Step 7 “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Lying, manipulation, drama, greed, escaping responsibility, fear, playing the victim, defensiveness, blaming others and being self-absorbed…these are a few of my favorite things.
My sponsor always tells me that I can no more remove defects of character from my life than I could remove the alcoholism and he reminds me that “why would self, remove self?” My sponsor also directs me again and again to page 62 of the big book where I read concepts such as, “…are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments or our self-pity?” and “Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles” and also “Neither could we reduce our self-centeredness much by wishing or trying on our own power. We had to have God’s help.” These ideas rang true to me because I had tried many times throughout my life to be good, or be better. Church, self-help books, projects, big ideas and great intentions had no lasting impact on me whatsoever. I would start out with a big effort and focus on say “being positive” knowing that I would be happier, a better person and liked by others, because everyone loves to be around an upbeat person. I would make a commitment that from now on I would be a more positive and kinder person and I would begin to “white knuckle” having a positive attitude. However, that only worked as long as things were going my way and I was having a good day. Once I failed yet again to make any meaningful changes in my life I would simply give up, excuse and justify. After all, if you had the kind of problems I had in life you would understand how very difficult my life was and grant me a “pass” on my less than perfect performance in life. What I didn’t realize was that my failure to have a positive attitude was not my defect of character, but only a symptom of the real issues/character defects. I was so utterly blind to my real defects of character that now the thought of me working on removing any of them is laughable to me. I could not even see, identify or take an honest look at my life so how could I begin to fix it? There is a saying I have heard many times in AA which states, “if you could have fixed yourself, you would have years ago.” So it appeared that in regards to my defects of character I was right back at the concept of Step One and I had to admit that not only was I powerless over alcohol but I also had a complete lack of power and manageability over my defects.
There are only two short paragraphs written about Steps 6 and 7 in the Big Book, why they did not include more I have no idea. I always thought more direction would have been helpful but maybe in the long run it would only hinder. We alcoholics are great at taking a simple concept and making it as complex as hell. Steps 6 & 7 were and continue to be the most challenging of all the steps for me and I daily take actions which revolve around these two steps. I have made the 7th Step prayer a regular part of my life and it constantly reminds me that my main purpose in life no longer is myself but instead my main purpose is to serve god and god’s kids.
Because they are so short it led me to think the steps would be easy, but as I got more aware and observed my actions I had to come face to face with some interesting challenges. I had to ask myself, am I really ready to let god remove from me all the things which I have admitted are objectionable in my life? On the surface it sounds so easy and the quick response I had was “of course!” I mean seriously, who doesn’t want to have defects of any kind removed? Who doesn’t want to be perfect? I have found out that the answer would be…me. I’m not alone in feeling and thinking this way, I have met many others who either cannot see or admit to their character defects and who like me are simply too afraid to live life without the use of the defects of character, which have been our tools of survival for years.
So how does this all work? If I can’t fix myself, by myself just how do I become entirely ready to have my Higher Power remove my defects of character? I have come to learn that everything requires action and willingness on my part. It does no good to say a quick prayer asking god to remove the defects and then continue to live my day entirely as I see fit. It is important to highlight one other suggestion that my sponsor gave me and when I follow that suggestion it has been one more source of tremendous freedom. He says in regards to defects, or other problems in life, that I should not focus on the defect or problem. The reason being is that if we focus on the problem, the problem gets bigger and if we focus on the solution well then the solution gets bigger. Sometimes I can’t see what the solution may be in a particular situation and if I let myself I can get completely bogged down by circumstances around me. However, I am finding that more and more, if I daily work my program, the solutions become easier to find.
