Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Step Six

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

Step Six, for me, is all about accepting and allowing change. Having identified the aspects of myself holding me back, not only from something greater than myself, but also others and the potential life I could begin living if only I followed this program, I was asked to open the Big Book again:

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? If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us be willing. (BB p.76)

I had worked through Steps Four and Five, I now sat with Six and Seven. Six being willingness to let go of those things which no longer serve me;

God help me become willing to let go of all the things to which I still cling. Help me to be ready to let You remove all of these defects, that Your will and purpose may take their place. Amen
(BB p.76)

And Seven, asking for God (a higher aspect of myself - the "best" me I can and could be) to remove those parts of 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."
( BB p.76)

In order to practice a new way of being, to develop new ways of livings and to change the way I am in the world, I needed to uncover who I was; this was Step Four, and to then make it objectionable; this was Step Five. Objectionable is about perspective. It is about seeing your whole self through fresh eyes. At least, that is my understanding of it. To pause, slow down, and look at the work I have done so far. I saw with honesty and compassion where I wanted to change and grow. I saw where I needed to change. To let go and let God.
At that point, I ask, am I now entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character? I was. I was ready to let of what no longer served me and drop my attachments to those things.


Over the years I knew I had developed destructive and counter productive behaviours, but even when these had been eradicated or were in remission, I was still trapped in old ways of thinking, believing and acting. Those ways stopped serving me a long long time ago. They no longer gave me anything. I could change and amend the behaviours - drinking, eating disorders, self-medicating, self-harming, BUT I also had to completely shift how I saw and thought about myself and the world. It is the Big Book which offers a solution to the spiritual malady we suffer from. As recovering addicts, we can be free from our old obsessions contingent on following the AA 12 Step Program of recovery. One of the Promises of the program is; our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. The Big Book continues; Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. (p.27)

Instead, of hurting others and myself repeatedly, I wanted to heal. Heal myself, make myself whole, and with some hope, allow others the same. Stepping into Step Six, I had to have faith. Faith, I was going to be okay no matter what. Faith, I could and would be a stronger, better person if I followed this path. 

Early in sobriety I remember seeing the following quoted in some of the literature recommended to me; I face death every day. (1 Corinthians 15:31, The New Testament) I thought immediately of the St Francis Prayer, which is adapted and used as the step eleven prayer in AA, and the last lines which read; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Each day, I would surrender myself, and offer myself to the new day. I would let go of yesterday, not race ahead into tomorrow, and live in the now. Moment by moment. A day at a time.

I am forever grateful that my first AA meeting was a Step Eleven meeting, and from day one, I was made aware of the beautiful prayer of St Francis. So when it came to working my steps, I already had a grounding in the spiritual living the program asks of us to practice. From early on, I could see why Step Six was an incredibly essential part of the process. This was letting faith in through the door. This was the first time I would be truly tested in the connection I had to my higher power. I was letting go of my old self. And I was terrified. As fucked up as my thoughts and behaviours had been up until this point, in some backwards way, they had got me so far. What had started as dysfunctional maladjusted coping mechanisms to help get me through life. To help me cope with a life I had no idea how to live without those coping mechanisms, I was about to let go and learn a whole new way of being. What incredible terror that evoked in me, and yet what incredible freedom I knew lay ahead in that.


For many years of sickness, I had lost any concept of myself. Even answering to my name had become something in the past. I didn't know who I was. Before sobriety, I had learnt an awful lot about myself. Recovering from a deadly and crippling Eating Disorder gave me gifts I have carried with me through the years prior to getting to AA. Trauma therapy, significant amounts of psychotherapy, creative therapies, pharmaceutical intervention and endless hospitalisations, surely had taught me something. But even with that, it wasn't enough. As addiction took over yet again, all I had worked for began to slide again. This was my pattern of recovery... learning new ways or living and being, and as soon as I picked up and my recovery strengthened, I became complacent. And if it wasn't complacency, I know, I struggled with believing I was even worth recovery.

The work began here for me. Having suffered severely at the hands of various mental health struggles, most recently diagnosed as Bipolar after years of misdiagnoses, I was still lost as to knowing and understanding who I was - what was me? what was sickness? what could be changed? what couldn't be changed? If I was to find willingness to let go, and then ask for something greater than me to remove such parts of myself, I needed to figure this out.The depth of that, is still something I am working on. I still don't have, and most probably never will, have a clear cut idea of what what's, as it were. However, what is evident now, almost 20 months into sobriety, is I have experienced the psychic change, so promised in AA. Being given a toolbox of resources, magical, spiritual and healing people to surround myself with, and a daily meditation practice, I am a far cry from the lost scared girl who walked into her first meeting.

