Step Seven of AA’s Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step program of recovery is about getting rid of character defects and replacing them by practicing humility & spiritual principles. Working on the seventh step requires constant thoughtfulness and commitment to being honest, courageous and humble.
When working on steps four and five we discovered our assets and our shortcomings. With Step 6 we became prepared to deal with these qualities so that in Step 7 we could be ready to act.
BREAKING DOWN STEP SEVEN OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
So here’s the thing, quitting alcohol and drugs is a big change. I think you know this by now! Moving into step seven actually involves us in the personal change of actively letting go of our shortcomings, actions and feelings that are liabilities. This change requires effort and action.
Simply asking for your shortcomings to be removed does not automatically make them go away. It is up to you to be aware and make new choices. Many people in recovery find comfort that their higher power can and does remove their character defects shortcomings when asked.
While working on the previous six steps you’ve been stripping away age-old layers of denial, ego, self-centeredness and other liabilities that consumed you when you were active in your disease. When we arrive at step seven we are ready to stop thinking so much about what we are going to get in life and start looking at what and how we can contribute to others in the world.
In my experience my higher power has never left me empty handed; everything I have lost has been replaced with something better. I was asked to put down the drink and the drug because my higher power wanted me to pick up something greater. This is humility to me.
STEP SEVEN AND HUMILITY: THE MISUNDERSTOOD VIRTUE.
“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” – Confucius
When it comes to working your seventh step, the quality of humility really breaks down to having a reasonable perspective of yourself. It is quite simply seeing the truth of your life and your place in the world. In AA terms it is the practiced art of being “right-sized.” When you humbly ask your Higher Power to remove your shortcomings you are recognizing that you are neither too big nor too small. Gone is your self-entitlement or grandiosity; as is your shame, regrets or unworthiness.
You’ve actually already taken your very first act toward humility, by admitting your powerlessness and unmanageability. Typically when practicing step seven recovering addicts realize that humility is not a state of being in despair or groveling, but a state of peace, serenity, and acceptance of “life on life’s terms.”
In The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions it is stated, “the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of AA’s twelve steps.” The seventh step of AA is an ongoing opportunity for us to embrace the pursuit of humility as a fundamental aspect of staying sober.
WISHING IT, DOES NOT MAKE IT SO: STEP SEVEN INTO ACTION
Taking action means work. I know, most of us are averse to the word “work,” but the kind of work I’m talking about here has nothing to do with punching in a time card and suffering through 8 hours. Our work on the steps of AA’s Alcoholics Anonymous program simply means using our energy to be disciplined and committed in the pursuit of our goal of long-term sobriety and recovery. It takes work to stand up for ourselves, to be patient or to accept the emotional discomfort of new behaviors.
Catching ourselves in our shortcomings and changing our reaction takes work. The more familiar you become with your shortcomings the more you start to notice, “this feels familiar, I’d better stop and pay attention to this!” Whenever a reaction feels involuntary, it’s probably something that needs changing. The great news is that when practicing humility in Step Seven you really gain a sense of your own humanity and the ability to have compassion for yourself and for others. We are all in this together, and we are all the same.
Putting Step Seven into action means, for example, when you consciously gather the courage to say “no” to the request of a friend who tries to guilt or shame you into saying “yes,” you are actually working your program of recovery. When you set a boundary, pause when agitated, practice restraint of tongue and pen (this is a huge one for long-term peace), choosing not to interact with people, places and things that trigger you- you are working on Step Seven!
Part of getting right-sized in Step Seven means making changes with the activity of our minds in addition to accepting and expressing our emotions. We learn to gradually bring the different parts of ourselves into a healthy balance as we practice new living skills. For some people a daily dose of prayer, meditation, and affirmations is very useful.
Here are some questions to help guide you through Step Seven:
How has my understanding of my higher power grown?
How have the previous six steps prepared me for step seven?
How does being aware of my own humility help when working the seventh step?
How do I plan to ask a God of my understanding or higher power to remove my shortcomings?
How does the spiritual principle of “surrender” work for me in step seven?
Am I comfortable with prayer and meditation- even if it means making up my own?
Has my sense of perspective or “reality’ been out of proportion lately?
Have there been times when I have been able to stop from acting on a character defect and practice a spiritual principle instead?
Are there any shortcomings that have been removed from my life or at least diminished in their power over me?
You can also use affirmations. Here are some suggestions:
I accept all of me, the “good” and “bad.”
Today I will develop an asset and release one shortcoming.
I will remember that I have choices and freedom today.
The “Seventh Step Prayer” is a great way to right-size your day:
“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.”
STEP SEVEN OF AA’S ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS: MOVING FORWARD
“We cannot tell what may happen to us in the strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens IN us – how we can take it, what we do with it – and that is what really counts in the end.” – Joseph Fort Newton
When practicing our seventh step we are exercising our freedom from addiction by developing our assets, discarding defects and making new choices.
