Greetings to all on a hot and muggy Monday morning from my part of the world. The expression meteorologists use, “we are in the soup,” is apt right about now!
Today’s reading came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. We read the chapter that discusses step six:
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
This turned out to be one of those meetings that started with almost nobody, but by the end filled up to our usual number of attendees. A good thing, since step 6 tends to be somewhat of a dry discussion.
I shared my evolution on this step. In my earliest days of sobriety, I assumed step 6 was the easiest of the 12. It reminded me of Catholic confession…just admit you do wrong, easy peasy! Since we all as human beings have character defects, and nobody wants to be defective, how hard can it be to be willing to have them removed?
Later, as I became more familiar with the steps, and the nuances within them, this step seemed the most ridiculous, and thus I disliked intensely discussing it at all. Within the chapter itself, it details some of the “lesser defects,” not as urgent but still in need of removal:
In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness.
When gluttony is less than ruinous, we have a milder word for that, too; we call it “taking our comfort.” We live in a world riddled with envy. To a greater or less degree, everybody is infected with it. From this defect we must surely get a warped yet definite satisfaction. Else why would we consume such great amounts of time wishing for what we have not, rather than working for it, or angrily looking for attributes we shall never have, instead of adjusting to the fact, and accepting it? And how often we work hard with no better motive than to be secure and slothful later on—only we call that “retiring.” Consider, too, our talents for procrastination, which is really sloth in five syllables. Nearly anyone could submit a good list of such defects as these, and few of us would seriously think of giving them up, at least until they cause us excessive misery.
-pg. 67, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
I read this chapter, and I’ll be honest…calling retirement another version of sloth still annoys me! So I swung the opposite direction, decided the notion of step 6 impossible (and stupid), and simply avoided it as much as I could.
Nowadays, thankfully, I take a more balanced approach. The essence of step 6, to me, is the same as saying there is no graduation from recovery…there is always a way in which I can work on myself. We are all works in progress, and as long as we are attempting to move in a direction of positive growth, we are capturing the essence of step six.
Several others shared about a variety of character defects they find most troubling, and reported mixed success in being entirely ready to remove them.
One of the first paragraphs in the chapter discusses how we in recovery can attest to the removal of one notable character defect…the obsession to drink. One attendee found that part of the chapter troubling, as she has several years of sobriety, yet still thinks about drinking most days. She’s worried she’s doing something wrong, since so many can declare that the obsession has been lifted from them.
This share brought an interesting sideline discussion: does thinking about drinking make your sobriety less sound? Obviously we are a small meeting, so it’s not like I can declare an official consensus, but our group all disagreed with the notion. Each journey to recovery is unique, as is the active addiction story that led up to it. So comparing one person’s sobriety to another is always a bad idea, and for any number of reasons.
When it comes right down to it, I imagine even the way one defines “obsession to drink” varies quite a bit. People have made the statement that the obsession to drink was removed in an instant. I cannot even comprehend how something like that would happen.
If someone were to ask me if I ever get a craving to chemically alter myself, my answer is a firm no. But what does happen is I get lost in the memory of active addiction, and the feelings that surrounded those days are complicated. In the early days of recovery this type of thing would happen many times a day, every day, and would consume me for hours. As the years have passed, the frequency, intensity and duration of those moments have dramatically decreased, but they still happen. So does this mean I still have the obsession? Does this mean my sobriety is weak, and that I am heading towards a drink?
I choose to think no. My take on any thoughts of drinking, or addiction, or anything related to my active addiction, is a normal part of life. A pattern of such thoughts, or an increased emotional reaction to them, is another tool that allows me to check myself and my sobriety: How strong do I feel? How’s my spiritual life? Have I been of service to others? Have I been isolating?
The answers to those questions allows me to move in the proper direction.
