One day he tried what his sponsor had been telling him about Step Seven. Boy, did that feel good.
When I sobered up this last time, my original sponsor coached me on the Seventh Step. He and other members of my home group talked about doing favors, helping others and not getting caught. We were told that doing the right thing and not taking or getting credit for it was good practice toward humility, a key feature of the Step.
Though not stated this way in the Big Book, we talked about character defects being about those things we do that we shouldn’t do. And Step Seven is about doing those things we should be doing but are not. For me, cheating, stealing and lying are behaviors I need to give up. Arriving at work on time, giving my employer a day’s work for a day’s pay, coming home for dinner instead of going to the bar, providing love and comfort to my family—all these and others are the actions I truly need to attend to. My more religious friends might call these things sins of commission or sins of omission. Either way, it became clear to me that I needed to focus on these markers of my character.
My great-grandsponsor told us that AA is a way of life in which drinking alcohol is no longer necessary. If I embrace this way of life and do the work, the alcohol problem will simply be lifted, as is promised in the Tenth Step.
Early in sobriety, I decided to go back to school. The classes I took were held at night, starting at about 5:30 P.M. This meant that I had to park near the campus by 5:15 or so to get to class on time. One day, I parked in a metered spot. The meter’s sign said it needed to be fed until 6:00 P.M; after that time, the spot was free. My glove box contained ignored parking tickets and other traffic summonses. I figured, What does one more mean, one way or the other? and started off down the sidewalk to class. After taking several steps, I stopped. I thought about what my sponsor had been trying to teach me about the Seventh Step. I don’t know what got into me, but I went back and put enough money in the meter to get me through to 6:00 P.M.
As I walked away, an odd new sensation went through me. I felt strangely empowered with an unfamiliar inner peace. My new sense of myself was that I could be someone who does his duty, one who is a contributing member of society. I stood there and chuckled to myself. For a few cents I got to feel this good? What a deal.
That was a beginning for me in using Step Seven to improve my life. Over the years, I have added lots of little actions that no one would notice, actions I don’t get credit for. I look for opportunities to simply make the world slightly better—picking up after myself, letting people pull in to the traffic lane. These seemingly trivial acts calm me, give me the feeling that I’m adding back rather than selfishly taking, as I did during my drinking years. It’s a good feeling, one that adds little sparks of joy to my day.
This Seventh Step work brought me to a dramatic turning point in my attitude. A friend and I were having lunch at a café with outdoor seating. Our table adjoined a busy street that was under construction. There were four lanes, two going in each direction, with concrete barriers separating the opposing lanes. An elderly lady driver turned the wrong way into two lanes where heavy city traffic was coming at her head-on. There was much honking and blinking of headlights from the oncoming cars. She was petrified and froze, her hands gripping the wheel. She stopped her car, blocking both lanes.
My friend and I looked up from our lunches, slightly amused by the spectacle. Suddenly from an adjoining table, a beautiful young woman, dressed fashionably in a business suit, stood, kicked off her high heels and vaulted over the curbside barrier. She held out both hands to halt the traffic. She turned to the paralyzed lady and helped her perform a series of turns that got her headed out of trouble. With the lady on her way, the woman turned, waved the traffic on, vaulted back over the barrier and resumed eating her salad.
To this day, I envy that young woman. I want what she has. I want that instinct to stand up and help. I want that “inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision” that’s promised in our Big Book. I want my service to others to be so instinctive that I can respond like that woman did when the opportunity comes.
The Big Book says that our purpose in doing this work is to “fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.” Practicing the Seventh Step the way I was taught may someday bring me to her admirable level.