Dear WTS loop,
If the first five steps orient us toward the past, and who we have been, Steps 6 through 12 orient us toward the future, and who we can become. Or, as an old friend said, "If you have really, really worked Steps 1 through 5, you never have to eat compulsively again. The bad news is, food isn't your problem." This week we move along to Step 6, which means that we'll be talking about becoming entirely ready to have God remove all of our defects of character. If you're like me, this is going to take some doing to wrap your mind around, for several reasons.
I am one of those people whose motto is, "Try harder!" Another motto is, "Figure it out." I had - and sometimes still have - countless times in my life when I swore on Monday to be "good" all week, only to be in the food by 10 a.m. Or I woke up swearing that I'd be calm today only to be a screaming meemee by noon. I kept thinking that I could run my own life, and that if I only resolved harder to be patient, tolerant, kind, loving, gentle - and not to eat - that would be sufficient. If I wasn't able to be patient, tolerant, etc., it was because I hadn't tried hard enough. This, of course, was the source of yet more shame.
Step Six taught me that I was going about this all wrong. My character defects, it says, are for me very similar to food: I am powerless over them but I am not helpless. I am not a victim. I cannot clench my fists and wish or will them away anymore than I could do that with the food. Just like the food, they've been helpful tools in my life for a lot of years, and willpower isn't going to take them away.
So Step Six, at first blush, is really easy: Shouldn't I be able to take that list of character defects from Step Four, hold the list in my mind, and think, "I'm so ready!"? What's the big deal? The big deal is two little words: entirely ready to have our HP remove all these defects of character. Most of us aren't entirely ready for much of anything. Being human, we don't deal all that well with change; some of us tolerate it better than others, but change isn't really compatible with maintaining human families, work places, churches, communities. People come to count on things - and people - being a certain way and they subtly resist efforts to change, even if change is growth. What this means for me is that becoming entirely ready is an activity I have to dig deep for. On the other hand, my Higher Power did, indeed, take away my food obsession, cravings, and weight. Why can't I take the first three steps on my character defects, just as I did on the food, and have them be gone? The reason for this is that my eating was killing me. Temper tantrums, or lying, or tardiness - these will make my life uncomfortable - perhaps very unpleasant - but they're not going to kill me. Step Six is a parallel to what we did with the food in Step One, but it's not the same. This is exactly what the AA 12n12 means when it talks about instincts run amok. The instincts themselves aren't the problem if we act on them in moderation. COEs don't know how to do moderation, though.
In my experience and opinion, this step requires a ton of willingness and courage. There's a lot of fear associated with this step. I wonder who I'll be if I don't have my old defects of character. What will I think about all day? What do those people who don't gossip talk about? If I'm never late for appointments again, won't I end up having to do more work at the office, spend more time with the people I'm meeting, and won't I be bored if I'm not arriving in a mad dash? I only came through the doors of OA to lose weight, folks - now you're talking to me about becoming a totally different person? What does this have to do with being thin? On the other hand, here is a program that is offering me for free what years of therapy couldn't accomplish: I can become a nicer person!
So one reason we resist Step Six, and are reluctant to become entirely ready to have our HP remove all of our defects of character, is because of fear. The other is pleasure: we enjoy some of them. I like to be right. I like others to know that I am right. I like to inform them promptly and decisively when they are wrong and I am right. I want to get credit for my right-ness. I get pleasure out of informing others that I'm right; sadly, I sometimes step on their toes in the process. So this defect of character has to go. But - oops! - that won't be very much fun! I get pleasure from that one! And, of course, my fear tells me that if I give up letting others know I'm right, then... well... they won't know. And then what will they think of me? (It's amazing to me how many of my character defects end with, "And then what will they think of me?").
I love this quote from our OA 12n12, on page 53: "What we are entirely ready for, actually, is to have the difficulties our defects cause us removed while we hang onto the defects themselves." Yep - I want to have the effects of my behaviors removed, but - gasp! - surely you don't mean I really have to change the behavior!?!? This is exactly like my wanting to go right on compulsively overeating but be thin. The laws of physics simply don't work that way, and this is true for my defects of character just as surely as of my disease. I also love the statement in the AA 12n12 which points out that most of us are content to settle for only as much perfection as will let us get by in life. If I'm not working all of the steps, persistently, then that's what I'm doing: settling. If I have "fat serenity" then I'm settling. If I have given up compulsively overeating but haven't repaired broken relationships, then I'm settling. I've been there - it works for a short time, but it doesn't work over the long haul.
