We are now halfway through our study of the twelve steps together. Whether you are keeping up with my weekly shares and questions or you are following along more slowly, you are making progress. Do not be discouraged. I hope you are already noticing some of the miraculous changes that come to us as the result of working these steps.
As I wrote in my brief note accompanying Thursday's re-posting of the Step Six share and questions, I practiced my character defect of self-centeredness with gusto last week. The good news about that is that by the end of three days of it I was so heartily sick of that shortcoming that I was ready to take Step Seven and ask my HP to remove it!
In one way, there is not much to say about Step Seven. As the OA 12n12 points out, it is simple (p. 59). We take our list of shortcomings (defects of character) that we generated in Step Four and have been applying Step Six to, and we use the Seventh Step prayer which can be found on page 76 of the AABB: "My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.” That's it; you're done. Go shopping. (Well, unless shopping is one of your defects of character).
Of course, if you're new to this Step stuff, or if you're a born complicator like me, you might find it helpful to dig a little deeper. I think there are three areas that merit some examination with respect to Step Seven. One is the word humility; one is the word usefulness; one is what, exactly, we do to practice the step.
It is traditional in studying Step Seven to spend a lot of time examining that word humility. After all, the step begins with the adverb "humbly." So let's start there. The most obvious reason for needing humility in this step is that it's not me who is going to remove these defects of character from myself. It's just like the food: I can't, HP can, I think I'll let my HP do it. Unless I have humility, I will try to remove the defects myself ("try harder!") and (just like the food) will eventually be defeated.
I've heard lots of definitions of humility in the rooms. The OA 12n12 says on page 60 that it is "an awareness of who we are today and a willingness to become all that we can be.” I have heard humility defined as "teachability" and, my personal favorite, "seeing things as they really are." The AA 12n12 says that without humility we can't stay [abstinent] at all, period (p. 70). It also says that humility helps us to live usefully, and to summon the faith necessary to meet emergencies. If we have humility, we recognize that we are "neither above nor below other people on some imagined ladder of worth.” (OA 12n12, p. 60). The relevance of this to letting go of my character defects is this: If I'm neither above nor below other people, then I am better able to forgive others for their mistakes and myself for mine. I will be less likely to act out of anger or shame. I will be less likely to EAT out of anger or shame. Notice that I'm not saying I'll be less likely to feel my uncomfortable feelings, but I won't act on them in the same old ways.
Actually taking Step Seven clarifies why it was so important to take Step Six (becoming entirely ready) first. Being without our defects of character is going to make us into entirely different people, and that's a frightening (if exhilarating) prospect. The AA 12n12 says, “The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear – primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded.” (p. 76). So if I ask God to remove the defect, won't I lose something or fail to get something else? The AA book goes on to say, “Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands.” (p. 76). Ah, so that's why I need Step Seven! Because I am in a state of continual disturbance and frustration - good recipes for taking me back to the food - and because I want peace. But... really, I just want to be thin. I don't mind being cranky sometimes, or overcommitted, or a bit rigid. Really, it's OK with me, you don't have to take those away. From the AA 12n12, p. 72: “But whenever we had to choose between character and comfort, the character-building was lost in the dust of our chase after what we though was happiness.” Furthermore, “never was there enough of what we thought we wanted” (p. 71). Just like the food, I can never seem to have enough organization, control, self-centeredness, relaxation. Like the food, in my unqualified hands these, too, can become monsters.
Here, again, is where we must recognize (and having humility helps us to do so) that our character defects are only misapplied assets. We started working with this idea in Step Four, where we talked about them as instincts run amok. The idea came back in Step Six and here it is again in Step Seven: our defects have their roots in tools, skills, assets, characteristics that serve us well. Our problem is that we tend to over-use them, both in the sense of using them too often and using them in the wrong places. To a small boy with a hammer, everything is a nail - but sometimes what's required is a screwdriver instead. My answer for everything was to eat and when I gave up the food my new answer for everything was to worry. Planning is useful; worry is not. My asset became a liability. The humility and usefulness called for in Step Seven help me to recognize the asset underneath the liability.
