One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 6. Here are the others: Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, Step 4, Step 5. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!
“Were entirely willing to have God remove all these defects of character.” (Step 6)
“When men and women pour so much alcohol into themselves that they destroy their lives, they commit a most unnatural act. Defying their instinctive desire for self-preservation, they seem bent upon self-destruction. They work against their own deepest instinct. As they are humbled by the terrific beating administered by alcohol, the grace of God can enter them and expel their obsession. Here their powerful instinct to live can cooperate fully with their Creator’s desire to give them new life. For nature and God alike abhor suicide” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 64).
A clergyman friend of Bill Wilson once said that Step 6 separates the men/women from the boys/girls. Why is that? Up to this point in the process, the recovering addict has admitted the addiction, reconnected with God, practiced extreme self-reflection, and confessed their wrongdoings to God and another person.
So what could possibly be so profound about becoming “entirely willing”? For the clergyman, it was precisely that: willingness. As the alcoholic learns through the process of the 12 Steps, the alcohol is only a symptom of a greater problem. An alcoholic without alcohol still has a long way to go in recovery.
As Wilson states in the above quote, the alcoholic’s life is quite an oxymoron: the addict wants to live a long and healthy life, but because something is lacking they turn to alcohol and instead start to destroy that life. Once the alcohol is removed, God can enter. Once God enters, the desire to live a healthy life can partner with God instead of alcohol.
But to live a healthy, prosperous, mature life one must be rid of all those character defects that led to addiction in the first place. This is where that separation comes in: putting down the drug of one’s addiction is only part of the recovery process. Those who can venture forth and become entirely willing to have God change their lives are the ones who will be more likely to enjoy long-term sobriety.
So what does all this mean for friends, family, and spiritual communities? How can they help recovering addicts at this point in the recovery process?
First, remember that the drug or the alcohol or the obsession is not the only thing the addict is recovering from. It is easy to pigeonhole people into certain categories. We think the alcoholic just needs to get rid of alcohol in order to be well. This is rarely true. We do recovering addicts a great disservice when we walk away from them saying, “They have given up their drug; they are good to go!” Those in recovery are in great need of support long after the obsession to use is gone.
Second, for many recovering addicts the process of asking God to remove character defects is harder than asking God to take the drug away. As I mentioned, drinking or drugging is just a symptom of a greater problem. Once I quit drinking, my struggles with manipulating others and dishonesty became much more apparent. And just like I justified my drinking (“it’s not that big a deal”), I justified my lying (“I am only protecting others”). Just as I learned I could no longer come up with excuses to drink, I also learned that I could no longer come up with excuses to be dishonest with others. I cannot tell you which process was more difficult. But I can assure you my process of recovery did not stop once I quit ingesting alcohol. My process of recovery had only just begun.
Third, acknowledge the common experience we share as humans and as Christ-followers. If churches are going to do a better job helping recovering addicts, we are all going to need to do a better job realizing how much community support we all need to overcome our struggles and temptations. We are all going to need to a better job admitting just how tightly we cling to some of our character defects. If you have ever said, “That’s just the way I am,” you have experienced the struggle of the recovering alcoholic. Let us not allow one another to get away with that any more. Let us all work together to become the people God has called us to be. And let us do it together.