The 12 Steps, as first detailed in the literature for Alcoholics Anonymous, remain nearly consistent throughout all of the many different groups that use them. Slight changes are made to suit the needs of any particular program, whether it’s for Codependents Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, but the nature and aim of each of the 12 Steps are generally the same. In Step 2, character defects are mentioned and in Step 6 the member becomes ready for a higher power of their choosing to remove their defects of character.
In Step 7, the member humbly asks for them to be removed. This point is reached after painstaking work in the first 5 steps is done to help reveal these character defects. It is often said that this is an ongoing process, one that doesn’t stop with the completion of the 12 Steps. What is it that makes it so hard to let go of the less desirable parts of our character?
What We Hold Onto vs. What We Are Willing to Let Go
In order to better understand why those that participate in 12-Step recovery programs go through the sometimes painful process to reveal and then release character defects, one must understand why. We come to understand in recovery our own character defects are the causes and conditions under which we reached for substances. It’s a painstaking process to give up blame previously placed on people and situations and take the task of healing on ourselves, but it’s a valuable part of the process that can initiate extraordinary growth.
It seems simple to give up the worst of our defects. At face value, most people, not just those that struggle with a substance use disorder, would be glad to be rid of anger, jealousy, insecurity, or procrastination. These defects seem to cause problems in every area of life. However, when considering anger, are we willing to give up justified anger?
What about our frustrations at the injustices of the world, our anger at an employer that had denied us a hard-worked for promotion, or a partner that has been unfaithful? When considering insecurity, are we willing to give up our own harsh inner-critic? Most might say that they would until they must consider the satisfaction that comes with self-pity or giving up the motivation derived out of constantly worrying what others think of us.
It is not simply the things we assume that would be difficult for us to give up, such as perfectionism or judgment, the things which we believe give us a measure of control over the world around us, but the subtle reasons we have for those seemingly less desirable defects. Some of these traits are rooted in childhood experiences, things that we used to help protect us from a harsh environment. These protective defects are especially difficult to let go of.
Progress, Not Perfection
There is a reason that a member of a 12-Step group isn’t able to simply turn these defects over to a higher power and then move along, never to revisit this work again. Most of us reach recovery well into adulthood, where these character defects, or personality traits, have long become a part of who we are and how we navigate the world around us. Perhaps a suspicious nature has kept us from being hurt by others in many ways, but it has also closed us off from intimacy in relationships and made it nearly impossible to trust others.
Maybe we’ve even said that our nature as a procrastinator has always helped us since we do our finest work under duress or with a time restriction. However, we may have never even seen the quality of work that we would produce without strain or we may have always fed a fear that we are only good enough under stressful conditions. Being avoidant or non-confrontational might have helped us negotiate our way through a difficult childhood with angry or violent caregivers, and as adults help us to avoid the fear of other people and their reaction to our dissent.
Regardless of the reasons we have for holding onto our defects, the fact remains that through a thorough process we identified them as potentially harmful to our nature as people with substance use disorder and therefore made a decision that we desire to let them go. The longer we are in recovery, the better our opportunity to not only identify our defects but identify what makes us want to hold onto them.
This is where we trust in the process and learn that we don’t have to be capable of letting go all at once. While in most 12-Step programs it’s vital to depend upon some self-chosen form of a higher power for guidance and assistance, we are responsible to take the actions behind each step. In order to let go of our defects, we can only daily take action to help relieve ourselves of our defects. Understanding why we are holding onto something can be profoundly helpful in this journey because we can take action to help us learn to let it go.
Things like outside therapy, continued work with a mentor or sponsor, or simply repeatedly taking the opposite action all help to retrain ourselves to act more in line with our ideals. We are tasked each day, not with unattainable perfection, but simply to continue to make progress to being healthy and whole.
If you are struggling with moving forward in recovery and all the hard work it takes, we are here to help you, all you have to do is reach out. Ashley Addiction Treatment believes that connection is the key to recovery, with treatment options focused on holistic, integrated, and compassionate care. Ashley works to promote healing of the mind, body, and spirit, taking into account each individual’s experiences. If you would like to speak to someone about our care options, please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.