AA’s Step 7–Or Is It?

Step 7 gets nearly the same treatment in the BB as Step 6—a single paragraph of sixty-nine words instructing us to pray to our higher power to “remove every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you [God] and my fellows.  Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding.  Amen.”  It then declares we have completed Step 7.  Cool!

Well,  it would be if I believed in an interventionist god, and if it really worked that way.  I don’t, and more importantly, it doesn’t.  Note what Bill W. wrote in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, in the Chapter on Step 6 [emphasis mine]:  “If we ask, God will certainly forgive our derelictions.  But in no case does He render us white as snow and keep us that way without our cooperation.  That is something we are supposed to work toward ourselves.”  A short while later he writes: “So, Step Six…is AA’s way of stating the best possible attitude one can take in order to make a beginning on this lifetime job.  This does not mean that we expect all our character defects to be lifted out of us as the drive to drink was.  A few of them may be, but with most of them we shall have to be content with patient improvement.” [again, emphasis mine]

So I didn’t “do” Step 7.

What Gives?

The chapter in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions devoted to Step 7 is basically an essay on humility. It begins with “Since this Step so specifically concerns itself with humility…” and in the final paragraph states “The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on humility.”  True enough, when an instructional step starts with ‘Humbly’ [did something], the need for humility is fairly explicit.  But it’s not just Step 7.  The entire program of the 12 Steps is concerned with humility–humbling ourselves (not others, that’s ‘humiliation’) enough to understand, accept, and apply the principles of those steps in our lives.

By the time I got to the seventh Step, I had been humbled enough to admit I needed help; to walk into that first AA meeting; to admit I was alcoholic; to take an honest look at my shortcomings; to talk about those shortcomings with another person (or persons).  I honestly didn’t need to cement the newfound humility by humbly asking a god I didn’t believe in to do something that most (honest) religious folks will say He doesn’t do anyway.  If cement is needed, after Step 7 our humility is tested when we make our amends, continue looking at ourselves, and while being of service to others.

Anyone who does believe in petitionary prayer and an interventionist God would do well to heed this step.  The rest of us can safely pass over this one.


The last page of that chapter does give us one suggestion concerning the seventh step.  It advises we might do well at this point to take another look at just what our deepest objectives are.  That’s worth considering—often and in-depth–and will be the topic of a separate post here at Spirit of Recovery.  Next up will be a look at how I go about the “work” of defect removal.

What are your thoughts about Step 7?  Is it a necessary step? a non-step?  Let us know by leaving a comment below.  Differing opinions, offered with respect, will always be welcome, encouraged and respected here.  Thanks for being here!

  1. I believe we are powerless over our defects of charater hence the need to humbly ask God to remove them! While working toward or putting into action a way to live a better life. The more amends I make the more I desire to change- If we could have removed them without Gods help we would not need to ask God to remove them!
    Little over analyzing the whole deal– maybe not ready or not willing to go to any length! Lets see were that kind of thinking gets you – keep in touch!

    • Hi, and welcome! Thanks for dropping by and offering your view . Your’s is certainly the most prevalent feedback I hear, and that’s ok. We don’t have to agree. And as I said in the post, if those are your beliefs you would be well advised to pray for their removal. Then get to work removing them, as Bill suggested.
      What is disturbing to me is yours is also the most prevalent attitude I get from the fellowship.

  2. I would like to ask a reader to step back outside of there own progress for a moment, and ask themselves the question if all that is done is done for a God that should be conceived the same of every mans image or is it the other way around. A God as individually different as our very own perceptions?

    Now I will share that my humility is seeing that Alcohol, God, or anything else is not my maker, and when I create a God in the image of the man I would like to be it is my true nature seeking to shine. To me it is a mission of finding self, and expression in actions true to myself.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

    • Hey, Gordon. Thanks for the reply! I agree–the program is about discovering our true values (our true Self, if you prefer) and learning to live in accordance with them.

  3. I haven’t done it yet, but it definitely sounds like one of the easiest! There’s this big lure to do step 6 and 7 because some who did them already make it sound like a big improvement came directly afterwards…as if they were finally cured of shortcomings. Later, they’ll say something that lets me know many character defects are lifted over time…some never 100%. It’s a work in progress, which rings true with the positive but gradual improvements I’ve seen in recovery so far.

    I like Bill’s emphasis on attitude with this step. I don’t remember reading that part in the BB before, and I interpret it to mean I need to keep an open, willing mind on doing the hard work ahead.

    Great post.

    • Hi! Thanks for the compliment. Yes, we’re all works in progress. To be human is to be imperfect. Imperfect implies flaws. And another word for ‘flaw’ is ‘defect.’ If all our defects were all completely removed, either for us or by us, we’d be gods, wouldn’t we? BTW, those quotes in my post are from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. The first part is a commentary on the Steps Bill wrote a few years after the BB was published, and in the second part he introduced the Twelve Traditions to the fellowship.

  4. I remember when I was first getting sober and was going to a 12 & 12 Study group and we did the entire meeting on the first sentence of Step 7 which asks us to think about humility. I think that was one of the most interesting meetings I ever attended. All of us knew that being humble meant getting outside of ourselves, but some of us, the new ones especially, weren’t familiar with how to be humble instead of humiliated. After many 24 hours in the rooms and many times working Step 7, I know that when I do the 7th Step Prayer, each day, I am asking for another layer of those incessant defects to be cleared away. I remember a lovely lady who is now at the Great Meeting who would always remind us that we were never rendered white as snow without our permission. Unless I am willing to let go of whatever defect of character that stands in the way of me being a useful human being, then I run the risk of continuing down the path of destruction that Alcohol put me on. I have no power; tells me so in the first Step. I have to find that power and allow it to help me. Being the willfull person that I always was, I don’t want to ask anyone, let alone Something called God to help me! But, if I will look at my 4th Step, what was brought out as patterns in my 5th Step, and the defects that are still glaring, I cannot do this alone. If I was willing at Step 3 to get a Higher Power, then at Step 7 I should still have that Power and we are in better communication.

    I think that the fact that I do this program a day at a time keeps me from being the perfect little person I thought I was going to be when I was drinking. Working on ourselves, instead of other people, is always hard; yet it is one of the most rewarding things that I have done in my life. I watch people who keep coming in and out and not getting it and wonder why. Keeping my own nose to the grindstone, seeing the defects, talking them over with a sponsor and/or Spiritual Advisor, asking for their removal and then going about making amends to those I have harmed will give me a greater sense who I am. If I am the same woman who came into the rooms, I have not grown. Step 7 gives me the chance to ask to be changed in a positive manner.

    • Hi, Mary. It’s amazing to me how many folks confuse humility with humiliation. I’m writing a post about that now. Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. I just did a personal step study of step 7 recently. I believe that it is about naming our defects of character out loud or more over out of our own heads. I think it is really important to get us what we are learning about ourselves out of thought and into action. Without naming the defects of character and asking your HP to help you remove them you may just miss some.

    • Hi, and welcome to SoR. Thanks for stopping in and leaving your thoughts. I hope you’ll visit often. As you may have guessed, I emphasize the “into action” aspect of the Steps.