Step Six - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
I was a pretty noncommittal member of A.A. for almost 2 decades before I began to take the program seriously. I abstained from alcohol and I believed that there were only 4 steps (out of 12) that could help me: 1,2,3 and 11. And, as I would tell anyone who would listen "I don't need a sponsor and I won't be working the 12 steps because only four apply to me and my life.” With that attitude it's miraculous that I didn't drink again. What's even more miraculous is that the other members of my home group let me hang around and didn't shun me. I would have slapped me in the face.
I wish I could say here that I held on to those false beliefs about the steps for just a few months. Sadly, that's not the case. I held on to those ideas and did not get a sponsor or work the steps for years into sobriety. I had a home group and I went to meetings religiously. But without having a sponsor or working the steps, the first few years I was abstinent from alcohol were incredibly uncomfortable. I saw others entering A.A. after me getting considerably less crazy and even somewhat calm in their first few months of continuous sobriety. At first I was completely baffled. I would berate myself for my sober misery. Now I realize that had I fully accepted the program of A.A. my transition from drunk to sober could have been much smoother, much softer. But when I got to A.A. I kept my cards close to my chest. I stayed apart, a lone wolf. “What if I decide to drink again?” I would think. “Won't all these hours spent in A.A. meetings just have been so much wasted time?” I like to keep my options open. All my options. Even the ones that can kill me.
After years of struggling, I'm finally in the A.A. boat. I am no longer being dragged along behind it, alone in the freezing water, grasping wildly at the flailing rope thrown my way. But guess what? Being in the boat can be uncomfortable too. Really uncomfortable. My fellow “passengers” asked me to start looking at my character defects. You know. Those same character defects I denied having for years. I forgive myself this stupidity now but I honestly thought my only character defects were overindulging in drugs and alcohol and then lying about it. That's the truth. So once I realized that I could possibly, on the rare occasion, maybe on a bad day, have some minor character defects, I was stunned.
So I've started this 6th step work and as I do it I watch myself and my patterns. I see that I do indeed have defects of character and that I attack them in the same way that I attack the clouds of flying creatures that show up on my doorstep and windowsills every spring, threatening to overwhelm me and my house in biblical waves. I had never seen them before I moved out of Manhattan but my kids explained that they are called stink bugs. In sobriety I've become quite house proud, so when the stink bug onslaught begins I panic. I go on the attack. I call the exterminator. I fumigate the house. I open windows and close doors. I shake curtains and fluff pillows. I track them down and eliminate them - with my bare hands if need be. I'll stop at nothing. For a day. Or two. Or three. And then I find myself slipping. Invisibly, softly, subtly. The giving up is so insidious and slow paced that I don't even notice it. I just start to cave. "Well, we are all God's children, even those stink bugs" I'll mutter when my children complain that there are bugs flying all over their rooms. "That's cool. They sort of match the wallpaper" I exclaim when my husband points out a trio scuttling down the dining room wall. One of my best friends was staying at my house for the weekend. As I was showing him his room I pulled the curtains shut to demonstrate how they worked. As I did so a horde of dead and dying stink bugs exploded out at us. My friend ducked his head and made a horrified snort. He recovered somewhat, gingerly picking bugs out of his hair, and asked me sarcastically if I knew what an "exterminator" was. “No." I replied "It’s fine. You'll get used to them, you'll see, we all do in the end."
And what I do with those damn stink bugs is exactly what I do with my defects. I just get lazy. I start out fighting like a Spartan and then it gets hard. And I start to wobble. I start to cave. And just like with the stink bugs I stop fighting and I start to get used to living with my defects. I don't just allow them to be there, I entertain them as well. The chronic harsh judgement of myself and others, the relentless negativity, the constant hum of discontent? "Well," I tell myself, "if no one else can see my defects who cares anyway?" Just like I pretend I didn't see that colony of stinkbugs, I'll just open those curtains right back up, putting the bugs or my defects back where they belong, hidden in the dark. Or, I could take another tack. I could ring the captain's bell and yell "Attention! Everyone on deck! Everyone take a look. There they are, all my defects. Fear! Negativity! Self pity! Resentments! I've found them. I see them. You see them. Step this way, have a look. There they are. Thank you all so much for coming and now I'm done."
But I won't get rid of my defects just by acknowledging them. If I really want to be rid of my defects I have to work to let them go. To release them into the sky like helium balloons and just let them float away. So why don't I? Because my defects are freaking delicious! That's why. They give me a quick hit of the one drug I'm still allowed. Sweet, spicy, fiery adrenaline. Anger, rage, self-pity, envy, all of them give me a nice hit to the heart of pure animalistic delicious adrenaline. But at what cost to me and my mental health and to those around me? That is what I am finally looking at. I am not yet willing to let all my defects just float off into the wild blue yonder. After all, I have spent years perfecting them. But imagining that one day I might be able to let them go is the first step. I could never have imagined a life without drinking but one day I started to think about what that could look like. What would that feel like? That is when the magic happened. And now that's what I'm trying to do with my defects. Thinking about MAYBE living a life without them. Yet, as I wrote that last sentence a voice in my head boomed "Oh no you don't, Missy. You've already given up drugs and alcohol. You are NOT giving up those resentment-fueled adrenaline rushes. No way, no how."
That is MY voice.
But there's another voice in there too. A voice that is whispering to me that my defects of character are an exhausting and depressing burden to carry around all day, every day. Now, thanks to that more reasonable voice, and to steps 4, 5, and 6, I am more aware of what my defects are. Only then can I start to think about letting some of them go. I also see that living with a few stink bugs flying around my house won't kill me...but refusing to address my character defects just might.
This won't be a walk in the park. But when I lose hope and I lose strength, when I just want to throw in the towel, I will repeat my three favorite words from all of the A.A. literature, "progress, not perfection."