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Acquiring a Taste for Humble Pie

I’m still doing step six. But tonight in AA we read this chapter out loud, about step seven, from the book “The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.” I haven’t read-and-passed a book like that since grade school, I love group reading out loud. Every word resonated. Every word of this chapter helped me see how the pitfalls of my day weren’t even pitfalls. How I am doing just fine, my shortfalls and shame are nothing to be ashamed over, the things I don’t have control over aren’t going to fall apart and be ruined without my godlike influence.

Meanwhile, something I did have control over, which was attending an AA meeting, brought me so much influence and comfort and joy. A bunch of new people showed up, eager to give and get help and understanding. Some regulars were there and the feeling of spiritual community was enriching and healing. My social fears and life anxieties fell to the wayside as I became truly concerned for others and despite my paralytic shyness, eager to let them know they are loved and in my prayers.

Step Seven
“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
SINCE this Step so specifically concerns itself with humility,
we should pause here to consider what humility is
and what the practice of it can mean to us.
Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the founda-
tion principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps. For without
some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.
Nearly all A.A.’s have found, too, that unless they develop
much more of this precious quality than may be required
just for sobriety, they still haven’t much chance of becom-
ing truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful
purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that
can meet any emergency.
Humility, as a word and as an ideal, has a very bad time
of it in our world. Not only is the idea misunderstood; the
word itself is often intensely disliked. Many people haven’t
even a nodding acquaintance with humility as a way of life.
Much of the everyday talk we hear, and a great deal of what
we read, highlights man’s pride in his own achievements.
With great intelligence, men of science have been forcing
nature to disclose her secrets. The immense resources now
being harnessed promise such a quantity of material bless-
ings that many have come to believe that a man-made mil-
lennium lies just ahead. Poverty will disappear, and there
will be such abundance that everybody can have all the
security and personal satisfactions he desires. The theory
seems to be that once everybody’s primary instincts are sat-
isfied, there won’t be much left to quarrel about. The world
will then turn happy and be free to concentrate on culture
and character. Solely by their own intelligence and labor,
men will have shaped their own destiny.
Certainly no alcoholic, and surely no member of A.A.,
wants to deprecate material achievement. Nor do we enter
into debate with the many who still so passionately cling
to the belief that to satisfy our basic natural desires is the
main object of life. But we are sure that no class of people
in the world ever made a worse mess of trying to live by
this formula than alcoholics. For thousands of years we
have been demanding more than our share of security,
prestige, and romance. When we seemed to be succeeding,
we drank to dream still greater dreams. When we were frus-
trated, even in part, we drank for oblivion. Never was there
enough of what we thought we wanted.
In all these strivings, so many of them well-intentioned,
our crippling handicap had been our lack of humility. We
had lacked the perspective to see that character-building
and spiritual values had to come first, and that material
satisfactions were not the purpose of living. Quite char-
acteristically, we had gone all out in confusing the ends
with the means. Instead of regarding the satisfaction of
our material desires as the means by which we could live
and function as human beings, we had taken these satisfac-
tions to be the final end and aim of life.
True, most of us thought good character was desirable,
but obviously good character was something one needed
to get on with the business of being self-satisfied. With a
proper display of honesty and morality, we’d stand a better
chance of getting what we really wanted. But whenever we
had to choose between character and comfort, the character-
building was lost in the dust of our chase after what
we thought was happiness. Seldom did we look at charac-
ter-building as something desirable in itself, something we
would like to strive for whether our instinctual needs were
met or not. We never thought of making honesty, tolerance,
and true love of man and God the daily basis of living.
This lack of anchorage to any permanent values, this
blindness to the true purpose of our lives, produced an-
other bad result. For just so long as we were convinced that
we could live exclusively by our own individual strength
and intelligence, for just that long was a working faith in
a Higher Power impossible. This was true even when we
believed that God existed. We could actually have earnest
religious beliefs which remained barren because we were
still trying to play God ourselves. As long as we placed self-
reliance first, a genuine reliance upon a Higher Power was
out of the question. That basic ingredient of all humility, a
desire to seek and do God’s will, was missing.
For us, the process of gaining a new perspective was
unbelievably painful. It was only by repeated humiliations
that we were forced to learn something about humility. It
was only at the end of a long road, marked by successive
defeats and humiliations, and the final crushing of our
self-sufficiency, that we began to feel humility as some-
thing more than a condition of groveling despair. Every

newcomer in Alcoholics Anonymous is told, and soon real-
izes for himself, that his humble admission of powerlessness
over alcohol is his first step toward liberation from its paralyzing grip.
So it is that we first see humility as a necessity. But this
is the barest beginning. To get completely away from our
aversion to the idea of being humble, to gain a vision of
humility as the avenue to true freedom of the human spirit,
to be willing to work for humility as something to be de-
sired for itself, takes most of us a long, long time. A whole
lifetime geared to self-centeredness cannot be set in reverse
all at once. Rebellion dogs our every step at first.
When we have finally admitted without reservation that
we are powerless over alcohol, we are apt to breathe a great
sigh of relief, saying, “Well, thank God that’s over! I’ll never
have to go through that again!” Then we learn, often to our
consternation, that this is only the first milestone on the new
road we are walking. Still goaded by sheer necessity, we re-
luctantly come to grips with those serious character flaws
that made problem drinkers of us in the first place, flaws
which must be dealt with to prevent a retreat into alcohol-
ism once again. We will want to be rid of some of these
defects, but in some instances this will appear to be an im-
possible job from which we recoil. And we cling with a pas-
sionate persistence to others which are just as disturbing to
our equilibrium, because we still enjoy them too much. How
can we possibly summon the resolution and the willingness
to get rid of such overwhelming compulsions and desires?
But again we are driven on by the inescapable conclusion
which we draw from A.A. experience, that we surely must
try with a will, or else fall by the wayside. At this stage of