I would say that 99.99% of alcoholics who walk into AA have major problems in life and I’m talking about MAJOR. There are serious legal issues, spouses leaving or talking divorce, getting fired, losing a driver’s license, kids taken away and to top it all off people don’t want us to drink! We walk into AA having been beaten into a state of reasonableness and willingness and we want help. However, all we can see are our problems and we think, think, think, think about these problems nonstop. I am so grateful to my sponsor who asked me to trust him and told me to just put my problems up on a mental shelf, safe and sound where I could see them if I wanted to, but I was free to focus on other things. My question was; what other things were of any importance right now? I have MAJOR issues….help me!!! My sponsor told me what I now tell my sponsees when they feel overwhelmed by a problem. Regardless of the problem, the suggestion never changes. 1) Pause, 2) pray/invite Higher Power into the situation and then 3) go and be of service to others. The answer will come. Although none of us think those suggestions make any sense or are a smart way to spend our time whatsoever when we are going through problems I can say it has never failed for me or anyone else I know. I don’t know how or why it works, but the answer always comes and while we are waiting for that answer we are not spending hours in our own heads wasting energy stressing. Instead of stressing, we are helping others; we grow in our program, gain experience and wisdom. I am personally practicing this very thing in my life today. On Dec 31st, I left my office for the last time because I had been replaced. My job was fairly prestigious, it was rewarding, I was good at it and of course it paid the bills. Being replaced was publicly humiliating, embarrassing and of course I now have no way to pay the bills. As such I have two choices in life. The first choice is what I would have done 3 years ago which is retaliate, be angry, full of fear and worry. I would then sink into resentment, self-pity, depression and I would spend my time drinking ending up who knows where, doing who knows what…I shudder to even think where all that would take me. The second choice I have is to “practice these principles in all my affairs.” I have chosen the latter. I pause and I invite my Higher Power into this situation. I have placed this very serious problem up on the mental shelf. FYI, I no longer even consider the shelf to be mine but my Higher Power’s because I know my problems will be far safer than if I were in charge of the shelf. Although I do take action and spend at least 8 hours a day looking and applying for jobs but that is where my involvement ends on the issue. The rest of my days are spent throwing myself into service for others. I go to AA meetings even though it is the last place I want to be and I would rather hide from the world. When I am at the meetings I don’t discuss my job issue before, during or after the meeting, instead I attempt to carry the message to the next suffering alcoholic. I introduce myself to new women who are at the meeting and get their phone numbers. I am working on organizing an AA workshop for next month with out of town speakers who will present on the 12 Steps. I have just started a Big Book study in my home and after only the second meeting I am excited to be studying with this new group of people. I now set aside even more time with my sponsees and can now meet with them during the day. Plus I am writing on this blog again, which my job made all but impossible with the hours I had to work. I don’t write this list of AA work as a way to look good, but to explain that it works and that service saves our lives, it really does. I have not had to drink over this, I have not sunk into anger, and I’m not depressed or full of self-pity. When those emotions do crop up and they do (some days more than others), because I am still very selfish I take the steps and do the process over and over, multiple times a day. I pause, pray and get busy serving others. My sponsor has given me one additional step for this particular problem and that is to do a 4th Step on those who are “responsible” for my loss of employment and this weekend I will be doing the 5th Step with him. If I want to live completely free from resentment, bitterness and fear of the future I need to take these additional steps so that I get guidance to see this “problem” from an entirely different point of view and so that I can forgive and be free.
So, back to character defects and having them removed, the same process applies. We don’t focus on the character defect; instead we focus on whatever is the exact opposite of that defect. When I observe a character defect in my life, which is objectionable, I need to consider what the exact opposite action of that defect would be. We don’t “work” on our anger, we don’t focus on ourselves to get rid of selfishness and we don’t dwell on those things that have controlled our lives. At least we don’t if we want to live a happy, joyous and free life.
Of course I have many character defeats; in fact the longer I am sober the more I see them. Two defects come to mind immediately. There is one with which there has been real progress and improvement in my life and one which I continue to hang on to…apparently not yet ready to let God remove it from my life.
The first defect is how I seek attention from others. It can appear in the most subtle ways but I see it more and more as I grow. Sometimes it can appear when I play the victim or martyr because I need attention or I feel emotionally needy. In the past when I was asked by someone how I was doing, I would often say that I was tired or stressed or that I had so much to do or that I was overworked. Another way I would get sympathy or a little attention is to tell my friends about a bad situation I had that day at work or issues with my family and how unfairly I was treated (if I didn’t have anything the story could just as often be exaggerated or be an outright lie). Other times I might, in a very subtle way, highlight all the sacrifices I have made for others and how they didn’t appreciate it or took advantage of my kindness. Of course my friends would buy into the story (or drama as I call it now) as I would buy into theirs, because we “supported” each other and were “good” friends. Before AA, I would have labeled this behavior as just sharing and being open, however I have come to see that this attitude or defect of character in me is the complete opposite of a life lived in a grateful manner and I find this objectionable to have in my life.
