Step of the Month: Humbly asked

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Because in Step 7 so much of importance occurs inside of us, we typically focus on the the removal of our shortcomings. We didn’t just write all that moral inventory and share it with our sponsor so that the bad stuff stays stuck inside us! This is a big deal. It’s where God makes good on the third step prayer. We said we’d try it God’s way, and in exchange God removes our troubles. It’s a miracle.

But we might be wise to pause for a moment on the leading adverb of the sentence: Humbly. Why did Bill W. and the gang slip that small but important word there? Those folks knew a thing or two about how us addicts work. They know that a lack of humility is an issue for us. Self-centeredness is self-centeredness whether we think we are better than everyone else or worse than everyone else. Whether we have delusions of superiority or delusions of inferiority. Either way, we are not able to assess ourselves humbly.

People like us are stubborn. Or perhaps it’s that our disease place stubborn ideas in our heads. For example, the idea that we have to be able to do the job ourselves. Whatever the job is. Or that we don’t need fixing, but everyone else does. Or that we know what actually needs to removed from us. In fact, we may know, but we may not have much perspective about the relative importance of each item that requires extraction. Finally, we may have the idea that we aren’t worth saving. That old saw has killed a lot of addicts. It’s another bit of old thinking that is self-centered in nature and has to go. It’s not humble to think that we are uniquely awful in our HP’s eyes.

If we have done the first six Steps well and learned to trust and rely on God by working them, then it is very likely that we are well and ready to ask for the removal of our shortcomings in the same way that Ebenezer Scrooge asked to be saved from the torment of understanding the terrible effect of his words and deeds on others. In the Big Book, on page 75, the authors ask us to consider whether we’ve done the work of the first five Steps well, whether we are truly ready to be changed by our Higher Power. Why would they ask this? Aren’t we all ready to have the scourge of addiction lifted from us?

Maybe we are in some ways and not others.

Are we hoping to have our obsession lifted but hang onto the worst of our defects? Are we hoping to have our obsession lifted merely to improve our life circumstances with little care for living in the solution thereafter? Are we we hoping to have the obsession lifted and then go on our merry way without returning again to help others like us? Perhaps most important: Do we still want to run the show? Or think we aren’t worth saving?

Of course, we all want to run the show. That’s how we are as addicts. We want freedom from discomfort and feelings more than anything. But if that freedom has to come via mechanisms we control, then we have not absorbed the solution. Our freedom comes from dependence on God, not merely with independence from food. So this simple little word, humbly, keys us into the idea that we still have more to learn. Humble is related to humility, a word that describes being teachable. Are we asking God to remove these objectionable items so we can learn more about our nascent spirituality? Or only for selfish reasons.

We here from long-time members and members with strong recovery that we must always stay on guard against our disease. It’s getting worse inside of us even as we’re getting better. We are never immune to its attacks on our thinking, even if we’ve got 10,000 days of abstinence. “Lurking notions” likely linger inside all of us. Step 7 is the archway we walk through into a new life of sobriety and freedom. But it does have conditions, the most important being the willingness to standing on a humble spiritual footing and to continue to maintain and expand it one day at a time. Even if it doesn’t come easily or naturally to folks like us.

Step of the Month: Step 7, Surrendering

7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.

We make a lot of surrenders in OA. In Step 1, we finally surrender to the facts—we can’t get over compulsive eating by ourselves. In Steps 2 and 3, we surrender to the idea that there’s something more powerful than our own wills, and that we need spiritual direction to get better. In Steps 4 and 5, we surrender any notion that we were blameless in the mess we’ve made of our lives. In Step 6, we took one last look at the truth of our lives and said, yes, we are ready to have removed those defects of character that got us into this compulsive-eating mess in the first place.

So now comes Step 7, the actual removal.

The action of Step 7 isn’t just in the asking, however. Yes, must ask God, Take this, please. But we also have to take the action of letting go of whatever we’re holding onto. Sometimes we balk at doing so. We’re concerned that without those flaws in our makeup we won’t be ourselves any longer. We’ll just be automatons. “I’d rather be depressed, angry, miserable, and eating my face off,” says some voice in our heads, “than the puppet of some Higher Power I can’t even see.” If our minds, diseased as they are, rebel at Step 7, at the notion of surrendering our defects of character to HP, we might think of some analogies. If our trash smelled putrid on a hot summer day, would we stand at our garbage can, holding the stinking bag over it and wondering whether we should drop it in? If we’re holding a full baby diaper, do we weigh the pros and cons of tossing it in the trash? Don’t we always flush?

We can ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Do the people I know in OA who’ve gone through Step 7 act like Godbots? Or are they choosing to exercise free will in a spiritual way?
  2. Do I really want life to suck, to die young, and to be in mental, spiritual, and physical agony for however many days I have left?

When we put it squarely like that, it’s not much of a choice. We have to let go of, to surrender, our defects if we want to lead a sane and happy life. If we hold onto them for fear of losing control, then our disease has won out, and we will continue to suffer until we are ready to surrender.

But why not simply try it God’s way? Whatever that means to us. If our conception of God remains such that we don’t trust him/her/it/they with our defects of character, then we may need to reconsider that conception and find a God idea that will allow us to transfer this burden.

No matter what, though, anything is likely better than where we’ve been. Anyway, this is a very low-risk proposition. If letting got remove our defects doesn’t ultimately work out, we’ve lost nothing except maybe a few pounds. We can always go back to being miserable if that’s what we want.

Step of the Month: #5 No longer eaten alive

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Ever experience this?

