Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Retirement Party for Your Character Defects

In the Seventh Step prayer we humbly ask God to remove the defects of character that “stand in the way of my usefulness to you (God) and my fellows.”

That was something that I always wanted. But it took me a long time to understand that there is a world of difference from asking God to remove the defects that limit my usefulness to others versus the ones that that I don’t like or the defects that effect how others think of me. I wanted Step Seven to be a kind of self-improvement process or like getting a makeover. What I have come to realize is that this is a place where that humility kicks in: I don’t necessarily get to choose the defects that will be removed.  My Higher Power does. I don’t get to use the Seventh Step in a self-serving way, “Now I’ll get so good that everyone will like me.”  Dang!

So how to approach this step in a loving, and not self-bashing way?

Here’s a bit of Step Seven wisdom I got from an early sponsor with help from a very early therapist: We do not kill our character defects! My first therapist in recovery pointed out to me that my “character defects” were all things that saved my life growing up. Being a “high screener”—super vigilant --was a life saving skill in an alcoholic home. And being super organized (controlling) gave me a sense of safety and security as a kid. Being hyperaware of other people’s feelings and anticipating them made a chaotic world more manageable. Telling lies, stuffing feelings, being seductive or bossy or too complaint were all part of my survival.

And so my defects were once important assets. Until they weren’t.

My sponsor pointed out that it didn’t make sense to hate these parts of me because they were, in fact, parts of me and that I didn’t want—in recovery—to hate myself. Instead I could retire them.

I love the idea of retirement. If we think of our character defects as workers whose skills no longer fit our company’s goals then retirement is honorable and appropriate. Just as in a business we can say, “Hey, we are doing new things now and doing things a new way” but we honor the “retirees” for all they gave to our enterprise. Rather than shove the character defects out the door or pray that God destroys them we could have a retirement party for our character defects.

Imagine that. We could list each defect and thank them for their contribution, and thanking them for their help in our early lives. There could be laughter and stories just like a real retirement party. And then we can walk them to the door, take their keys and parking pass and shake their hand.

 But we don’t kill retirees.

Here’s the thing to remember: Just like at our workplace, sometimes retirees come back to visit—and sometimes they visit at inopportune times—and that can be frustrating. But we don’t kill them. We may say, “ Hey, I remember you; remember how we used to work together?” And then, ever so gently, we might say,  “But you don’t work here anymore.” And we walk them to the door, and say, “Thanks.”

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