things right back up again! I know that I am not alone in doing this, I hear people talk about it in the rooms all the time. We are creatures of habit, and to some extent, regression. Many times, I feel like I take three steps forward and two steps back. It’s usually just as I think that I have finally let go of something for good, that I realize I am reaching back out for it. I do this dance all the time and I need constant reminders that I don’t have to pick that stuff back up. Saying the 3rd step prayer (God, I offer myself to Thee. To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy love & Thy way of life. May I do Thy will always.) has long since been one of the prayers I say daily. I’ve realized that it will help me to start praying the 7th step prayer as well.
Working the steps is like owning a home, isn’t it? The upgrading and repairing and maintenance never stop. There is a need to continually work on the home, or it will fall apart. But if we regularly repair what’s broken and maintain what’s working, we can prevent bigger, more costly problems. That’s why I keep working the steps and going to meetings; that’s my maintenance plan, what keeps me from falling apart. Before I started working the steps, I had cracks in my foundation, a homeowners worst nightmare. I had to tear everything down and start over. These days I mostly just need a little upkeep. A fresh coat of paint, clean gutters, and a new roof every now and again.