How to Apply Alcoholics Anonymous Step 6 in Real Life
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been used for decades to help millions of people experience a fulfilling recovery from alcohol addiction. Despite how successful this support group therapy has been and continues to be, some people need help to navigate through certain steps and apply them to their current situations.
Step 6 of AA focuses on identifying any shortcomings, or “defects,” you may have so you can prevent them from triggering a relapse and interfering with your recovery.
Here’s a closer look at what AA step 6 means, and how you can work on applying this step in your life.
In this article:
- What Is Step 6 of Alcoholics Anonymous?
- How to Prepare for Step 6 of AA
- Actions You Can Take to Apply Step 6
What Is Step 6 of Alcoholics Anonymous?
Step 6 of AA is “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”1 This step requires you to identify any qualities you have that are negative and harmful and work toward changing them for the better.
Step 6 may be challenging for some AA members because it requires you to acknowledge your imperfections—including negative attitudes, behaviors, and character traits that may make you feel guilty, ashamed, or regretful. Fortunately, AA meetings give you a safe space in which to openly practice Step 6—especially given how many of your peers already have conquered this step and will pass no judgment when the time comes for you to share your thoughts and experiences.
Step 6 helps you prepare to address the root causes that may have led to your alcohol addiction in the first place. For example, if you identify that one of your “defects” was using alcohol to relieve stress, you can prepare to find new ways to manage stress that don’t involve drinking, such as going for a walk or listening to soothing music. Your AA sponsor and fellow group members may be able to give you additional pointers on how to interpret Step 6 in a way that makes the most sense to you.
How to Prepare for Step 6 of AA
You may already have made a list of your personal “defects” in Step 4 of AA. However, if you’ve learned more about yourself since completing Step 4, it may benefit you to start a new list or add items to your existing list.
Begin by writing a list of aspects about yourself that you perceive as defects. These can be defects that may have contributed to your addiction or that are preventing you from achieving long-term recovery and better physical and mental health. Defects may be certain faults, weaknesses, or challenges that are holding you back.
After completing your list, try to note the various ways each particular shortcoming or defect may be affecting your behavior and the effects it may have on both you and others. For example, if you identify that one of your defects is having a short temper, take note of whether your bad temper ever compelled you to drink and how it made your loved ones feel when it happened.
Then, ask yourself which feelings and emotions are associated with each particular negative trait or behavior. Using the example above, which other emotions may have been fueling your bad temper or occurring alongside your bad temper? Was your temper triggered by stress or depression? Answering these questions can often give you more insight into the root causes of your defects.
Lastly, think about how your life could be different if you did not exhibit or practice these negative behaviors. Using other more productive strategies could help you achieve your ideal or desired lifestyle.
Actions You Can Take to Apply AA Step 6
Identifying your shortcomings or “defects” is the first step you can take toward applying AA Step 6 to real life. Here are other tips and actions you can take to implement step 6 and start preparing for Step 7.
Know That You Can Do Step 6 More Than Once
While some find they can achieve sobriety without relapsing, recovery from alcohol addiction can often be a years-long journey. Everyone experiences recovery at their own pace—there’s no specific length of time in which you’re expected to achieve full recovery. That said, acknowledge that you may need to go through Step 6 of AA more than once to identify, address, and improve your shortcomings.
If you feel that you have a large number of shortcomings, Step 6 may feel extremely overwhelming at first. If necessary, start with addressing one or two serious problems, then work on the rest at a later date. For example, if you think your most significant problem is not knowing how to effectively manage stress without drinking alcohol, devote your time to finding new, healthy ways to manage stress. After you’ve resolved these initial problems, you may find it easier to address the others.
Maintain a Positive Attitude
Having a positive attitude is key to having the ability to change any harmful behaviors. If you’re not in a positive place mentally, you may lack the motivation and passion to change your behaviors, and any changes you do make may not stick or last long-term. Though changing certain behaviors may seem difficult and near-impossible, understand that change is possible with the right attitude.
For example, many people in recovery from addiction become discouraged when they relapse when, in fact, research indicates that relapse rates for substance use disorders are between 40% and 60%.2 Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed, but that additional treatment may be needed. Even if you relapse, maintaining a positive attitude can eventually help you achieve long-term sobriety.
Applying AA Step 6 to your life often requires you to practice humility.3 Humility allows you to acknowledge that you have done things to hurt yourself and others. It also allows you to accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions.
Practicing humility is an essential step toward healing yourself and your relationships with others. Recognizing your flaws and talking about them with peers is one way to practice humility. For example, if you perceive one of your flaws as bragging about various skills you may have, accept and admit that you are not the best at everything despite what you may have said or thought in the past.
Stop Striving for Perfection
Nobody will ever be perfect—including those who appear to be incredibly healthy, happy, successful, and on track with where they want their lives to be. Understand that you are on a journey to improve your health and livelihood and that you are not perfect. It also helps to know that your higher power does not expect you to be perfect, either.
The sooner you stop striving for perfection, the sooner you can be happy with yourself and with what you’ve accomplished thus far. Take time to celebrate and reward yourself for every victory, no matter how small. For example, if you love coffee, treat yourself to a fresh, gourmet coffee or cappuccino at the end of every week you’re sober.
Develop Healthy Coping Strategies
AA and alcohol rehab programs will often help you discover healthy ways to cope with difficult situations and emotions without having to turn to alcohol. Some methods may work better for you than others, which is why it’s important to try a wide range of various coping methods.
Here are common, effective coping methods:
- Exercising regularly
- Practicing mindfulness meditation
- Practicing gratitude
- Practicing yoga
- Doing deep breathing exercises
- Going for a long drive or walk
- Painting, drawing, and practicing other forms of art
- Writing or journaling
- Singing, dancing, or playing an instrument
- Playing your favorite music
- Taking a warm, relaxing bath
- Reading inspirational books or passages
- Rewarding yourself when meeting recovery milestones
- Stepping outside for fresh air
- Attending AA support group meetings
Many of these coping methods are also extremely helpful at reducing your risk for relapse and making you feel better when times are tough. If you’re not entirely sure how or where to begin Step 6 of AA, these coping methods may help refresh your mind and perspective and inspire you to start making healthy changes. Many of these activities can also help you heal and remove any “defects of character” naturally and gradually with time.
Work With Your AA Sponsor Or Therapist
Your AA sponsor has worked through each of the 12 Steps and can give you personal guidance on how to work this step into your own life. If you have completed or are currently in an alcohol rehab program, your therapist may also help you work through Step 6 as it relates to changing harmful behaviors and attitudes. Many addiction treatment centers use cognitive-behavioral therapy to help patients modify behaviors contributing to their substance use disorders.
Talking to someone else about your problems and shortcomings can often shed light on specific aspects of your life that can benefit from a change. AA sponsors and therapists have experience working with people in recovery and can provide you with constructive feedback, given you are open to receiving it. When approaching your sponsor or therapist, be honest about your difficulties with AA Step 6 so you can tackle it head-on.
Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak to a treatment specialist about your rehab options if you are struggling with alcohol use disorder and need help. Our specialists can answer any questions you may have about available addiction treatments and help you locate a nearby rehab center.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Step Six. Alcoholics Anonymous.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction Treatment and Recovery.
- Greenfield, B.L., & Tonigan, J.S. (2013). The General Alcoholics Anonymous Tools of Recovery: The Adoption of 12-Step Practices and Beliefs. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27(3), 553–561.