The last thing I’ll share is the wisdom I heard this morning that meant the most to me. One long timer talked about the idea of balance with regard to this step. Often people will shoot for perfection, and if they can’t achieve it, they’ll be the perfect opposite. Either way pride is involved, which of course is the opposite of humility, the general end goal of any of the 12 steps.
Balance, moderation, equilibrium…any time I hear them, my ears perk up, because I know they are qualities towards which I should strive.
Air conditioning. Enough said!
Last full day of school, for one kid anyway. So last day of calm before the craziness of summer!
It is the third Monday of the month, so the reading comes from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we focus on Step Six:
Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
I have admitted this before, so must admit this again: this is my least favorite step. It seems impossible to me… how can a human being be entirely ready to have all character defects removed? Wouldn’t that make one no longer human? And if something cannot be done perfectly, then why is the wording as such? I think, even being a committed 12-step fellowship member for 4 years now, I don’t truly grasp the importance of this step. The good news, and I have admitted all this at the meeting this morning: there was a time when I did not grasp and/or had a philosophical objection to each of the 12 steps; now it’s down to just this one. So there’s hope for Step Six and me yet!
Fortunately for me, the rest of the group of 11 had wisdom to spare, and I have a much better feeling about Step Six than I did going into the meeting. Here are some of the highlights:
- One attendee shared that she has been grappling a bit herself when it come to the application of Step Six in her life. Like me, her initial interpretation is one of such an impossibly high standard, it’s a bit de-motivating…if I know I can never achieve this, why bother? The way she uses it, in terms of discovering her character defects, is to check the motives behind her actions. Turns out, presenting a facade of perfection to the world is a common theme. So she ponders the other side of the coin: what would being vulnerable, instead of presenting the facade, look like? What would it feel like? Are there small steps that can be taken to start moving in a direction? With this train of thought, she feels she is thinking in the spirit of Step Six.
- Another attendee shared something really fascinating to me, something counterintuitive to my thought process regarding this step. In his opinion, self-acceptance is a big part of the process when tackling Step Six. As humans, we all have character defects. Like the disease of alcoholism itself, acceptance is the first step towards change. Given my recent work on self-acceptance, this is a theory I will be exploring a bit on my own.
- A few attendees talked about the usual suspects in terms of character defects. One struggles with being judgmental, another with chronic tardiness, another still with procrastination. All three agree that it is a work in progress in terms of removing these character defects. Progress, not perfection may be the mindset for all three!
- One friend said she does not like the term “character defect” at all, it is just too negative! She prefers using “characteristics that no longer serve us.” In hearing it put this away, it gave voice to something that bothers me the most about this chapter: it’s very negative, and has us look at ourselves negatively. I really enjoyed this simple phrase switch!
- The same friend said she looks at the whole process from a more positive perspective. Instead of focusing on giving up something, she regards what she will gain. In giving up impatience, for example, she will gain so much more peace and serenity. Again, this speaks volumes to the criticism I found in reading this chapter.
- Another gentleman sees the foundation of Step Six as developing the motivation to change. For most of us, choosing sobriety and recovery came as a direct result of misery. Either we were miserable because of the consequences of our addiction (legal woes, marital stress, family disarray, career jeopardy), or we were miserable within ourselves because we could not control our compulsion to drink. Now, Step Six is asking us to look at the not-as-severe character traits that cause harm, and see if we can work to improve them. Not because we are miserable, but because it is the right thing to do. A daunting task, when shown in this light, but far from impossible.
- The same gentleman had his own positive spin on this step. Instead of just looking at the character defect, look at the larger picture, because there is usually an asset on the other side of scale, and things are just out of whack. For example, if you are chronically late, typically you are being very productive doing something else. Instead of berating yourself for all you are not doing, widen the lens, appreciate the good, and attempt to balance out a bit. Again, this gave the step a better framework for me to grasp.
As usual, so much great stuff, what a blessing to start a week off with this much wisdom. Hope everyone is having as wonderful a day!
Remembering to enjoy the last day of calm, before enjoying the craziness of summer!