Now that July has begun, we can push past the halfway point in our monthly series on the Twelve Steps by focusing upon Step Seven. This step is in many ways an extension of Step Six, in which we became ready to remove our character defects. Now, much as we did with our addiction in Step Three, we put this responsibility on the wings of fate. This is not to say that we must not do any of the work ourselves. At the same time, however, we accept that we cannot do it alone. We need help if we are to succeed.
Step Seven is often achieved through a simple prayer. Perhaps we will say this prayer ourselves while in a quiet space. Perhaps our sponsors and other trusted members of our sober support network will gather around and say it for us. Like the rest of the Twelve Steps, our mindset and our willingness matter more than our approach. We’ll discuss some various approaches below, as well as the mindset that must be cultivated upon reaching this step. Step Eight and Step Nine will require a lot of action, so we must ensure we are in the right frame of mind before moving forward.
We’re going to talk a lot about spirituality below. If you are not religious, do not worry. As we have said many times, spirituality is personal. It is not prescriptive. You can express it however you want. The goal of Step Seven is not for us, AA, or anyone else to define your conception of a Higher Power. The goal is rather to recognize that we are not in this battle alone. If anything, our tendency toward control is one of the shortcomings we need removed.
What Is Step Seven?
Step Seven, as written in the AA 12&12 (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions), is:
“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
The first word of Step Seven is of utmost importance, as it indicates the defining principle of this step—humility. In many ways, humility is at the heart of each and every one of the Twelve Steps. It is of particular importance here, however, given our need to accept help from something greater. Without humility, we cannot very well surrender ourselves to the notion of a Higher Power. Without humility, we will likely continue to attempt doing everything ourselves. And as we have so often discovered, this often leads us down a bumpy road.
Another principle at play in Step Seven is faith. Whether we define our Higher Power as God, our support network, or something else entirely, we must have faith that it can do for us what we could not do for ourselves. We must truly believe that we are capable of overcoming our defects if we receive help. Without hope, we have no reason to accept help, nor any reason to work toward a better way of living. Hopelessness often fueled our addiction. It has no place in our 12 steps recovery program.
Faith and humility share more in common than one might think. Much as faith is often misunderstood to be religion, we often perceive humility to be the same thing as humiliation. We cannot claim to know humility simply because something or someone has wounded our pride. In fact, it is when our pride feels damaged that we should fear it the most. This is when we turn to substance abuse to feel better. In some instances, we may commit amoral acts in a desperate and flawed attempt to reinvigorate our pride.
Step Seven is the point at which we allow ourselves to let go of this pride. Perhaps we thought that we had done so in Step Three. And, in all honesty, we may not completely do so in Step Seven. It will more than likely pop up again from time to time. Nonetheless, we accept in Step Seven that faith and humility are the tools we need in order to overcome our character defects and enjoy a truly sober lifestyle. But how do we know when we are ready to do this? The next leg of our discussion will focus on this very question.
What It Means
The 12&12 talks a lot about the manner in which pride has shaped our world. And in a way, pride has given us hope. We feel that we are constantly on the verge of a new era in which everyone has what they want. We hold on to this dream that happiness will be instilled in all of us with just a little more technological innovation. Once we remove the need to work for what we want, we can focus upon improving our characters. This makes it easy to maintain faith in our intellect and work ethic alone. Our character defects can wait until retirement.
There is a problem with this as it pertains to Step Seven.
“Certainly no alcoholic, and surely no member of A.A., wants to deprecate material achievement. Nor do we enter into debate with the many who still so passionately cling to the belief that to satisfy our basic natural desires is the main object of life. But we are sure that no class of people in the world ever made a worse mess of trying to live by this formula than alcoholics. For thousands of years we have been demanding more than our share of security, prestige, and romance. When we seemed to be succeeding, we drank to dream still greater dreams. When we were frustrated, even in part, we drank for oblivion. Never was there enough of what we thought we wanted.”
This is why we always seem to be just on the cusp of a new era. Look around. Today’s world bears little resemblance to the world of our childhood. Nonetheless, we want more. This selfishness pervades many of our other character defects. Only through the humility of Step Seven can we begin to let it go. We discover humility not through the freedom provided by innovation and material achievement, as wonderful as they may be, but through the evolution of our own spirituality. Life therefore gives us two choices. Either embrace humility, or suffer perpetual discontent when we realize that we never quite have enough.
When we practice Step Seven and embrace the spiritual, we give ourselves a precious gift. Rather than waiting for our lives to be what we want them to be, we become the people we want to be. We do not become happy through greed, but through serenity. Once we achieve a sense of peace in our lives and in the people we have become, we can truly enjoy what we have. As for how we complete Step Seven and attain this peace, this will be our last focal point of discussion.
How to Practice
In Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 6 gives us the following prayer for Step Seven:
“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.”
Again, not everyone may wish to pray in this fashion. That is okay, although those who believe in prayer should certainly embrace the above writing. The reference to “usefulness” pertains to responsibility and the need to perform service work in recovery. This is the point at which we truly let go of our selfishness. Many like to say this prayer in groups, recognizing the importance of unity in recovery.
The 12&12 notes that we often make progress in Step Seven long before we even get to this prayer. Not only through Step Three, but also through our admission of powerlessness in Step One. Then, when we admit our faults in Step Five, we make yet more progress. In fact, by the time we get to Step Six and Step Seven, many of our shortcomings will have been removed. This is not to say that we will not still have much work to do. Even so, take solace in knowing that much work has been done. At one point, humility was a sense of defeat. At Step Seven, we see that it has become so much more.
Practicing Step Seven revolves around more than our sheer number of character defects, however. Instead, our focus becomes the manner in which we deal with them. Our preferred method no longer involves hiding behind drugs and alcohol. We now take a head-on approach to dealing with our problems. Instead of simply dreaming about ways in which we can be better people, we take action. Imagine that you were being monitored by a third party. Would they be able to see actual actions that you are taking to better yourself? If so, then you are on the right track.
Upon completion of Step Seven, you’ll find yourself in the correct mindset to approach the next two steps. You may find that you occasionally vacate this way of thinking and must regain your attitude of humility. But this gets easier every time. Never give up hope. Truly bad people do not spend their time trying to become better. If you have made it this far, you are most assuredly a good person. With every shortcoming you remove, you stand only to better yourself even more. Loss of the self-centered fear which once drove us is among the most joyous benefits of living in sobriety.