One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 7. 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!
“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings” (Step 7).
“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” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 76).
“For thousands of years we have been demanding more than our share of security, prestige, and romance. When we seemed to be succeeding, we drank to dream still greater dreams. When we were frustrated, even in part, we drank for oblivion. Never was there enough of what we thought we wanted. In all these strivings, so many of them well-intentioned, our crippling handicap had been our lack of humility. We had lacked the perspective to see that character-building and spiritual values had to come first, and that material satisfactions were not the purpose of living” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 71).
The 12 Step process is exactly that: a process. In Step 6, the recovering alcoholic becomes willing. Nothing can happen without willingness. Once the alcoholic is willing, they turn to their God. We do so humbly.
Humility is a difficult concept for most humans. Bill Wilson suggests that most people hate the word and the concept. But for addicts, there seems to be an increased struggle with the idea. Everything about addiction screams selfishness and pride: “I want what I want when I want it and I deserve it. Now.”
It is the lack of humility that drives the force of the drinking. When things are good, we celebrate as much as we can because we have earned it. When things are bad, we drown our sorrows as much as we can because no one has ever experienced the depths of the despair that we have. Because of our pride we drink.
This is often difficult to grasp: the drug is not the issue for the addict. The issue is the lack of humility that exists in the addict. Removing the drug or the drink is a vitally important step in the process.
But it is far from the final one.
Closely linked with our lack of humility is fear. As Wilson says, “The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear—primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration.”
Again, this is not directly linked to the alcohol. It is linked to the pride. If I am to give up control of my life, if I am to truly ask humbly to have my shortcomings taken away, I will likely not get my way. And if I don’t get my way, I have no idea what might happen.
And that fear drives us to think we must be in complete control of everything at all times, and that control leads us to drink to dream higher dreams or to drink to oblivion to forget everything around us.
The alcohol is such a small part of our disease. The lack of humility and presence of fear are much more damaging. And in Step 7, after we have become willing, we humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings. We have put down the substance of our addiction. We now move on to removing those things that fed the addiction.
So what role can non-addicts play in supporting those who are in recovery at this stage in the process?
First, remember that you cannot force another person into humility. Forcing others to practice humility is just another form of humiliation. And if you gain nothing else from all of these posts on the 12 Steps, please get this: every addict and alcoholic has suffered more than their fair share of humiliation; it is the last thing they need.
This is based purely on my experience and anecdotal evidence, it is not scientifically proven: I believe the worst thing churches and families have done to people in recovery is brand them with a new kind of scarlet A. Churches and families believe the recovering addict needs to jump through humiliating hoops in order to prove their worthiness. As if breaking the cycle of addiction, dealing with all the consequences of their addicted lives, and adjusting to life without the drug is not enough, now others want to make people prove they are good enough?
In church communities and in families recovering addicts are often singled out. Maybe this is because the results of being drunk or being high are often obvious and public. Maybe it is because relapse rates are high and there is always a question if someone will maintain their sobriety.
But a recovering alcoholic should have to do nothing no other member of a faith community has to do to prove his or her worth. All of us are unworthy. All of us are in need of grace. Alcoholics/Addicts don’t need more. Treating like they do does not increase their opportunities for humility; it only humiliates them.
Second, practice and share humility in community. Step 7 is when recovering addicts and alcoholics pray to have God take every bad thing away. The prayer asks for every defect of character, everything that stands in the way of our usefulness, to be taken away. Alcoholics, indeed any type of addict, deal with much more than just the substance of the addiction. There is pride, fear, greed, shame, dishonesty, and so much more that drives the addiction.
In recovery, we ask for all of those things to be taken away. Just like any Christian should. AA has thrived for over 75 years because they have grasped the meaning and importance of community. One alcoholic helping another alcoholic. The model has sprouted at least 50+ groups (12step.com has a list of them).
But in churches, we often miss both the meaning and importance of community. There is nothing unique to the alcoholic’s experience in recovery. The addict reconnects with God, spends time in personal reflection, makes necessary personal changes, and then works to reconcile with others (the next 2 steps). These are all things every Christian should be doing.
So let’s do this together. I need my brothers and sisters who are not recovering addicts to walk alongside me. Allow me to see that you struggle in ways that I may not. Learn from me and my story of addiction. Let’s tell each other our stories. Let’s pray for each other. Let’s learn what humility truly is together. Let’s walk hand in hand so that we can overcome our fears together.
This is a process. It is a process that demands community.