I have found it to be a useful exercise for working Step Six to write out, about each of my character defects, what it does for me as well as what it does to me. Some people also then write what their lives would look like if they no longer had that defect of character. I find the "for me/to me" list really helpful because it reminds me that there is a reason I've been practicing this defect for all these years. It's been a tool that worked for me for a long time.
The work of Step Six is to do whatever I have to do to make myself ready to have every single blessed one of my defects of character removed from me, just the way the obsession with food was removed. In the case of some defects, I may need to hit bottom first - just as I did with the food. It may take a few more broken relationships, or episodes of depression because I feel so ashamed of myself, to get me to hit bottom.
Yes, it's true: this step implies that we are striving for perfection - and wasn't perfectionism one of the character defects I was hoping to let go of? So aren't you asking me to practice a character defect, here? Nice try, but no cigar! (My husband says maybe you aren't old enough to understand that reference and I should say, "Nice try, but no brownie!"). This step asks that I put my foot on the path and walk - and keep walking - forward toward the person I want to become. "Progress, not perfection" can be used - and has been used by many OAs - as an excuse to do nothing. Personally, I don't want that life. I'm too scared it will lead me back to the food. As the AABB notes, to work this step I may need to ask my HP to help me be willing to be entirely ready to have all of my defects of character removed. Step One is the only step I can take to perfection; the rest are ideals I strive for daily (because I only have a daily reprieve from my disease).
A word about feelings: it took me a long time to figure out that feelings are not character defects. There is a lot of psychological research on feelings and it shows that across time and across cultures there are a finite number of feelings that every human being has hard-wired into him/her, because these feelings are necessary for survival (just like those instincts the AA 12n12 talks about). So my feelings aren't the problem; what I do with my feelings is the problem. Feeling anger is not a defect of character; hanging onto it, massaging it, complaining about the person or situation I'm angry at, grinding my teeth because of it... those are problems. So that's what I'm going to identify as my character defect, and work to become ready to have removed: hanging onto anger. Shame is actually a very useful emotion because it lets us know that we've violated our own values, or it lets us know that we've violated the values of our society and will be rejected if found out. So shame is not the character defect; withdrawing and isolating from the society that may reject me, or lying, as a result of feeling shame: these are the character defects I'll be getting entirely ready to have God remove.
Again, a parallel with the food: even though today I am entirely ready to remain abstinent, is it possible that tomorrow I'll feel an urge so strong I will consider bingeing? You betcha! Entirely possible, yep. And with my character defects: even though today I am entirely ready to have my need to let you know that I'm right removed, is it possible that tomorrow I'll be in a situation where I will believe I just HAVE TO set you straight? You betcha! So, according to the AA 12n12, "But in no way does [HP] render us white as snow and keep us that way without our cooperation" (p. 65). I'm going to have to apply this step repeatedly and persistently on some of these defects of character.
As the OA 12n12 says, we must be entirely ready no matter what (p. 56). In the AA 12n12 it talks about taking this step "without any reservations whatever" (p. 63). We're afraid, but we move ahead anyway.
Questions for Step Six:
1. What character defects are on your Step Six list?
2. How will you know you are entirely ready?
3. Are there some that you think it will take you longer to get entirely ready to have removed?
4. What gets in the way of being entirely ready?
5. How do you know when you're procrastinating on moving forward? (Personally, I catch myself starting to justify and rationalize behaviors I don't really care for).
6. Can you think of an example of a time in your life when you had to become entirely ready for something? I know a woman who had to become entirely ready to learn to swim, for example. Maybe childbirth?
7. Which defects do you think you'd really rather hang onto?
8. Is there anything you can think of to do that will help you become entirely ready? Any way to speed the process along?
9. Have you tried the "for me/to me" exercise?
10. Are you a person who likes change? Or do you thrive on making others change? Or do you really just like chaos, not change?
The Twelve Steps