Step Seven is a prime example of the much-used 12-step adage “progress not perfection.” Humbly asking that your shortcoming be removed is not a guarantee. Some of our shortcomings will stick with us despite our best efforts, and plenty are returned- free of charge- any time we choose to re-engage with them.
We can measure our progress in recovery in relation to who we have been while using, instead of measuring ourselves against other people. We can take stock of our own journey, acknowledge our strengths and use them with humility, seeking only for an honest way of living in a sober reality.
Deep and lasting change comes slowly, and no one lets go of shortcomings all at once. However, they do disappear as we become aware of them and take action, one at a time, one day at a time.
Remember this: spiritual principles meet us at our point of action- so while we cannot control the course of life, we can control each and every spiritual move we make.
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FOR ME, at first glance Step Seven seemed a cinch, especially in comparison to some of the preceding Steps. As is often the case, on closer examination the seemingly simple proved to be anything but! I thought this Step was only a kind of mopping-up maneuver or an interlude where I could rest on my laurels. (I was wearing them in the wrong place at the time.) Steps One through Six had shown me how inadequate my own powers and resources were--as far as my alcoholism was concerned. Besides, I had to he entirely ready to part with my defects (Step Six), and I wasn't at all ready.
The earlier Steps, however, had removed some of the careful padding from my ego, and a remark made by an old-timer and dear friend had helped. I had heard one member complimented by another for a wonderful talk. The speaker said, "Don't thank me or give me credit. Give God the credit." I was determined that if ever anyone thanked me for my talk, I would say the same thing (humbly, of course).
Finally, my old-timer friend did compliment me on my talk one night, and I did say, "Don't thank me. God did it."
The old-timer smiled, put his arm about me, and said, "Honey, it wasn't that good!" Up until that time I had thought "humble" was some kind of pie.
I knew from the beginning that my vices were 'way ahead of my virtues. That was bad. Worse, some of my vices were being classed as virtues. But, since other members seemed to be gaining on their vices, I could hope for myself. By this time, introspection had become somewhat habitual, and I realized that I would have many hang-ups in working these Steps, as I'd had hangovers during the wet years (or should I say the monsoons?).
In Step Seven, the word "humbly" threw a monkey wrench into my sensitive emotional gears. Oh, what it did to my poor id! It seemed I was forever searching feverishly through all the dictionaries I could lay hands on for a definition of "humble" that I could accept. Even the excellent coverage of this aspect in the "Twelve and Twelve" availed me nothing. Humble? Humbug! Hadn't I always been the one put upon? The doormat type? Was I now to wear sackcloth and ashes or a hair shirt?
All my life, I'd been taught that I alone was responsible for my character, including my shortcomings--responsible for self-discipline and self-reliance also. That reminds me of the fellow who claimed that he was a self-made man, whereupon his friend remarked that this belief certainly relieved God of an embarrassing responsibility!
Still, I could plainly see the golden thread of true humility running through all the Steps, and I knew how very important humility was to my continued sobriety. I became reconciled to the definition I found in a new, revised dictionary: "Humble indicates a personal realization of smallness, without loss of respect, and differs from humiliation, which implies public shame in front of others or being made to seem foolish or inferior" and "to be neither inordinately proud of our talents and assets, nor ashamed of our defects or failures, nor unduly on the defensive over them." Also: "free from vanity."
In other words (I quote Tryon Edwards): "True humility is not an abject, despising spirit; it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us."
My willingness to have my defects of character removed was bolstered by the realization that little, if any, spiritual growth was possible as long as I held on to my old ideas and defects. The words in our Big Book keep appearing before me: "Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well, regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house." This is what Step Seven is to me; it means I am going to clean house and I will have all the help I need. By taking this Step, I am not giving up anything; I am getting rid of whatever might lead me to drink again and whatever might prevent achieving real serenity. Now, with God's help and my own cooperation, via Step Seven, I can become on the individual level a first-rate power, instead of the second-rate power that I was before AA. (I was truly suffering from an immense power failure--or bad wiring.)
I have a favorite reminder which helps me keep Step Seven in view: "At moments she discovered she was grotesquely wrong, and then she treated herself to a week of passionate humility." This quote from the works of Henry James has become part of my inventory.
I believe that through the first six Steps I have gained some knowledge of my character defects and that I know (at least in part and at times) what I need to get rid of! It is certainly no problem for me to humbly ask my Higher Power to remove them, either. I never did know what to do with them before. Besides, my pride is the only thing I can swallow any more that is nonfattening. In fact, this diet tends to reduce the ego and eliminate fatheads--mine, anyhow.
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When it was first published in 1944, AA Grapevine caught on immediately as a way to connect soldiers in isolated military bases round the world who thought of the magazine as “AA’s meeting in print.” This powerful collection of personal accounts by members of Alcoholics Anonymous illustrates the challenges alcoholics in uniform encounter while under stress and far away from home.
Filled with stories of experience, strength and hope by the men and women who have served their country on land, at sea and by air, and including a poignant selection of stories contributed by sober veterans titled “Coming Home,” AA in the Military is the perfect read for current members of the armed forces, military veterans, and those who support them.
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