Drop the Rock is a story about a group of Twelve Step members who set sail on a ship named Recovery, sailing across the Sea of Life toward the Island of Serenity. As the story is told, soon after the boat pulls away from the dock, its passengers realize some of their friends from AA are missing.
Sure enough, their friend Mary comes running down the street and onto the dock, racing toward the boat. The people on board cheer her on. "You can do it!" they shout. Mary dives into the water and swims for the boat as fast as she can. But as she nears the boat, she slows and struggles to stay afloat. Everyone on board can see why: a heavy rock is hanging from a snarl of strings around Mary's neck. "Drop the rock!" they all shout. "Let go! Drop the rock!"
Treading water, Mary looks down at the rock. It contains all her fears, resentments, self-pity, anger and other character defects, and they're weighing her down. She also realizes that if she doesn't let go, she will likely drown.
She tears off the strings, pulls the rock away from her body, and lets it sink into the ocean. Freed of the dead weight, Mary swims the rest of the way toward the boat. And she climbs aboard, exhausted but safe in the good company of friends who are on the same journey as her.
Character defects like resentment, fear, anger and self-pity will weigh us down in recovery. Much like the rock that Mary carried, we have to let go of these shortcomings to stay happy, healthy and focused on our program.
Sometimes we might experience these emotions in small doses and as ordinary reactions to life challenges. And that’s okay. But when we carry these emotions around with us for longer than necessary, or when they become habit, we gamble with our sobriety.
A big part of AA and Twelve Step recovery is learning to recognize and let go of the character defects, shortcomings and attitudes that would otherwise sink us. And when we learn to finally drop those "rocks," we can become who we want to be, and our acts of humility, willingness and courage will have a healing ripple effect on one another.
And that's where the Steps come in: Step 6, Step 7 and Step 10 are designed to help you manage your shortcomings with grace and humility.
To remove our shortcomings or defects of character, we’re instructed to use Step 6 and Step 7:
AA's Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all our defects of character.
AA's Step 7: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
But Steps Six and Seven are only briefly discussed in the book Alcoholics Anonymous—commonly called the Big Book. And the Steps themselves are confusingly simple. We become ready, and we ask for the defects to be removed. Now what?
At first, these Steps may seem underwhelming. We become ready, we humbly ask a Higher Power to help us with our defects of character, and then we wait. Our shortcomings may disappear temporarily—we feel our resentment, anger and self-pity slip away—but then it all comes rushing back, and we fall victim to old habits and patterns of thought.
So what are we doing wrong? Why aren’t we changed completely once we humbly ask for spiritual help?
Well, that would be nearly impossible because change doesn’t happen all at once. We have to intentionally work at changing our thoughts, habits and behaviors, and we have to examine our daily actions: where or how do we pick up the “rock” of shortcomings, and how quickly can we drop it?
We ask repeatedly and whenever our defects of character arise for them to be removed. Eventually, and only with the help of Step 10, do we actually begin to change. But we have to patiently work at it.
AA's Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
In addiction recovery, we must remain watchful of our thoughts and behaviors, regardless of how much sober time we have. Our character defects and shortcomings can become equally as damaging as alcohol or other drugs once were—both to us and to the people we care about.
And when we stop using alcohol or other drugs, our flaws don’t simply disappear. Recovery is the process of actually getting sober, yes. But more than that, recovery is the process of recognizing, confronting and neutralizing those character defects. And with the help of others, a Higher Power and Step 10, we can carefully approach each day, one day at a time, from a progress-based mindset.
Just think: How much tension have your defects created? What would your life be like without selfishness, resentment, self-pity or fear? That is what you’re working toward when you continue to take personal inventory, admit fault and slowly loosen your grip on your "rock."
The ripple effect is the influence we have on other human beings, based on what we do (or don't do), what we say (or don't say) and how we show up in each moment. Our words and actions naturally ripple out to the people around us—and then to the people around them and the folks around them. It's an ongoing process of cause and effect.
Now, as you work Step Ten in your own recovery, you will start to see how all your words, decisions and actions ripple out and affect others. You'll also notice how everyone else's decisions, words and actions ripple out and affect you.
As you continue working your AA Twelve Step Program, this ripple effect will become obviously visible to you. Eventually you will see it functioning everywhere and at all times. And you’ll take accountability for the times when you negatively affect others, be grateful for when others positively affect you and recite the Serenity Prayer for everything in between.
On any given day, most of us make hundreds of small and large decisions, act in hundreds of different ways and say hundreds of different things to a wide range of people. Each interaction and conversation has its own ripple effect, and we can't control them all. But we can use Step 6, Step 7 and Step 10 to face each day and moment with openness and serenity.
In this way, the Steps are our touchstones for continued spiritual growth and transformation. We are no longer learning how to work the program. We are learning how to make the program a way of life, moment by moment and day by day as we shift from a focus on self to a focus on growth and service.
**Editor’s note: We much prefer the person-first language that emphasizes a person’s identity before their disease. However, in keeping with the history of AA, its founding principles and the language that still exists within the fellowship, we have decided to keep the word alcoholic to describe people with substance use disorders.
AA is welcome to all people with substance use disorders and is not restricted to alcoholism. Our hope is merely to capture the spirit and language of the program to describe the disease of addiction, and to approach self-identifying “alcoholics” with the language that AA commonly uses.