You’ve got a paralyzing fear. Maybe of someone’s opinion. That you’re going to be fired for an error you made. Of pain, disease, or death. You’re furthermore afraid to even speak about this fear because you think you’ll be judged.

Finally, when you’re ready to explode, you ask a best friend or family member or counsellor to listen. It starts coming out, in a gush or a trickle, until you’ve said the whole thing. And as you speak it feels incredibly awkward, but as the words hit the air, the reasonable part of you starts to realize how your unreasonable mind turned something very small, perhaps something whose significance you’ve misinterpreted, into personal armageddon.

The fear diminishes simply by being voiced out loud and listened to in the cold light of day. Ahhhh. Relief, as if a pressure valve had been released.

And then it’s onto the next personal crisis!!! 🙂

Turns out that we compulsive eaters have waited a long time, maybe our entire life, to get this relief. We’ve bottled up every little fear, resentment, judgment, self-hatred, you name it. Deep inside, they live, wriggling around in our stomach like a pile of crazed, squirming worms. When we eat compulsively, we want to bury those horrific feelings-worms in a landslide of food, but somehow, quickly, they poke back up to the surface, so we do it again and again. If only we could feel real relief! But there’s so much of those negative feelings inside us that we despair ever feeling better.

Now that we’ve worked the first four Steps, we’ve been able to inventory those nasty secrets that plague us. We know each and every one of them by name, and we know exactly how they affect us. In Step 5, we read that inventory aloud to God and one other person. Difficult as it may be to speak these things, we do it, and as we do, something curious happens. We start to laugh. We cry. We groan at the repetition. No matter what, we are feeling these feelings in a safe way, and the sound of them is evaporating into the air. Finally, our reasonable, abstinent self can process them without the fog of food and its attendant fear.

The inventory we are reading is an objective one. Just the facts. We start understanding that we can let go of these feelings. That we can let go of the idea that we are irreparably broken. We see in full color the futile way that we’ve lived our life up to now. By the time we finish reading it, we have heard a great deal that is objectionable. We have also observed that our listener has not run away in fear or turned their back on us. If they say anything, it is usually “me too.” In the end, we find out that our foibles and flaws are merely human nature, and that we can forgive ourselves if God can.

In fact, as we complete Step 5, we can see the outlines of what life in food-sobriety is like. We see that in Steps 6 and 7, the slate will be wiped clean by our Higher Power, and we are so ready for that to happen! We feel ready to look at the people in our world as equals. We want to cast aside the fear and loathing that keeps us from being helpful to others. We want to be reliable, trustworthy people who think of someone other than themselves. We see that this Step 5 has given us hope that God will turn all these defects we’ve just read into assets that allow us to be uniquely helpful to other compulsive eaters.

Step of the Month: Step 6

  1. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

The leader of our workshop this past weekend helped us understand the action steps, 4–9. Step 6 doesn’t seem like an action. After all, it’s not even phrased as an action verb: “were entirely ready…”.

So what action are we taking, and why? Well, it’s this simple: We are approaching what might be the most important decision we will make in recovery, the decision to finally stop living our lives on self-will and to start living by God’s will.

As our workshop leader told us, there’s a blurry line between steps 5 and 6. The Big Book tells us, just before step six, that once we’ve read off our inventory we spend an hour with our higher power. Reading that inventory is like watching a slow-motion movie of our life. If we’ve been completely honest and thorough, we will be ready to have all that’s objectionable removed from us. But will we be willing?

On page 76, the Big Book asks, “Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all—every one?” In other words, do we want to keep holding on to a few things? A resentment against someone who wronged us deeply? Justified anger? A comfortable old way of looking at the world that we think keeps us safe from its ups and downs? The way we talk to others? The way we listen, or don’t? Aggressive driving? The need to be right? The need to control? The idea that we can rely on ourselves? Eating compulsively to quash our feelings?

These and a hundred-hundred worn out ideas and ways of conducting ourselves in the world have to go. Otherwise we will eat again. Think of our lives like a damaged ship. We wouldn’t go back to sea having repaired the boat save for one little hole in hull. Even if the hole measured just a few inches across, eventually enough water would stream in that we would sink. It is the same with our recovery. We are about the business of giving ourselves to our higher power so that we can be fully repaired—by God—and sent back into the world to help others. If we deceive ourselves into hanging onto just a couple little things, then, like the ocean filling the ship, our ego will find that weak point and fill our souls back up with the very kind of junk we’d just read about during step 5. The stuff that makes us want to eat.

Yet, despite the fact that we didn’t come into OA on a winning streak, we have this uncanny knack for hanging onto behaviors that have proven again and again to cause us pain and suffering. Step 6 is about getting honest on this account. About finally getting ourselves fully and unquestionably ready to abandon the stuff that doesn’t work in our lives. And because we are probably the worst judges of what does and doesn’t work in our lives, we have to give it all away to God, the good and the bad. That’s how we avoid even the potential for hanging onto to something objectionable that can lead us back to eating again.

Steps 6 and 7 get very little airtime in the Big Book, but they are the turning point in our recovery. Up until then, we’ve been dealing with our problems. Once we get through step 7, we restart our lives in the solution. But for step six, the good news is that we are only becoming perfectly willing, not perfectly able. It turns out that giving away our character defects is a lifelong process, and one that brings us closer and closer to God. So in step 6, we have simply to tell ourselves, that, yes, this is something I’m signing up for. From here on out, I’m going to get out of God’s way by not trying to do it my way.