Comfort vs Growth – By: Zach Neuser
“’This is the Step that separates the men from the boys.’ So declares a well-loved clergyman who happens to be one of A.A.’s greatest friends. He goes on to explain that any person capable of enough willingness and honesty to try repeatedly Step Six on all his faults- without any reservations whatever- has indeed come a long way spiritually, and is therefore entitled to be called a man who is sincerely trying to grow in the image and likeness of his own Creator.” This is how the chapter on Step Six opens in the 12&12. One of my spiritual advisors put it like this: “this is the step that separates the spiritually mature from the spiritually immature”.
Before I entered recovery I was unaware of a lot of my character defects. I was painfully aware that I was doing wrong and carried a lot of guilt and shame, but never did I venture into the extent of those wrongs nor did I dare to expose the defects that lie at the core of my behavior. The fourth step was my first attempt at stepping into the darkness within me and dragging it into the light of recovery. For the first time in my life I looked at my wrongs in black and white and was willing to share them with another human being and God.
The fifth step was an extremely liberating experience for me and for the first time in my recovery, I felt the warmth of the presence of God. After this experience my sponsor took me on to step six. It was explained to me that in steps four and five I built an acute awareness of my wrongs and character defects, but that in itself was not enough. With awareness comes responsibility. Am I now willing, when these behaviors, resentments, or fears crop up again, to be willing to repeatedly and consistently try step six on all my faults- that is, am I willing to turn them over to my higher power? Turning these things over is not a passive act, but a very active process of having the humility to recognize my faults and ask God to remove them from me so that I may be positioned to be of maximum service to Him and my fellows.
In theory, the obvious answer is yes, I am willing. And most people, when approached with this question at step six exclaim “yes” without contemplating the implications of such a step. I have found that in actual practice, this is not so simple. If I am honest with myself, sometimes I enjoyed my character defects. I have been known to enjoy the feeling of “justified” anger or the feeling of getting my way by lying or manipulating someone in the past. The question is, do I enjoy my spiritual growth more? Do I enjoy my unabated relationship with God and my fellow man more than I enjoy the fleeting pleasures I receive from acting upon my character defects? Again, I may say yes, but the answer truly lies in my willingness to stop this behavior when I recognize it, turn it over to God to remove from me, and attempt to act in better alignment with Him.
The core of this problem seems to be comfort. For most people, the process of working the steps brings comfort that they haven’t experienced in a long time. The key is how I act in the comfort. When I start experiencing the comfort of the step work, do I stop trying as hard as I did when I wanted desperately for the pain to stop? Or do I go back to making people deal with my adverse behavior because “at least I’m not as bad as I used to be”?
I propose that to get all there is out of recovery we must be willing to go deeper, especially when we are comfortable. We must maintain the desperation of the drowning man that it talks about in the Big Book and remain willing to grow. This desperation should shift during this process though, from a desperation to stay sober to a desperation to know and experience deep, meaningful, and authentic relationships with God and my fellows. At the end of the day, this willingness to grow with God is what separates the spiritually mature from the spiritually immature.
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