What Step Six Really Means

By Amy Dresner 07/14/17

“For me the idea that you can sit passively by while some Higher Power does all the heavy lifting for you is the essence of addiction.”

Thoughtful, determined woman
Working the steps means just that—working.

I was at a meeting the other night and the speaker was sharing on the 6th step: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” I was chosen to share. Already in a bad mood, thanks to the remnants of a heartbreak and the permanent effects of my colorist fucking up my hair, I just let loose, warning those in the meeting that what I would say might come off as blasphemous and offensive.

I understand that AA evolved from the Christian-based Oxford group but this idea that God is like some fucking wizard that plucks out your bad character defects is absurd. If you’ve had this paranormal experience, well God bless you. Unfortunately most of what I’ve heard in the rooms, and this meeting was no exception, was people’s endless prayers for patience and willingness but especially their frustration that certain character defects would be removed for one day only to curiously emerge the next like a slew of stubborn blackheads.

My sponsor, Jay W., is a very God-oriented and spiritual man. And if you’re ever lucky enough to be one of his sponsees, you better like writing because he requires a lot of it. For my 6th step, after I made a list of my character defects, defined them, made a list of their antonyms and defined them, there was still more. I was asked to give two examples of each character defect in action within the last six months and if I could not, then it was not considered an active or pressing defect and was taken off the list. I was also asked to list how each defect negatively affects intimate relationships and blocks recovery. When you see the high price you are paying for these defects, it is much easier to decide to let them go. Sure it’s nice to feel superior or briefly relieved after you vent your rage, but once you get the bill, no thank you. And if there were character defects you were still not willing to let go of, the question was why and what you were gaining by holding onto them. Once this was all done, I made flashcards so that each day I could look for that defect and try to replace it with its opposite. It’s concrete. Not some loosey goosey, “God please remove my character defects today…all 1,654 of them. Gracias.”

I remember early on when I asked Jay if God was going to remove my character defects, he said “Well, I don’t have an intervening God, honey, do you?” And I answered “No.” And he replied “Then, sweetheart, you will have to do the work.”

For me the idea that you can sit passively by while some Higher Power does all the heavy lifting for you is the essence of addiction. In general, we addicts are lazy and we want people to fix it FOR us. I avoided AA for so long because I knew it would take work, tirelessly, daily. Before AA, I tried all these other “treatments” that allowed me to sit on my ass while somebody else fixed my problem: exorcisms, biofeedback, acupuncture, therapy, shamans. I even went to a clinic in Tijuana where I got to kick back and play with my iPhone while they pumped amino acids into my veins in the hopes of rebalancing my brain chemistry thus curing my addiction. Guess what? It didn’t work. None of it.

What has worked is working. Working the steps. Working at contrary action. Working to build a life that is worth staying sober for. Working to be self-supporting.

One of my first sponsors once told me “You don’t have to be a good person. You just have to act like one. Nobody knows the difference.” And he’s right. We are judged on our actions, not our intentions. And the more you act a certain way, the more you become that way. Let me quote some great thinkers and writers to back me up here: Plato said, “Character is simply habit long continued.” Artistotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

And, incredibly, this is now backed up by science. It turns out that you can change your neural pathways through repeated action. You don’t have to wait to feel a certain way. You can take the action and it will change the way you feel and eventually think.

I’ve always said this: AA is cognitive behavioral therapy. It is acting yourself into right thinking. That’s why it works whether you believe in God, Kala, Lucifer or none of them. So let’s not pretend AA is some “pray the gay” away bullshit. God’s got more important stuff to do than remove your reactivity. Give him a hand and act the way you wished you were. He'll appreciate it, and so will the people around you.

Amy Dresner has been a columnist at The Fix since 2012 and is the author of the forthcoming My Fair Junkie. And she is on Twitter. And now she has her own website!

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