our progress we are under heavy pressure and coercion to
do the right thing. We are obliged to choose between the
pains of trying and the certain penalties of failing to do so.
These initial steps along the road are taken grudgingly, yet
we do take them. We may still have no very high opinion of
humility as a desirable personal virtue, but we do recognize
it as a necessary aid to our survival.
But when we have taken a square look at some of these
defects, have discussed them with another, and have be-
come willing to have them removed, our thinking about
humility commences to have a wider meaning. By this time
in all probability we have gained some measure of release
from our more devastating handicaps. We enjoy moments
in which there is something like real peace of mind. To
those of us who have hitherto known only excitement,
depression, or anxiety—in other words, to all of us—this
newfound peace is a priceless gift. Something new indeed
has been added. Where humility had formerly stood for a
forced feeding on humble pie, it now begins to mean the
nourishing ingredient which can give us serenity.
This improved perception of humility starts another
revolutionary change in our outlook. Our eyes begin to
open to the immense values which have come straight out
of painful ego-puncturing. Until now, our lives have been
largely devoted to running from pain and problems. We
fled from them as from a plague. We never wanted to deal
with the fact of suffering. Escape via the bottle was always
our solution. Character-building through suffering might
be all right for saints, but it certainly didn’t appeal to us.
Then, in A.A., we looked and listened. Everywhere we
saw failure and misery transformed by humility into price-
less assets. We heard story after story of how humility had
brought strength out of weakness. In every case, pain had
been the price of admission into a new life. But this ad-
mission price had purchased more than we expected. It
brought a measure of humility, which we soon discovered
to be a healer of pain. We began to fear pain less, and de-
sire humility more than ever.
During this process of learning more about humility, the
most profound result of all was the change in our attitude
toward God. And this was true whether we had been be-
lievers or unbelievers. We began to get over the idea that
the Higher Power was a sort of bush-league pinch hitter, to
be called upon only in an emergency. The notion that we
would still live our own lives, God helping a little now and
then, began to evaporate. Many of us who had thought
ourselves religious awoke to the limitations of this attitude.
Refusing to place God first, we had deprived ourselves of
His help. But now the words “Of myself I am nothing, the
Father doeth the works” began to carry bright promise and
We saw we needn’t always be bludgeoned and beaten
into humility. It could come quite as much from our volun-
tary reaching for it as it could from unremitting suffering.
A great turning point in our lives came when we sought
for humility as something we really wanted, rather than
as something we
must have. It marked the time when we
could commence to see the full implication of Step Seven:

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

As we approach the actual taking of Step Seven, it might
be well if we A.A.’s inquire once more just what our deeper
objectives are. Each of us would like to live at peace with
himself and with his fellows. We would like to be assured
that the grace of God can do for us what we cannot do for
ourselves. We have seen that character defects based upon
shortsighted or unworthy desires are the obstacles that
block our path toward these objectives. We now clearly see
that we have been making unreasonable demands upon
ourselves, upon others, and upon God.
The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered
fear—primarily fear that we would lose something we al-
ready possessed or would fail to get something we demand-
ed. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in
a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore,
no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of
reducing these demands. The difference between a demand
and a simple request is plain to anyone.
The Seventh Step is where we make the change in our
attitude which permits us, with humility as our guide, to
move out from ourselves toward others and toward God.
The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on humility. It is really
saying to us that we now ought to be willing to try humility
in seeking the removal of our other shortcomings just as
we did when we admitted that we were powerless over alco-
hol, and came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves
could restore us to sanity. If that degree of humility could
enable us to find the grace by which such a deadly obsession
could be banished, then there must be hope of the same re-
sult respecting any other problem we could possibly have.

2 comments on “Acquiring a Taste for Humble Pie

  1. babaganusz
    September 18, 2013

    “Humility, as a word and as an ideal, has a very bad time
    of it in our world. Not only is the idea misunderstood; the
    word itself is often intensely disliked. Many people haven’t
    even a nodding acquaintance with humility as a way of life.” muthafukkaz!!

    actually i had for starters…

  2. babaganusz
    September 19, 2013

    seriously though, it wasn’t a topic i discussed philosophically in my childhood – with anyone anywhere – but the symmetrical presentation of virtues in both RR and Ultima (IV originally and primarily) resonated heavily with my generally obedient + reading-comprehension-relatively-deficient brain. a thing in particular that came through IN A COMPUTER GAME was that humility, distinct from the other 7 Virtues, was very much ‘its own reward’ (no special stat bonuses associated with its corner of the dungeon world, corresponding character class had the fewest features/least utility…) – as a closet power-gamer in my youth, it’s a wonder that both in and out of game i struggled to stay focused on the big picture rather than go all “LOL humility = shite”. then again i probably had the proverbial leg-up as an inherently shy & unambitious sort.

    anyway, i remember Bob (the first, shall we say, ‘successful product of AA’ i ever discussed matters with before my step-aunt (RIP Aunty Fran!) gave me her little blue book) having a very compelling handle on humility. somewhat related quote that was one of his gems/standbys: “you think sheer willpower can cure addiction? try curing diarrhea with it, you’ll get as far.”

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This entry was posted on September 18, 2013 by in Alcohol Recovery, Anxiety, Discovering Tats, Quotes, Reading, Spirit.
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