Humility not Humiliation
By Neil R
Step Seven along with its companion Step six, eluded me for years. Probably, this resulted from my failure to realize that these steps must be worked steadily over time. For me, at least, there would be no immediate release from all of my shortcomings. My belief that there should be such a release, if I worked the program the "right way", led to discouragement, self blame and anger. Even so I was able to make some progress. Pride, arrogance and ego, along with anger, rage and resentment were reduced in intensity and frequency shortly after I asked for their removal. Rarely have they returned to pre-Seventh Step levels. However, there has not been a complete removal of these defects and I have to ask for their removal and deal with them on a continuing basis.
For me much of this step is about humility; the humility to know that I can not remove or even reduce my shortcomings in any meaningful and sustainable way by gritting my teeth and putting my back to it, in other words, by the use of my own unaided will. After acknowledging my defects I must ask for their removal in toto, as well as incrementally. The Seventh Step prayer (page 76, Alcoholics Anonymous), has been very helpful for me. "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".
For me it became important to add myself to the list "my fellows", when saying this prayer. Otherwise it took on a meaning of deprivation and lack of worthiness that did little to further my recovery. In addition to praying for the removal of defects I must co-operate by using my will not to act out my character defects, to the best of my ability.
When I first came into recovery, I thought that humility and humiliation were similar. Humility, in my understanding, meant to put oneself down, (rather than acknowledge one's strengths), and bow, scrape and mumble with downcast eyes. That image is not something I aspired to. In fact it revolted me. In the program, I have heard humility described in various ways that are helpful. One definition of humility comes from the Latin word "humus", which means soil or ground. Others are: "knowledge of one's assets and liabilities without judging them", and "to be right-sized".
Another important word in this Step is shortcomings. It has been said that Bill Wilson once stated that there is no difference between defects of character in the Sixth Step and shortcomings in the Seventh Step. While I have no problem with these terms "defects of character" and "shortcomings" at present, I find that the term "defense mechanisms" is usually more useful to me. Using "defense mechanism" instead of "shortcomings" or "character defect" highlights the fact that there are subconscious thoughts which often drive me to act out in ways that are not in line with my best thinking, highest aspirations and values. Since I can not control what goes on in my subconscious mind, this term further illuminates my need for the help of a higher power.
This Step asks me to put down my whips and chain, to finally stop blaming myself and others in areas where I fall short of the mark. If I could have eliminated my faults on my own, I would have been perfect years ago! However, I can not even though I can control some of my defects to some extent, some of the time. The Seventh Step tells me that I must call upon my Higher Power for help and surrender all to Him if I wish to grow and flower. I must trust and be willing to do whatever work is put in front of me.
If I insist on keeping my character defects by refusing to ask God to remove them or fail to cooperate by doing my share of the work, I am consigned to go into relapse or remain on a plan while living on a plan.
My defects prevent me from living my life fully, abundantly, joyously and freely. Although I have worked this step, as well as the others, very imperfectly, I have already tasted true joy, peace, freedom, love and abundance. I know that I need to continue to look at my defects, become willing to have them removed, on an ongoing basis, ask God to remove them and do my best not to act out on them. If I can do this, I know that my journey to freedom and serenity will continue.