Dear Fellow Travelers,
Step Six Essay
"If we can answer to our satisfaction (that we were thorough in our 5th step), we then look at Step Six. We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable. Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all - every one? If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us be willing." (AABB, page 76)
At first glance, this seems like such an easy step. After all, who wouldn't be willing to have their character defects removed? But then we have to ask the real question behind this step. Do we really want the character defect itself removed, or just all of the problems that this defect has caused us? Are we ready to live without this defect, or are we really hoping that maybe we can control it better?
For many of us, some of our character defects were survival mechanisms that we learned long ago but that have since begun to create problems. Maybe our lying was rooted in a childhood where telling the truth brought swift and painful repercussion, so we learned to avoid the truth. Or maybe feeling alone and isolated from our peer group, we took to gossiping to make ourselves more interesting. Or maybe we used promiscuous sex to relieve feelings of being unloved. It isn't human nature to adopt habits that will hurt us and at some time in our past, it seemed that we couldn't get by without the use of these defects of character. We learned though, in the process of doing Step Five, that we have now become enslaved by these very same things that used to protect us, that we use these to not only hurt ourselves, but to hurt those around us. Those temper tantrums we threw as a young child don't look so good on us now that we are adults, do they?
So are we entirely ready to give these up? Are we ready to quit trying to manage our own lives through their use? Do we remember what we wrote when we admitted that our lives had become unmanageable? If not, go back and read it again. Do we remember how we felt about ourselves when we wrote out our 4th step and told someone else about it in our 5th? Is that really who we want to be? Of all the character defects we listed in our previous work, they can probably be condensed into these two: selfishness and self-centeredness. Is that what we really want for ourselves?
So now that I made this step appear to be difficult, I'd like to spend a moment trying to reduce some of the anxiety it may have caused. This step does NOT say that we have the power to remove these defects of character ourselves, nor does it imply that we ever will. If we did have such power, we'd probably have removed some of them a long time ago. Most of us have experienced at some time or another an urge to better our character and have made pledges to ourselves and to others that we would work on some of our grosser problems. But didn't they keep returning despite our best efforts? The truth is, we have no more ability to control our character defects than we had of controlling our compulsive overeating. We can do it for short periods of time, but we inevitably return to the old ways.
To those who think what I've written gives us broad license to indulge in our favorite defect, that's not the point at all, no more than admitting we were powerless over food gave us license to go on an endless binge. Some may despair and ask what they are to do about these defects if they don't have the power or the ability to remove them. Well, don't despair - that's why we have twelve steps and not just six! : )
The OA 12x12 does give us a general guideline to actually "working" this step. It asks us to take each of our character defects, one at a time, and examine it closely. We acknowledge again that this defect has become a part of our lives. We look at why we have it, at what benefit we gain from using it. Then we look at how it has harmed us. We scrutinize our unwillingness to let go of that trait if we are still wanting to hold on to it. If we still find ourselves unwilling, we ask our Higher Power for that willingness.
This step is a lot like Step Three. Remember the analogy of the frogs? You aren't being asked to remove your character defects, and if it's any comfort, I'll let you know now that you never will be! This isn't about will power or denial of things we want for ourselves. This isn't even about being willing to remove our defects of character. It is about being entirely willing to let our Higher Power do it FOR us! Maybe not so easy, but not so horribly difficult either. Are you ready?