The Steps: Remove



Yes, that is a gigantic rubber drain plug and I know it is a pretty ridiculous thing to draw. Please hear me out before judging my sanity (or total lack of it).

My sponsor encouraged me to look up Twelve Step words in my home dictionary. He was trying to keep me busy between meetings. I wasn't very pleased by the "assignment", but it eventually led to a deep respect for the words used in the original Twelve Step literature.

Modern dictionaries were useful, but when I happened upon a 1934 Webster's Dictionary, it connected me even more directly with the words used in the Steps. It revealed the exact meanings of the words back when Bill W first wrote the Big Book of AA. Take the word “remove” as found in Step Seven: “We humbly asked God to remove our defects of character.”

Before checking the 1934 dictionary, I thought the word “remove” meant to make something vanish. You know—such as erasing a written word or washing away a stain. Once it's gone, it is permanently gone. Therefore, when I worked Step Seven, I expected my Higher Power to permanently make my dishonesty, fear, selfishness, and inconsideration disappear.

But I noticed that my defects kept creeping back in. Whatever defects (i.e., dishonesty) He removed on Monday, I found returning on Tuesday. After this happened several times, I started to sincerely doubt God’s ability to remove any of my defects of character permanently. Sadly, I began to resent my Higher Power. If my God really could remove my defects completely—like removing a stain from cloth—why didn’t He?

I turned to the 1934 dictionary and found this definition: “Remove: To change or shift the location, position, station, or residence of;" Hmmm. I read it again carefully. The definition did not describe making anything disappear permanently; it just said, “shift the position”.

This insight hit me hard.

The definition helped me see that my defects will always remain nearby in case I get the insane urge to invite them back. I suddenly had to let go of my old—and illogical—assumption that God wanted to make me permanently “perfect”. That made sense; there is only One perfect being and that is definitely not me! Thanks to my old dictionary, I reached a greater understanding of Step Seven.

This and other examples of 1934 definitions redoubled my interest in the Steps. What could I do with my newfound enthusiasm? If I went to my local meeting and started reading from my musty old dictionaries, they would label me as insane. Or they would declare, "Conference approved literature only, please!" If I typed up the definitions and handed them out, it seemed unlikely anyone would ever read them.

I am an illustrator, which eventually led me to realize I could turn to my sketch pad as a form of sharing. I reflected on the newly discovered definition of “Remove” and began sketching some possible images. I’d never heard of anyone turning their meditations into drawings before, so I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I felt a little foolish at first, but I prayed for serenity and courage as I worked.

I asked myself “What’s something that we remove but never stays removed?”  Eventually, an image slowly started to emerge from my memory. I remembered my grandparents’ old 1930s bathtub. When the drain stopper was removed, that black rubber plug would float aimlessly around in the bathwater for a time. Left to drift, the plug would follow water currents and eventually make its way back onto the drain hole. The round plug might block the hole completely, or else turn sideways and slow the water flow.

As quirky as the memory seemed, I had to admit it fit the definition perfectly. When God removes a defect from me, the defect never goes completely away. Sometimes it drifts harmlessly around, and at other times it returns to either partially or completely block me off from God. I busied myself at the drawing table and soon had a finished drawing. It was an enormous rubber bathtub drain plug. You heard me right. 

“People are going to think I am absolutely insane!” I thought. One day, I gingerly showed it to someone, then another, then another. Their reactions were surprising: “Could I have a copy of that?” I had other drawings that were not related to recovery, but those received a ho-hum response, even from me.

The drawings based on the 1934 dictionary resonated with people… both in and out of recovery. I don’t try to understand it. The drawings are the result of prayer and meditation, so I cannot fully understand their source.

All I know is, I no longer harbor the notion that my Higher Power wants to make me perfect. He doesn't want my defects to permanently disappear. All I am expected to do is make daily progress. If I want my defects cleared away in the next twenty-four hours, all I must do is ask Him to remove them now.


TRIVIA: Most plumbing is stamped with the name of the manufacturer. In case you cannot read it, the drain hole is enscribed with one word: "OHIO". This is a nod to Akron, OH, which was a key location in the founding of AA.

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