Step 9: Don’t Be Discouraged

by John W.

When I first heard people talk about humility and Step 9 I was annoyed at their seeming haughtiness. Later I had more reverence for the humility they appeared to be espousing. By working the steps with my sponsor, I now had a few sober days in my wake. However, I was no exception to facing life on life’s terms. My character defects were daily reminders of the baffling and patient characteristics of my disease, which were ready, willing and able to plague me at the start of each new day. I had seen the cunning of my disease, how it was always poised to attack the weakest link in my defenses against it. So when my disease unleashed a powerful assault upon me, I turned to the steps for help and protection; they were my front line of defense.

No one before me had been able to maintain perfection

I had taken my inventory, admitted it as suggested and asked to have my shortcomings removed. Then, as I made my list of people I owed amends, I found mine was the first name on that list. This realization caused me to talk about my list to another alcoholic, an old-timer who had what I wanted in this program. In this process he was able to point out in me that which I could not see for myself. While likely obvious to more than just him, I had been oblivious to my defect. He helped me to see the blind spot at which my disease had struck, for it had perceived a weakness and had sought to exploit it to my ruin. With the grace of a subtle but deadly poison and the power of a jackhammer, it had sought to convince me that my Higher Power could not be trusted: that He could not possibly have what was good for me in His thinking at this difficult time, this time of my crisis. My disease cooed that I was alone, that I had to weather this storm on my own. 

But my old-timer had pegged my symptom well. He made the nature of my wrong “exact.” He said I was beating myself up because I was not believing in my Higher Power. While he agreed I had let doubt creep in, he added what I had missed, that this was a human flaw we all possess. My shortcoming was that I had let that flaw take hold in my consciousness. I then had compounded the problem by believing it to be a fundamental weakness that had no cure. The warning this would almost certainly lead to a drink was his sobering conclusion. The solution he offered was a reminder of that which I was forgetting, that ours was a program of progress not perfection. I could take comfort in being willing to accept spiritual progress rather than portending doom because I was failing at spiritual perfection. To right this wrong, I needed to make a living amend to myself – this was quite an unexpected suggestion.

The words he spoke in response to the question of how I could accomplish this have reverberated in my brain since, especially when I hear “How It Works” at the outset of a meeting. He told me: Do Not Be Discouraged. I had lost sight of the fact that no one before me had been able to maintain perfect adherence to the principles I was called upon to practice. I had somehow come to believe that I was an exception to that rule, rather than one who could live, literally, by it and because of it. So my living amend became my frequent and fervent reminder to myself that I was no saint, that the spiritual awakening my Higher Power had helped me achieve was to give me the opportunity to stay sober and become the man I had always wanted to be and to not be discouraged if I lost sight of this.

I was demanding the impossible of myself

photo credits available upon request to thepoint@aasfmarin.org

That old-timer helped me to see how I was demanding the impossible of myself and then beating myself up mercilessly because I had fallen short. Worse, rather than returning to the path that worked as soon as I was able to, instead I lost faith. Forgetting my Higher Power might know what was best for me, I began to think I had all the answers. As I made living amends to myself, I saw the wisdom of the adage “to err is human.”

How I handled the awareness of my errors, the actions I took as they presented themselves, would become the measure of my progress. Above all else I heard: Do not be discouraged. For if I could accept life’s disappointments despite my best efforts, I might be living in the will of my Higher Power after all. Such progress, though not perfect, still led me back to the belief that all would be well, here and hereafter.

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