June is the 6th month of the calendar year and A.A. meetings all over the world will be discussing the 6th step and how to become entirely ready to have God remove our shortcomings. In the book, Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, the first sentence in the chapter devoted to Step 6 reads, “This is the step that separates the men from the boys”. (Today we might also add, “separates the women from the girls”). In the June 4 reading in the book, “Daily Reflections” the writer for that page says, “The Sixth Step is the last “preparation” Step”.
Both of the above quotes make it very clear that this is a very important point in the 12-step recovery process. We could even say that this is a turning point. In separating the men and women from the boys and girls I am assuming that the “men” and “women” are those who go on to enjoy a happy, joyous and free life in recovery, while the “boys” and “girls” are those who fall short of achieving the maximum benefit of the 6th & 7th steps and may have even relapsed and were never heard from again.
In terms of step 6 being the last of the preparation steps, my attention focuses on how and why the first six steps were preparing us for Step 7 which reads, “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings”. So, according to this A.A. member who wrote the message for June 4th, everything I had done in the program up to this point was done to prepare me to humbly ask Him to remove my shortcomings.
Any way you look at it, this was important and required diligent effort to be as honest, open, and willing as possible. Because I did not have a strong relationship and bond with the God of my understanding at that time, when I was in the midst of studying the 6th step, my sponsor took me to meet a female priest at an Episcopalian church on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, where I was living at the time. This church held A.A. meetings during the week. I met with this priest about 3-5 times to discuss my growing relationship with God as well as becoming willing to surrender my shortcomings. The priest gave me the Episcopalian Book of Prayer and I gave her my Big Book, “Alcoholics Anonymous”.
The year was 1981. After several meetings the priest said to me, “Bob, you are now ready to speak with God” and led me into their sanctuary to speak with my Creator. I had been to several A.A. meetings in that church but was never in their sanctuary. I was awestruck. The building was truly a New York monument. We were alone in the sanctuary and it was a truly unforgettable spiritual moment, like nothing I had ever had before. The priest led me to a rail at the side of the main altar and I knelt down to pray to the God of my understanding. I put my hands on the red velvet-covered rail and the priest put her hands on top of mine in a way that was completely reassuring. I began to pray out loud to God. At some point, the priest withdrew her hands and I never felt her do that or heard her silently exit the room. I must have knelt there praying for 20-30 minutes. I remember confessing far more than I was brave enough to share with my sponsor in Step 5.
When I was finished, I looked up to seek approval from the priest, but she was gone. I stood up and almost fell to the ground. I was overcome with emotion and needed to sit in a nearby pew for several minutes until my racing heart and mind calmed down. I almost felt like being there with the priest was a dream and, now that I was waking up, I wondered for a brief moment if she was ever there. But she was there………….and so was God!
When I walked out of the church, I noticed that there were about twenty steps leading down to the sidewalk on Madison Avenue. I floated down those steps in a somewhat semi-conscious state. Shortly after that experience, I felt that I was entirely ready to ask God to remove my shortcomings and I humbly took Step 7 on my knees with my sponsor, reciting the 7th step prayer together with him.
It’s nearly 40 years since that experience and I have never felt anything so moving and deeply profound and transformational since that moment. I have lived a life that is happy, joyous, and free, blessed by God’s grace, and devoted to our program of recovery. But I must admit because my sobriety restores my youth, there are days when I feel like I’m one of the “boys” instead of one of the “men”.
Keep Coming Back,
Bob O’Dowd, Executive Director
SOZO Addiction Recovery Center