Working the Steps
“LACK OF POWER, that was our dilemma.” “Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.”
When I was an active drinker, I couldn’t see past my character defects– was controlled and blinded by them. I resented almost everyone I came in contact with on a regular basis, especially close relatives and work associates. I blamed them for my bad feelings about life and myself. I was dishonest in my thinking and full of self-pity. I was in constant fear of others and their opinions of me. I took little action and spent my life reacting to others. My anger exploded into all areas of my life. I envied those who appeared to be successful and happier than I was. Needless to say, I was very unhappy and felt I deserved to drink.
My character defects always led me back to drinking. I was unable to accept them as a part of life–I thought I was supposed to be perfect and felt guilty because I wasn’t. The guilt overpowered me. Drinking helped me overlook these character defects, but they would reappear when I sobered up the next day. I would drink again, and the vicious circle continued.
But I couldn’t see any of this. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. Left to my own devices, I was self-destructive. On my own, I had no effective mental defense, against drinking or my character defects.
After sobering up through Alcoholics Anonymous and staying sober for the last nine and a half years, I am still overwhelmed by my character defects. Left to my own devices, and without the Higher Power, I would soon destroy myself.
How does one tune in to the Higher Power? The answer I have learned from AA is to recharge my spiritual battery every day–“you can’t pull today’s load with yesterday’s horse.” I recharge myself by being an active member of the Fellowship and working the Twelve Steps on a continuous basis.
In order to have a strong defense against the first drink and my character defects, I must make acts of surrender. These include working all the Steps repeatedly; going to meetings; talking honestly with fellow AAs (sponsor or close friends) on a regular basis and telling them what is going on in my life; helping other alcoholics by showing an active interest in their sobriety and well-being; and giving service to the Fellowship. All these actions help free me from selfishness in its various forms.
I can still be blinded by character defects at times, but my freedom is achieved by working the Twelve Steps, which give me sanity and certain insights into what I ought to do. I learn, or am more ready to learn, what God’s will is for me.
Saying the prayers in the Third and Seventh Steps regularly, on the phone and in person with other AAs, shows a willingness to grow. Writing out a Fourth Step inventory, as suggested on page 65 of the Big Book, is concrete work on my character defects. I admit that I have them, that I am human. Rigorous honesty is the key–especially about things I wouldn’t want others to know.
Swapping a Fifth Step with another AA is a major move toward freedom from selfishness. But more importantly, the Big Book says that if we skip this Step we may drink again.
I show that I am entirely ready, as Step Six suggests, by working all the Steps on a continuous basis.
Step Seven involves sincere repetition of the Seventh Step prayer, alone or with other AAs.
In Step Eight, I make a list of people or institutions I have harmed before I became an alcoholic, during my active drinking, and in sobriety. The list can be started in seconds; I simply pick up a pencil and paper and start to write. The “Twelve and Twelve” says to search our memories as far back as possible when we write the names of people we have harmed. This helps us to accept responsibility for the past, and reduces guilt for our misconduct.
I have rewritten my amends list several times because new names appeared to me. I do not believe I would have thought of these names without the previous lists. In the process of making the earlier ones, enough guilt was removed to allow me to be aware of additional amends I owed. Freedom from past conduct was achieved when I admitted I was at fault and became willing to make the amends. Like peeling the layers on an onion, I had to take action on the first list before the other names came to mind for the next.
Step Nine is a major help in healing present relationships and clearing up the wreckage of the past. By going to the people or institutions on the written list, and telling them that I am sorry for any harm or injury I caused them, I am freeing myself from the bad effects of my previous conduct. I am setting things right as much as possible and being responsible. If material or monetary amends are owed, I agree to pay what I can now and set up a payment plan for what I owe. This type of work on Step Nine has freed me from fears about the past and given me more energy to devote to present-day living–this twenty-four hours. Working the Steps is an effective way to treat my alcoholism, and the surest demonstration of my willingness to grow.
Step Ten is a daily inventory of my conduct over the past twenty-four hours, and involves sincere, honest discussions with other AAs. I work Step Eleven by saying the prayers in the Third and Seventh Steps, the Serenity Prayer, and other prayers of surrender, in the morning and evening, and during the day. Seeking God’s will through meditation is an effort and takes discipline. In a quiet place, I sit on a straight-backed chair, in a comfortable position, and repeat a phrase or word such as “truth,” “God is love,” thoughts about present activities or the next day’s events. Then I return to the phrase or word and repeat it until my mind wanders to other thoughts. I repeat this process over and over. Practicing is the key. I began with two, three, or five minutes twice a day, and as time passed I increased the amount. The benefits are many, and vary in quality and quantity. Little daily problems disappear; life is much smoother. The effort alone provides an emotional shield from a lot of the usual worries and anxieties. Try it–it works.
Step Twelve is helping others work the Steps on a continuous basis. By working with others, we become what we should be, save our lives in the bargain. The desire to drink is removed a day at a time when we maintain our spiritual condition. All the Steps are ego-reducing in nature. They help us to be more human, and for some of us, entering the human sphere has been a long journey. When we accept the human condition and our own mistakes, the give-and-take of life becomes greater. The idea that God’s will is best for us looms larger, as an eternal truth to be used in daily living. The need to prove we can do it all, without anyone else’s help, is drastically reduced. Sincere thoughts toward others enter our minds more often. Life is worthwhile–tough at times, but still tolerable.
Through the Steps, the Fellowship, and the Power greater than ourselves, our lives become meaningful, and we receive worthwhile answers to the question “Can you make your defects your greatest assets?” Using the Twelve Steps of AA as my life’s plan in working on my defects, I am able to create assets. My willingness to grow, spurred on by others making similar efforts, gives me sobriety a day at a time, and freedom from the bondage of self. And in large measure, that’s serenity.