Spring is my favorite season. Everywhere I look, there is new life springing up around me. Buds on the trees, tulip leaves pushing through dirt, geese soaring northward over my head in perfectly v-shaped droves. As my recovery friend put it in the weekly email to our recovery group: “Everything that is dormant or dead will rise again, including my life.”
I have come to believe that everything we see in this world was created to teach us who God is. From the way the sun rises and sets each day, to the death and rebirth of the seasons…from the stalwart, steady mountains to the ever-changing clouds passing through the heavens above…everything in nature was meant to teach us about the nature of the One who created this place. And created me.
So what better time than Easter, the time we celebrate the One who made rebirth possible, to talk about Step 7: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
I have wanted to write this post for a long time because Step 7, for me, has been where the rubber has really met the road in recovery. This is the place where we get to experience the truly miraculous in our lives. This is where we finally feel the fruits of the program.
Step 7 was a big paradigm shift for me, just like everything else in recovery. I had always seen my character defects as something I needed to conquer, battle, overcome. I relied on my intellect, my intuition, and my will-power. When I saw something in myself that I wanted to change, my strategy had always been to attack it.
But Step 7 came from a different place entirely. “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
In the beginning years of recovery, I would often feel stuck. Stuck in fear, stuck in resentment, stuck in trying to control things….stuck. When I reached out to my sponsor, she didn’t give me an action plan or have me try some new fool-proof strategy. She told me to relax. Let go. Surrender.
“You’re trying too hard.”
“You’re trusting in your own strength, your own logic, your own way.”
I had to learn how to relax.
Not to relax into the chaos or give up on the situation.
But to learn to hold healthy boundaries, and then relax into His care. His timing. His way.
This was very hard for me to do until I had really experienced Step 7. Since then, it’s something I crave more and more.
My first conscious experience with Step 7 was concrete and dramatic. It was so undeniable that I was left in awe and disbelief. It was the gift that I needed to really put my trust in my Higher Power.
Since the age of 18, I had not had a real period. At 18, some terrifying, inexplicable fear of the future and failure had gripped me, and I became a calorie-counting, obsessive-exercising, tinier version of the teenager I had been. Since I lost 20 pounds in a month my senior year, I had never gotten my period back. I had come to believe that this was just the way I was going to be. No period? No problem! A big part of me felt satisfaction and safety as for decades my weight hovered safely below the recommended range for my height. No one could criticize me or call me fat when I was too thin to get a period! I felt safe and superior. My ability to both win the approval of others, and feel in total control of one aspect of life delivered a sucker punch to my brain’s reward system. And although I struggled for years with the anxiety and fear that comes with this challenge, at a loss to understand the emotions that were driving it, I couldn’t imagine my life without this coping mechanism. For twenty years, my life became an anxious dance of gaining barely enough weight to get one period between babies so I could get pregnant again, and then restricting calories and watching the scale drop. This was the way I lived my life. This was what made me feel safe.
It had been two and a half years since rock bottom. My husband had two and a half years of sobriety and I thought he seemed pretty great and it was just me who was still a mess. It had taken us a year on waitlist to get in with our therapist, so we were finally getting around to full disclosure. Just a formality, I thought. I wasn’t too worried. We had two and a half years of sobriety under our belt and I was pretty sure I knew everything.
Full disclosure felt like sitting in a chair and voluntarily letting somebody knock me in the head over and over again with a 2×4. It took my breath away and left me more terrified, hopeless, confused, lost, broken, and surrendered than I had ever been…even at rock bottom. At rock bottom, I had ignorance, naivety and shock to protect me. By this time, all my walls had crumbled and I was an open target. I felt completely naked, completely vulnerable, and completely at a loss for any more tricks up my sleeve to protect myself.
I was shocked, as you might imagine, when I found myself having a period the week after full disclosure. As I sat in disbelief, trying to process what was happening amidst the emotional turmoil I was already swimming in, I felt the most surprising emotion I could have imagined. It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t a firm resolve to begin myfitnesspal tomorrow to shave off a few pounds, it wasn’t any of my old coping strategies. It was a huge wave of relief.
Finally I was in line with His will.
Finally I wasn’t resisting the body and the life He had given me.
Finally, I was willing to say “Okay. Let’s do it your way.”
Finally, my will was broken.
This was the beginning of my Step 7 miracles: a conscious and miraculous change of heart.
How did it happen?