Here is what I do know. Where I once was clouded with resentments and anger, I have replaced (to the best of my ability, and I am certainly a work in progress!) with love. I always loved; deeply, intensely, and yet it was to fill a void. I always saw, and still do, the best in others, but now I try to drop the conditions. I knew unconditional love, I gave it to others, asking for nothing back, but I didn't know how to love myself. As long as I didn't love myself, I held myself to different standards, and when I couldn't meet my own standards I looked to others and expected them to meet them. I was in a constant battle of exhausting myself with giving to others; love, time, affection, and giving it in all the places and all the people who could never give that back. I got angry, resentful, and lived in fear of never ever feeling full or complete. So, I was taught to practice principles of the program; patience, tolerance, kindliness and love. Even before completing my steps, I could see how I was living aspects of each one as I went along. I carried a prayer sheet with me everywhere when I first got sober. I still have it! But as time passed I began to know each prayer off by heart. This is one I always kept close, even though at that point I didn't fully understand it or what I was doing, I still read them over and over:

"God give me the strength and direction to do the right thing no matter what the consequences may be. Help me to consider others and not harm them in any way. Help me to consult with others before I take any actions that would cause me to be sorry. Help me to not repeat such behaviors. Show me the way of Patience, Tolerance, Kindliness, and Love and help me live the spiritual life. Amen.
(p. 78-80 BB)

Doing the right thing, not what I want or think is right, but the thing which will hurt myself and others the least I can. To go through my days mindfully with care and compassion towards, again, myself AND others. If I am not sure what the next best thing is, I can always take the next indicated action - one being reaching out to others. Taking time to respond and not react. Discuss, share, gain objectivity. This is another tool and gift from AA... a selection of ways to live life on life's terms. The next, to learn from my experiences, reactions, behaviours. Where have I repeatedly fucked up? How can I change that? Essentially living your amends and owning your part on situations, conflict or people you clash with. This can be done with a nightly inventory, or spot check inventory. I am not saying by this point in the steps you are necessarily aware of aspects of the following steps. What happened for me, was I felt I was doing the Steps from Twelve to One and not One to Twelve. I was in the early stages of an intense period of learning. I was at daily meetings, talking to others, learning about the steps (in Step Meetings), learning about the contents of the Big Book (at Book Studies), learning what it was to share, recover and gain strength in the program. I was also under spiritual guidance from day one. I was learning, learning so much and very quickly. I couldn't put all the pieces together, ie. have full awareness of how the program came together, I was however picking up jigsaw pieces each day, and those pieces would then all come together when I completed my Step work.

If I practised daily; patience, tolerance, kindliness and love, would my life change? Yep! And that has been the biggest change for me and in me. Repeating the prayers. Not just one, but all of them. Day in day out I learnt those prayers. They didn't mean what they mean to me now, because as said, the jigsaw had not been pulled together, but the lines themselves began to shape the person I am today. With practice, I have slowly let go of my old thoughts and behaviours. I have learnt to recognise my old thought patterns and change or amend them accordingly. Through pain and pain and pain, I have been able to see where although it hurts to let go of old coping mechanisms, in time, after weeks or months in unknown land, I have found the new. Where I was filled with fear, is filled with courage. Each day, I grow spiritually.

Simone Weil wrote; Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself, which makes this void.

And in that space, has come the development of who I truly am. Not who I am masked in despair, addiction and fear. Not the reactive, resentful, scared and angry person I once was. 

I am by NO means perfect. My stage of recovery is fairly new, and I have an awful lot to learn. But my life has changed, and it has changed because I changed it. I am becoming. I am growing. I am evolving. I can finally see, with clear eyes, who and what I can become if I keep doing what I need to do; work this program and listen to others suggestions.


As well as addiction, I do suffer with Bipolar. I cannot change how I feel on waking. I cannot predict what is ahead, or when I might slip with my mood or struggles. What I do now know, is I can change my reaction to these things. I may still suffer at the hands of mental illness, but that suffering can be managed, made more bearable, knowing I have a program. It might not always change what is happening, I may have a really shitty day and it lasts for the rest of the week, but I have a life jacket, I have something helping me stay above water, even if at times during that, I sink under. I am powerless over what is ahead and what may happen to me with my mental illness, but I have faith. A huge fucking heap of it, because, because, I have this journey to look back on and forward with. There is hope. There is trust. I will be okay, I will. No matter what. I have to trust in that itself.I am learning to live, and live that life on life's terms.

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