Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
The Alcoholics Anonymous authored book, The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, famously calls step six “the step that separates the men from the boys.” What the AA folks mean by this is that compiling a list of one’s character defects and then becoming completely, absolutely, and totally willing to let go of those defects requires a lot of fortitude, especially when some of those defects can be, in moderation, necessary, healthy, and/or enjoyable elements of life.
The trick here is to realize that our life-sustaining natural instincts (for sexual congress, eating, security, and the like) are good things until they spiral out of control. In other words, it is only when these naturally instilled survival instincts begin to drive us blindly into regrettable behaviors that they become character defects. So if lust is ruining your marriage (because you are routinely cheating on your spouse, for instance), your natural desire for sex has become a character defect that you might like to address.
The first part of working step six, of course, is figuring out what your character defects actually are. Having worked steps four and five, you probably already have a pretty good idea. In fact, it is usually helpful to re-read your step four inventory with your sponsor, looking for patterns of fear, dishonesty, greed, lust, jealousy, grandiosity, willfulness, sideways anger, and the like. As you go along you can write down each individual character defect you spot.
Once you have compiled your list, you can write, next to each character defect, a corresponding trait that you’d like to replace it with. For instance, if you identify “lust” as a character defect, you could choose “marital fidelity” as something you aspire to. If “lying” is a character defect, you might choose “honesty and transparency” as things to shoot for. Etc. There is no set number of character defects that you should be trying to identify. Your list will be as long as it needs to be.
At this point you may be asking: How do I become entirely ready to have my higher power remove these defects? The answer is that you probably don’t. The best you can really hope for is to try to become entirely ready. If you make an honest effort in this regard, and continue that effort on a regular basis, the process gets easier. But no one has ever worked step six to perfection, and no one ever will.
For some recovering addicts it helps to realize that in letting go of their character defects they are not “giving something up.” Rather, they are learning to behave differently and in ways that better serve them. Compiling a list of affirmations can be useful in this regard. A good exercise for this is taking each character defect and writing three to five positive statements about living differently. These affirmations should be worded as if you’ve already conquered the defect. For instance, with “lying” you might write:
- I tell the truth in all matters, no matter what.
- I no longer keep secrets from important people in my life.
- I feel better about myself when I tell the truth than when I am dishonest.
Repeating these affirmations aloud at the start and close of each day is a great way to realize that letting go of character defects really does result in a better life. And that realization inevitably creates much of the willingness needed for step six.
For some recovering addicts, one final question remains: If and when I become entirely ready to have God remove my defects of character, will He? Happily, the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!” Any addict who’s achieved lasting sobriety is proof of this fact. However, those same addicts will also tell you that God is not exactly in the business of rendering addicts as pure as the driven snow and keeping them that way without their active and relatively constant participation in the process. Overcoming character defects is an ongoing affair; your higher power will happily take away your shortcomings, and will just as happily return them whenever you’d like.
In future postings to this site, I will present suggestions for how to effectively work steps seven through twelve. For general information about healing from addiction, check out my website. For treatment referrals, click here, here, and here.