Search This Blog

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Steps 6 & 7: In the 'Big Book' and Beyond

The most obvious difference between the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are in Steps Six and Seven. First printed in 1939 and 1952, respectively, both were principally authored by AA co-founder Bill Wilson. But while Step Seven in the 'Big Book' consists of a single prayer (on page 76) that can, and should, be often repeated while we continue to re-work the 12 Steps after our initial go-through, there is no equivalent formula for how to re-work Step 6. Yet, we are told, Step Six is "the step that separates the men from the boys."

It is recognized and  recommended by the overwhelming majority in AA that the newcomer is best served by initially going through the 12 Steps as they are laid out in the "Big Book.' And, indeed, if our collective experience is an attestation of their effectiveness, the way the Twelve Steps are laid out in the 'Big Book' is the most effective way for a newcomer to obtain relief from alcoholic addiction and to enter into a conscious relationship with the God of his or her own understanding.

That being said, how then is the 'veteran AA member' living the Steps on a daily basis best able to benefit from Step Six as it is laid out in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions?

In the Step Six essay in the Twelve and Twelve, Bill reviews how active alcoholism goes against one's natural instincts or 'desires' for self-preservation.
"Defying their instinctive drive for self-preservation, they seem bent upon self-destruction. They work against their own deepest instincts. 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 co-operate fully with their Creator's desire to give them new life. For nature and God alike abhor suicide."
[Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 64.]
"(God) did not design man to destroy himself by alcohol," Bill notes, "but He did give man instincts to help him to stay alive." Thus, if one reads closely, it quickly becomes clear that Step Six is all about mastering our most basic or primary instincts, desires and drives, so that we can live to higher purpose, and hope to fulfill the much higher drives which may only be recognized and fulfilled when our lower drives are mastered.

Reinhold Niebuhr
In this vein,  the renowned theologist, Reinhold Niebuhr (author of the Serenity Prayer), observed:
"Individual self-hood is expressed in the self's capacity for self-transcendence and not in its rational capacity for conceptual and analytic procedures."
["The Nature and Destiny of Man," preface to vol. 1.]
 Man's innate drive for self-transcendence - the impetus, or driving force, of all spiritual awakenings - is thus a higher order instinctive drive, but one that may be followed only when our more basic drives for food, shelter, sex and security etc. are either first fulfilled or conquered. For until these lower drives are fulfilled or conquered the individual's thinking will tend to be dominated by an egoic, self conscious bent on using all its conceptual and analytic prowess to fulfill these often unquenchable desires.

Bill Wilson
(1895 -1971)
In addressing these lower "desires" or instinctive drives, Bill  observes:
"Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn't strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due to us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our sins."
[Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 65; emphasis added.]
Thus it is a failure to address or challenge our lower instinctive drives - be they for sex-relations, security, self-esteem, social relationships, or any other such "needs" recognized in our Step Four inventory - that prevents our spiritual growth. These unquenched lower instinctive drives "(are) the measure," or create the mental 'room,' for our overblown drives/character defects to operate within.

Addressing the ever finer permutations of these lower instincts will result in spiritual progress, and that is what we are encouraged to seek in order to attain and maintain a spiritual awakening, knowing that we will never achieve complete spiritual perfection. It is, thus, in our willingness to strive for ever greater spiritual progress, instead of settling for having only the worst of our character defects addressed, that is the mark of the true spiritual aspirant willing to grow in God.

Or, as Bil so presciently notes:
"Some people, of course, may conclude that they are indeed ready to have all such defects taken from them. But even these people, if they construct a list of still milder defects, will be obliged to admit that they prefer to hang on to some of them. Therefore, it seems plain that few of us can quickly or easily become ready to aim at spiritual perfection; we want to settle for only as much perfection as will get us by in life, according, of course, to our various and sundry ideas of what will get us by. So the difference between "the boys and the men" is the difference between striving for a self-determined objective and for the perfect objective which is of God."
Thus, while Step Six in the 'Big Book' requires that we take a quiet time after completing Step Five to assess how thoroughly we have worked the Steps and to see if we've scrimped or left anything out, in the Twelve and Twelve we are asked to continually look at ever-greater depth to list and weed out the ever milder defects that continue to separate us from spiritual perfection, knowing that such perfection will ever elude us.

No comments:

Post a Comment