It's important that I not wait around for humility to strike before working Step Seven. Being willing to go to any lengths for my recovery means that I don't wait until I feel like it to take the step; I do it whether I feel like it or not. It used to be that I would do anything to avoid discomfort (e.g., eat); humility helps us transform discomfort into strength. As the AA 12n12 writes, “We began to fear pain less” (p. 75) so that I don't get so scared when I'm in pain or uncomfortable. I have more faith that I can tolerate it, now, and that I don't have to eat over it. This is a form of humility.
The next area that is worth digging deeper into is that word usefulness that appears in the Seventh Step prayer. I thought I came into this program to lose weight. At the very outside, I wanted to stop being so obsessed with food and weight. Now you want me to be useful? “A whole lifetime geared to self-centeredness cannot be set in reverse all at once. Rebellion dogs our every step at first.” (AA 12n12, p. 73). Well, I don't think of it as rebellion; I just don't think being "useful" has to apply to me, does it?
That simple OA saying, "You can't keep it unless you give it away" fits, here. I can't keep my abstinence, let alone my serenity, unless I give "it" away. What's the "it"? My experience, strength, and hope. And giving those away make me... useful. Even if I'm not being useful to program people, I'm still being useful. Most fundamentally, I am being useful when I am staying abstinent, because when I'm abstinent I participate in life. Taking Step Seven, then, is supposed to increase my usefulness even if only through increasing the probability that I'll stay abstinent another day.
So how do we do this thing? The simplest answer is, we name the defect, ask God to deal with it when and how God sees right, and express our complete willingness to have the defect removed. We do this for each and every defect on our list. Then, we have to assume God has taken care of it, and get on with our lives, acting as if the shortcoming has, indeed, been taken from us. It has been my experience that two things help me take this step. One is adding the Seventh Step prayer to my daily (morning) prayer and meditation time. Every morning, before getting out of bed, I lie there and say the Serenity Prayer, take the first three steps, say the Third Step prayer, and then the Seventh Step prayer, naming specific defects I am struggling with (self-centeredness) or that I expect I may confront during the day. I never, ever ask to have a feeling removed. I never say, "God, please take my anger from me" or, "Please release me from fear." What I ask is that the actions I tend to take as a result of those feelings be removed. "God, please take away my resentful rumination that comes from my anger at so-and-so" or, "Please release me from the obsessive planning I can get into when I am fearful." I find it useful to take this step every day. As one of my favorite AA 12n12 quotes says, “We began to get over the idea that the Higher Power was a sort of bush-league pinch hitter, to be called upon only in an emergency.” (p. 75).
Now, the OA 12n12 says, on p. 61, “If we are surprised, shocked, deflated, or discouraged when a defect returns, we lack humility. If we get angry at God, ourselves, or other people because we have the defect, we lack humility.” Frankly, I find this confusing. I think it's easier to understand if I apply the parallel of the food. My HP took my obsession with food, and my compulsive overeating, from me, bam! I'm coming up on 30 years without compulsively overeating. But of course occasionally I still get urges. I'll finish my dinner and pick up the plate, looking all around it and underneath it on the table for my food. I'll tell my husband, "I'm ready for my dinner now." This is because I have to keep working this program every day, and all I really have is a daily reprieve (contingent upon the maintenance of a fit spiritual condition). It's the same with Step Seven: I have to keep working it every day. Some days, the urge to practice the old shortcomings is going to return, and (just like the food) at times I'll find myself in them quicker than you can say "knife." This is because I am not perfect. Humility compels me to admit this. So I pick myself up, dust myself off, and apply the steps again.
As, one by one, my most glaring defects are removed from me, and as I go on living my life, it is a sure bet that yet more defects will be revealed to me. It's like stripping a piece of furniture of years of coats of varnish. I have to keep at this step work.
QUESTIONS FOR STEP SEVEN:
1. What is your definition of humility?
2. Has it changed since coming to OA?
3. Why do you want your shortcomings removed?
4. Have you ever tried to get rid of any of your shortcomings by yourself? What did you do? How did it work?
5. How will you complete Step Seven? Be specific.
6. Are there character defects that you can see are simply misapplied instincts?
7. Can you visualize yourself as the person you will be without the character defects of Step Seven? How will you think? How will you act? How will you feel?
8. If "the chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear -- primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded" what have you been afraid of losing or not getting?
The Twelve Steps