Working the 12 Steps of Recovery: Step 6

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Scott Brassart

Last month, we discussed how to work step 5 of the 12 steps, along with the benefits of working that step. This month, our focus logically moves to step 6.

Step 6 reads as follows:

We were entirely ready to have God remove all our defects of character.

The Alcoholics Anonymous authored book, The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, famously says step 6 is the step that separates the men from the boys. What the AA folks mean by this is that compiling a list of your character defects and then becoming completely, absolutely, and totally willing to let go of those defects requires a lot of fortitude, especially when some of those defects are actually – when not carried too far – necessary elements of life.

The trick here is to realize that your life-sustaining natural instincts (for sex, food, security, connection, and the like) are good things until they spiral out of control. Essentially, when these naturally instilled survival instincts begin to drive you blindly into regrettable behaviors, they become character defects. So, if lust is ruining your marriage (because you are routinely cheating on your spouse, for instance), the natural desire for sex has become a character defect that you might like to curtail.

The first part of working step 6, of course, is figuring out what your character defects actually are. Having worked step 4, you probably have a pretty good idea. In fact, with this portion of step 6, it is usually very helpful to re-read your step 4 inventory, looking for patterns of fear, dishonesty, greed, lust, jealousy, grandiosity, willfulness, sideways anger, and the like. As you go along, you can write down each individual character defect you spot.

Once you have compiled your list of character defects, you can write next to each character defect a corresponding trait that you’d like to replace it with. For instance, if you identify lust as a character defect, you could choose marital fidelity as something you aspire to. If lying is identified as a character defect, you might choose honesty and transparency as things to shoot for. Etc. There is no set number of character defects that you should be trying to identify. Your list will be as long as it needs to be.

At this point you may be asking: How do I become entirely ready to have the God of my understanding remove these defects? The answer is that you probably don’t. The best you can really hope for is to try to become entirely ready. If you make an honest effort in that regard and continue that effort on a regular basis, the process eventually gets easier. But no one has ever worked step 6 to perfection, and no one ever will.

For some recovering addicts, it helps to realize that in letting go of their character defects they are not “giving something up.” Rather, they are learning to behave differently and in ways that better serve them. Compiling a list of affirmations can be useful in this regard. A good exercise for this is taking each character defect and writing three to five positive statements about living differently. These affirmations should be worded as if you’ve already conquered the defect. For lying you might write:

  • I am telling the truth in all matters.
  • I no longer keep secrets from important people in my life.
  • I feel better about myself when I tell the truth than when I am dishonest.

Repeating these affirmations aloud at the start and close of each day is a great way to realize that letting go of character defects really does result in a better life.

For some recovering addicts, one final question remains: If and when I become entirely ready to have the God of my understanding remove my defects of character, will he? Happily, the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!” Any addict who’s achieved lasting sobriety is proof of this fact. However, those same addicts will also tell you that God is not in the business of rendering you as pure as the driven snow and keeping you that way without your active and relatively constant participation in the process. In other words, overcoming character defects is an ongoing affair; God will happily take away your shortcomings, and he will just as happily return them whenever you’d like.

In next month’s post to this site, we will continue our discussion of the 12 steps with an examination of step 7.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex or porn addiction, help is available. For porn addicts, Seeking Integrity offers a low-cost online workgroup series. Click HERE for information. We offer a similar workgroup series for sex addicts. Click HERE for information.