Step Seven – Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
After several years of enjoyable sobriety I was suddenly seized by negative thinking so devastating that it wiped out my peace of mind, undermined my ability to work, and might eventually have sent me back to drinking. Today, with thirty years of continuous abstinence, I am convinced that I was saved from relapse by applying Step Seven fervently and in desperation.
When I was only a few months sober in AA I had included Step Seven in my self-directed crash course in the entire Twelve. While my Step Four inventory and Step Five were as thorough and honest as I could make them at the time, and were repeated a year later, my treatment of Steps Six and Seven was superficial, little more than turns around the pylon without reducing speed. After a perfunctory, “Yes, God, I humbly ask you to remove whatever shortcomings I might happen to have,” I moved on to the later Steps.
At that time I didn’t feel it necessary to itemize for my Higher Power exactly what those defects and shortcomings actually were. After all, he should know. Wasn’t he listening during my Fifth Step? I know now that I also skipped too lightly over Steps Eight and Nine. While I did make some difficult amends, I am abashed today at how blind I was to the need to make certain others.
Lest this confession be seized upon by newcomers as evidence that an alcoholic can safely go easy on the Steps, I had other support. Members of my home group in North Hollywood, California, dragged me along on Twelfth Step calls and flung me into group assignments despite my touchingly modest protests that I didn’t want my inexperience to embarrass AA as a whole. Working with other alcoholics and performing services for my group may have helped me reduce some of my defects even though I had not fully confronted them.
When I later applied Step Seven during a mental and emotional crisis in my seventh year in AA, it was not, like the first encounter, a casual ritual. After I describe my crisis you are apt to think, “Anybody who makes a big crippling issue out of such triviality is certainly neurotic!”
Good! You are now prepared to appreciate my difficulty. If alcoholics or others become upset over a death, job loss, or a broken relationship, they can talk about it or cry about it with dignity. Their problem will be heard with respect and sympathy. But a neurotic’s problem is based on an inner conflict that he is in some way ashamed of, and he knows no one will understand. I knew my problem was petty, yet it was overwhelmingly painful and paralyzing.
My “crisis” came at a time when everything was going well. I was then a television writer in Los Angeles, and had begun to sell scripts regularly to situation comedy programs, a new field for me. I was faithfully attending several AA meetings a week, was active in the local central office (intergroup), and was frequently invited to speak at meetings, including some out-of-state AA conferences.
The previous year I had contributed sketches for a variety show to benefit a halfway house for male alcoholics. AAs and nonalcoholics in the entertainment industry had freely contributed their various talents to the production. It was successful, and now a show was planned to benefit a similar house for alcoholic women. I submitted several sketches for the new revue at the request of the production committee.
While busy at work on TV scripts for which I was being very well paid, I heard from an acquaintance that someone on the benefit show’s production staff didn’t think my sketches were funny.
There. That’s the crisis. Big deal, huh?
I brooded over this reported verdict. I knew this one member of the script committee didn’t have the final say on selecting material. Further, he was not in the industry, and could well lack the special ability to judge from a typewritten script whether the material would “play well” when performed on stage by skilled actors. His opinion, if in the minority, would be overruled by the other committee people, both laymen and professionals.
This knowledge in no way reduced my discomfort. To get my mind off this rejection, I tried logic. After all, it was only a benefit show, and all of us were donating our talent. On the other hand, my TV scripts were being readily approved by the producer and I was earning more money than at any other time in my life.
Logic didn’t help. I was obsessed to the point that I could think of nothing else. I even tried self-ridicule. Shakespeare and Hemingway had their detractors, even among literary scholars. So who was I to get upset over this third-party report that my work wasn’t appreciated by a real estate agent or a bookkeeper?
I went on brooding.
Sitting alone in a restaurant one afternoon, I realized if I didn’t rid myself of this obsession I would be unable to do the work I was being highly paid for. Also, a negative state like this was actually a dry drunk. Unless terminated it would result in loss of writing assignments and sense of failure likely to get me back on booze.
This at last turned my mind to the Steps. I reviewed them one by one. Nothing in the first five offered a solution. None offered a visible handle that I might grasp to get out of my misery. Something was blocking me from being able to turn my will and my life over to the care of God, as Step Three suggests. Then I pondered Step Six. Was I ready to have God remove all my defects of character? A new thought arose.
Was it possible that my psychic pain came not from the situation but from a defect of character? If so, I definitely wanted it–or them–removed. But I had to know which ones were involved, lest like the demons in the New Testament they return after the empty house had been swept clean.
In a moment I was identifying resentment, the alcoholic’s Number One Offender: I resented my critic’s unflattering opinion. Only when illuminated by Step Six did I see that my problem involved resentment.
Like all TV writers I had experienced many rejections of my story ideas and scripts by producers and story editors. After normal disappointment I quickly bounced back and returned with new ideas. So why this intense depression over this nonprofessional’s viewpoint that did not in the least affect my livelihood? What character defect might I be demonstrating?
The reader of course has already spotted my difficulty: Pride!
My alcoholic ego, sufficiently smashed seven years before to permit me several years of comfortable sobriety, had returned during my recent good fortune in a difficult occupation. I had become intolerant of the slightest bit of criticism. My pride was now hurting so much that I was not only ready but almost frantic to have that defect removed.
Silently at the restaurant table I bowed my head and humbly asked God to remove that pride, referring to it by name. Head still bowed I reflected honestly that I had turned to God only because I was in pain. It was then that I added this to my prayer:
“If it is necessary for me to hurt in order to be rid of the defect, then take the defect and leave the pain!”
In a split second the pain was gone, and I was free of the crippling obsession that had tortured me for nearly two weeks. Step Seven, sincerely and intensely uttered in silent prayer, had done what my own reasoning, common sense and self-ridicule were powerless to achieve.
My acquaintances will attest that my Higher Power did not completely and permanently remove my false pride. It returns more often (I am sure) than I am aware. But so far, in the twenty-three years since my prayer in the restaurant, pride has not returned so overwhelmingly. Identified for what it is, it shrinks enough to prevent serious damage to myself and others.
Admittedly my problem was based on a triviality, but it was leading to disaster. My AA experience in four widely separated States of the Union teaches me that we alcoholics return to drink far more often because of petty difficulties than because of life’s serious setbacks and tragedies. The big problems seem to bring out our virtues, petty ones our faults.
For God to remove our shortcomings, we need to identify the defect for what it is. Thus we attain the humility required by Step Seven. And certainly the most difficult fault to see in ourselves is pride, aptly termed the first deadly sin.