I believe this miracle was preceded by years of Step Work that were sowing the seeds for this lifting to occur. Various Step 4’s had shown me the futility of my attempts to play God, to resist His will, and opened my eyes to the fact that I was putting the love and approval of others at my center instead of Him. Hundreds of surrenders shared with my sponsor had helped me unravel layers that brought more awareness to the coping strategies, big and small, that I had used on a daily basis to get me through life on MY terms. Qualified therapy had helped me uncover the massive underlying fears and belief systems that had driven all of these unconscious behaviors for a lifetime before it all came crashing down through the vehicle of my husband’s betrayals.
Step 7 was not a miracle I could call down from heaven in my time and my way. It was a gift that appeared in the moment I was finally ready for it, when my heart was finally ready to surrender. When all the recovery work I had done combined magically with the crazy circumstances of my life to create a primordial shift inside of me. And I will never be the same.
I have not stepped on a scale or counted a calorie in over 2 years since that day. I don’t even have the desire to! That is something that would have terrified the me of two decades prior. And every month since that day, I have had a menstrual cycle. And each time, I have felt relief and gratitude. It is still a sign to me that for today, I am grounded in His will.
Step 7 is real to me. It has changed my life. It is changing my life. It is changing who I am. And it continues to, in big and small ways, as I continue on this path of recovery.
Here are a few other Step 7 moments that I treasure as my greatest gifts as I continue to travel on this path of recovery.
- When I was able to make amends to myself through Step 9 with my church leader, who had handled my trauma and my husband’s betrayals badly. I had felt bitterness and resentment towards him for years until I met with him and shared a Step 9 letter. Since that day, I have never felt that bitterness return to my heart. I have been able to feel compassion, love, empathy, even appreciation for him. This has been a Step 7 miracle to me.
- When I was in deep trauma after full disclosure, my body and spirit would literally revolt when trying to take “Suptabadakanasana,” a pose where you lie on your back with your feet together, knees open, and wrists clasped over your head. You are completely open and vulnerable in this position and it felt terrifying to me for so long. I would often just weep and my whole body would tense up when I was in this pose. I still remember when I was able to breathe and relax into this position. Today, this is one of my favorite poses in yoga. It truly helps me feel what it is to “relax into His care.”
- For almost 4 years, ever since rock bottom, I was plagued with visions and fantasies of my husband with the women he had acted out with. When we were sexually intimate, I would frequently go to these fantasies in my mind, imagining that I was one of these women. While this might seem really weird, I came to realize that it was an escape from being myself, and made me feel powerful and sexy in the moment. But always afterward it led to deeper and deeper feelings of disconnection, self-loathing and despair. For years I kept this behavior secret. A few months ago, I felt ready to face this issue and disclosed it to my husband, my sponsor, and my recovery group. As I spent time journaling through this behavior, setting boundaries for myself, being accountable, and becoming “entirely ready” to give up this crutch, I have found this temptation fading smaller and smaller. Today, it hardly feels like an issue at all. This has been a miraculous transformation for me of a behavior that I thought was “just the way it was.” Step 7 at work in my life again.
- One day recently in yoga, I was just sitting in a butterfly position looking down at my feet. My “hobbit” feet, as I have called them for years. I have always hated my short, stubby, hobbit feet and hidden them when I could. But as I looked at my feet that day, I was filled with the most profound gratitude as my entire being felt the words “I love my hobbit feet. These are the feet that God has given me and they have brought me where I am today.” Today I feel true gratitude for my “hobbit feet” and for other less- than-ideal” parts of my self and my life that I have felt shame or wished away in the past. These AA words have been made true in my life: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” This growing gratitude for my life, exactly as it is, feels like Step 7 to me.
My Higher Power is literally removing my character defects, One Day at a Time. And while I know I’ve got enough to last Him a lifetime, this thought is not so discouraging to me anymore. This, I have realized, is the whole point. The joy and awe of the lifting. The continual need for my Creator. The miracle of coming closer. The At-One-Ment that materialized in the flesh that Easter thousands of years ago. Alive in me today.
“Everything that is dead and dormant will rise again, including my life.”
This Holy Week, please consider sharing some of your Step 7 gifts with us as comments on this post. They are the most miraculous part of this Recovery Life. You never know who needs YOUR strength, hope, and experience to give them the light to take one more step in the darkness of their current path.
We hope you enjoy Easter this week, with a deeper surety that there is One who can bring all things, even YOU, back to life.
We love you! Keep Working It! It Works!
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