Who’s Guy Fawkes?

Sunset over Gettysburg, PA

I just read something from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions which spoke directly to my thoughts and feelings of late.

I’ve been pondering my Steps 6 and 7. I think I’m beginning to understand the idea that they’re not one-time steps but a new way of living.

I struggle immensely with pride and righteous indignation. I want to be right and I want others to know it, especially when I think they’re wrong. Not a healthy way of living.

As a part of letting go of this weakness I decided to stop engaging in political topics on social media. A few weeks after that I realized I was still reading such posts in order to stoke contention and feed pride in my heart, so I took a long break from social media entirely. It’s been helpful.

Lately I’ve noticed an increased awareness of my motivations. I can see myself wanting to do things for reasons that would boost my ego. For example, yesterday I was talking with some friends and one of them mentioned Guy Fawkes. I couldn’t recall anything about him, and I distinctly had the thought, “Don’t reveal you don’t know who that is; they will think less of you.” For a moment I obeyed. Then I realized my reason for staying silent—pride—and decided to act against it. I asked, “Who’s Guy Fawkes?” and they told me. We continued our fun conversation.

Observing this tendency I have for self-aggrandizement and making decisions based on what I think others will admire has opened my eyes a bit. I didn’t realize how frequently I allow these motivations to drive my decisions. I’ve been surprised to discover it in my choice of clothing, my reasons for exercising, the discussions I engage in, the comments I make, the opinions I form, and the way I treat other people.

I think it’s normal and even healthy to want to feel accepted and to want the approval of the people I love. I’m not arguing against that. How I go about seeking love is what’s important to me, and I believe my motivations shape my behavior for better or worse.

So anyway, back to the words I read just now, written by Bill W., co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous:

As we approach the actual taking of Step Seven, it might be well if we [addicts] 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 already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. 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 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 [our addiction], 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 result respecting any other problem we could possibly have.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 76

This reminds me, as so many writings from Alcoholics Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous do, of the words of Jesus Christ:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

The Book of Mormon, Ether 12:27

P.S. Did you know in England they celebrate Fawkes’ failed attempt to kill Parliament and the King, whereas in Australia they celebrate the attempt and honor Fawkes? Both nations have these celebrations on 5 November with bonfires and fireworks, but obviously for different reasons. Might have something to do with England using Australia as a penal colony. Interesting!

Practical Gifts

While doing my Step 4 inventory, one of my weaknesses that God, my sponsor, and my therapist helped me uncover was self-righteousness.

For me this often takes the following forms:

“I know better than you.”

“I’m the authority on how you should be acting.”

“XYZ makes you not a good person.”

“I’m going to treat you poorly because you don’t deserve better.”

Seeing these destructive and hurtful lines of thinking in my behavior was a painful realization. These are not at all the ideals I aspire to live. Accepting this truth and others about my past behavior is what made Step 4 so difficult and painful. It’s also what makes my Step 4 inventory invaluable to me.

I remember the first time I did Step 4. It was an emotional brain dump of all the mistakes I’ve made, all the pain I’ve inflicted on other people, and all the painful things other people have done to me. It was an immense relief because I no longer had to carry it all inside my head. After I finished my inventory I burned it as a symbol of letting go. I wanted be rid of it and move on.

The problem was I didn’t learn from it. I didn’t identify my weaknesses, sick thinking patterns, and false core beliefs that underlaid all my wrong choices. I learned nothing or very little about myself, and so I wasn’t equipped to do Steps 5, 6, and 7.

Without knowing my weaknesses and the “exact nature of my wrongs,” I couldn’t change. I was the same person, and as my sponsor and the addiction recovery material teach, the same person will always return to the addiction.

Little wonder then why I relapsed nine months later.

(I want to be clear that I believe my sponsor at the time did the best he knew how. He helped me immensely and gave me incredible amounts of his time and energy. I don’t blame him for my not understanding the Steps. I don’t think I was ready at the time.)

This time around, my new sponsor taught me how to identify “the exact nature of my wrongs” from my inventory. I wouldn’t trade my inventory for anything. It’s precious to me! Not because I worked so hard on it but because God used it and still uses it to show me what drives me back to my addiction even though I don’t want to lust.

I slipped the other day. After talking with God, my sponsor, and my therapist, and after reading and pondering Ether 12:27, I read the following from the Sexaholics Anonymous “white book”:

There was nothing left for me to try; there was nowhere else to go and still be in charge, managing my will and life. I see now that in all my religious striving and psychotherapy I was waiting for the miracle to happen first, that I should somehow be zapped or “fixed,” unable ever to fall or be tempted again. I thought that if a person just had the right religious belief, he was automatically “a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” That all thought of lust would be removed, much as a tumor would be excised by a surgeon. The “religious solution” was one of the subtlest strategies in my arsenal of denial.

I didn’t realize that the essence of being human is to have free choice. God doesn’t want to remove from me the possibility of falling; he wants me to have the freedom to choose not to fall. I’d been praying self-righteously all along, “Please God, take it away!” not realizing my inner heart was piteously whining, “… so I won’t have to give it up.” There was belief in God without surrender. That belief availed nothing! I had never died to lust.

Sexaholics Anonymous, page 20


I think what I’m learning is that God will eventually replace my weaknesses with His divine nature. But not in an instant; not yet. I need to learn how to choose the right when I am inclined not to. I need to learn to surrender my right to be lustful, impatient, resentful, self-seeking, or self-righteous.

I believe my weaknesses are gifts from God. Without them I would have no need to depend on Him. I would have no opportunity to choose and learn.

I feel grateful for this new understanding He’s given me, and grateful to the people He’s placed in my life who are showing me the way to recovery.