I learned what the exact opposite of this behavior was not by being told but by watching my sponsor. No matter what goes on in my sponsor’s life, what issues, what problems, no matter what his health, when asked how he is doing he always responses with “today…I’m excellent!” At first I did not understand this answer because I knew about various difficulties he had in life and could not understand how he could possibility be excellent. When I asked him about it he explained to me that if he stayed 100% present in the moment, exercised trust instead of living in the wreckage of the past or in fear of the future there was no reason not to be excellent. Even if he was in physical pain or facing some challenge, when he “acted as if” he was excellent it would be true. He had long ago given up control over his life and so he exercises acceptance of what is. I decided to try it for myself and found it very interesting at how hard it was at first. When someone asked me how I was it was incredibly tempting to give the same old answers and to focus on the problems in my life. I was very surprised at how ingrained I was at giving a negative answer, such as being busy, tired, stressed, etc. I also became very aware of how much of the time I was really seeking attention and affirmation. I began to see how very needy I was in my bind for sympathy. So, I dug in with greater commitment and carefully responded each and every time with “I’m excellent.” Before long the most amazing change took place in my life. Every time someone asked me how I was my mind would race through each and everything that could be wrong, but then when I opened my mouth and said that I was excellent my brain concluded that if I was truly present, “right here/right now” I was excellent. So from that day on, even though I didn’t want to, I would cheerfully say “excellent.” It seems as if it is a silly and simple idea, but the effect in my life has been dramatic so if you see me and ask how I’m doing my answer will be “excellent!” J
Concerning the second character defect that comes immediately to mind I have not seen as much growth. Along similar lines I have to admit that I use men to feed my self-esteem and to feel better about myself. This can manifest in several different ways such as “innocent” flirting or hanging out and being one of the boys. I have to admit that one of the reasons I own a Harley Davidson motorcycle is because, although I really do love to ride, it is also a way I get attention and impress the boys. Perhaps where I see this character defect manifest the worse is when I use men’s egos to gain attention. I find this is easy to do by being overly compassionate, sympathetic and a listening ear to guys. It is always easy to agree with the guy’s point of view when they have difficulties in their relationships. So often “being a good friend” was simply a cover for getting a guy to wish that his partner was more like me. It is easy to make a man wish his wife/girlfriend would appreciate him, listen to him, understand him as well as I did. Little did these men know that if I was their partner and if they actually lived with me I am sure I would have been just as bad or worse to live and since my life was lived in a very selfish manner I am sure I would have made their life a living hell. In the past I never stopped to consider the truth of how I interacted with men, because I never stopped to take an honest look at my actions or life. In my interactions I would say anything and be anything simply so someone to give me attention, so that they would like me and make me feel better for a short time. However, if one of these men became too fond of me to where it would be demanding, overly time consuming, boring or cramp my style, I would simply stop paying attention to them. In the Big Book it describes us as being tornados roaring through the lives of others, leaving a path of destruction behind us. How true this is in my life. I would take, grasp and use others to try to gain some relief to the emptiness inside of myself, to try to find happiness in life and to gain some self-worth. Keep in mind that I am not only talking about sexually, because although using men sexually is a part of my story, most of my actions with men were much more “innocence” and in the “friend” zone. I could justify my actions because after all I had not done anything wrong and I was just being a good friend, right? What I was to selfish to realize was that the men I would take, grasp and use were not my play toys and I caused harm to others as well as myself when I behaved in this way. I didn’t stop or change my actions as long as I felt better, sexy, desired, liked and as long as I got attention. However, I know see and can admit the truth which is I was harming others and deep down I hated myself.
So now that I know better, now that I am attempting to live my life in a spiritual manner, one would think that the behavior would stop. One would think that I would be very ready to have my Higher Power remove this character defect. I truly want be kind, loving and to be more compassionate to others and I truly wish that I would not need men’s attention to feel good about myself. I am tired of being ruled by my feelings of not being enough and of course I do want to be free of it because seriously living like that is exhausting. When all is said and done, this behavior just ends up making me sick, feeling alone, empty and disgusting inside. However, despite how it makes me feel and try as I might I cannot completely get off the merry-go-round of using people to try to meet my own needs and to fill the void in my life. So where does that leave me? I have tried to “fix” this for years without success and as such I must admit that I cannot remove this defect from my life even though I find it very objectionable in my life. What I do know is that in every situation I have to pause, invite my higher power and go get busy serving others. I also know that I need to look for the exact opposite behavior from this character defect and I know I must continue to take action steps. I know that if I continue to work these steps, my Higher Power will remove what stands in my way of serving my Higher Power and those around me. I know that this character defect will be removed and I will be better able to serve others….plus I will get to experience even more freedom in my life!
7th Step Prayer – “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 binding.” Amen.