For millions of addicts worldwide, the Twelve Steps and Traditions provide the blueprint to break free from the never-ending cycle of addiction and towards a life of healing and hope that can be found in sobriety. If you are starting your journey toward recovery and are beginning to work on the Steps you will notice that each step is a milestone in your journey to recovery and has a theme that you must understand and work through before you can move on. In the earliest steps, you understand the concept of powerlessness in terms of your addiction and learn that you need to turn things over to a Higher Power to help you break free from your addiction.
Once you move past that you learn to the importance of taking a personal inventory of all the flaws that had kept you stuck in your addiction and have the courage to confess to those you love the nature of your wrongs. When you move to the Sixth Step, you are preparing to take an important step in your recovery but getting ready to let go of defects. What does that really mean in terms of your recovery? What is the principle behind the Sixth Step? What is its importance?
What Is the Sixth Step and What Is the Principle Behind It?
While different 12 step groups word the Steps differently, the following is the Sixth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous:
“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character”
As you read this to yourself, you may wonder what the theme of this step is in the context of all Twelve Steps. If you think about it for a few moments, you will realize the overall theme of Sixth Step is about willingness. If you look up the definition of willingness in the dictionary, you may see it defined as being prepared to do something and doing so with desire. In order to see where willingness comes into play in regard to recovery, you must understand the stages of change that an addict goes through in order to move away from their addiction and towards meaningful sobriety. This is clearly defined in the Stages of Change Model from the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA):
- Pre-contemplation: Avoidance. That is, not seeing a problem behavior or not considering a change.
- Contemplation: Acknowledging that there is a problem but struggling with ambivalence. Weighing pros and cons and the benefits and barriers to change.
- Preparation: Taking steps and getting ready to change.
- Action: Making the change and living the new behaviors, which is an all-consuming activity.
- Maintenance: Maintaining the behavior change that is now integrated into the person’s life.
Willingness occurs between the time you are ready to make changes in your life (preparation) and actually making the change and behaving in ways that support those changes (action). In terms of your recovery, the Sixth Step is pretty obvious…it is time to clean the house, let go of what makes you sick and stuck, and put into action those behaviors that reflect the new and sober you. This is an important step and transition into the later steps; however, this step can prove difficult for many addicts.
The Importance of the Sixth Step in Your Recovery
So….what does the Sixth Step mean when you are working on your recovery?
This is the step where the proverbial rubber meets the road and where it separates the men/women from the boys/girls. In order to move forward with your recovery, you have to learn to let go of your past and those flaws in your character that are keeping you sick. You know that it’s needed and you desire to move on and forward, but in reality, it is hard to let go–even those things that harm us. We have become so used to our behaviors and attitudes that defined our lives as addicts, they are second nature to us and are comfortable. If you find yourself unwilling to let go of your defects, you need to ask your Higher Power to help you become willing to do so.
What are the character defects that you need to remove from your life in order for your recovery to blossom? In talking about the Sixth Step, Serenity Web offers the following place to start in regards to character defects:
“So just what are these character defects that the Step is concerned with?
Some people equate them with the “Seven Deadly Sins,” otherwise known as Pride, Greed, Envy, Lust, Sloth, Anger, and Gluttony… That’s not a bad place to start, for if we look closely at more specific defects we usually find that they are manifestations of one or more of the seven. Self-centeredness, for instance, is connected with pride…and with greed…and with each of the other 5 as well.”
In general, these defects can reflect the attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors that cause an unnecessary conflict with other people, within ourselves, and with your Higher Power. Often these defects had their start as survival strategies that you learned when you were a child. They may have served a purpose at one time, but later in life they interfere with developing healthy relationships and with learning more effective strategies for dealing with life’s challenges.
Your involvement here varies depending on the particular character defect you are looking to remove. You may ask yourself to what degree you are attached to it and whether you believe the benefits of keeping it outweigh the costs of giving it up. Some character defects can seem pretty harmless in comparison with others. And some seem so much a part of your life and useful in getting what you think you need in life, you probably wouldn’t view them as defects until you take a step back and see the damage they have caused in your life and the suffering they have caused in the lives of your family, friends and other loved ones.
Working the Sixth Step Is Never Ending…
The Sixth Step, along with other Steps, will always be revisited during your journey in recovery. In fact, steps four through six will be a continual process as you move forward. You will need, with the help of your sponsor, to constantly be willing to perform a thorough self-examination of yourself, be willing to confess your shortcomings then be willing to let them go. Ultimately, you must be willing to acknowledge the harmful consequences of those behaviors that you rely on to get by and be willing to be open to learning new and better ways of doing things.