Friday, August 05, 2011

Step Seven is a Retirement Party

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 is a world of difference from asking God to remove the defects that I don’t like or the defects that effect how others think of me. Here is a place that humility kicks in—I don’t necessarily get to choose the defects, God does. I can’t use the Seventh Step in a codependent or self-serving way, “Now I’ll get so good that everyone will like me.”

But here’s another bit of Step Seven wisdom I got from a very early sponsor with help from a very early therapist: We do not kill our character defects! My first therapist in recovery (I distinguish from the previous ones that I never told the truth to) pointed out to me that my “character defects” were all things that saved my life growing up. Being a “high screener”—super vigilant --is a life saving skill in an alcoholic home. Also being super organized (controlling) keeps a kid sane and able to function. Being hyperaware of other people’s feelings and anticipating them also makes a chaotic world safer and more manageable. Telling lies, stuffing feelings, being seductive or bossy or too complaint were all part of survival.

And so my defects were once assets.

Until they weren’t.

So my early sponsor pointed out that it didn’t make sense to hate these parts of me because they were in fact part of me and that I didn’t want—in recovery—to hate myself.

Instead we could retire our character defects.

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

Imagine that. We could list the defects and thank them for their contributions, listing the ways they served us, thanking them for their help in our early lives. Laughter and stories just like a real retirement party. And then we walk them to the door and take their keys and parking pass. But we don’t kill retirees.

But here’s the thing: just like at our workplace, sometimes retirees come back to visit—often at inopportune times—and that can be annoying, frustrating, maybe funny, but we don’t kill them. We may say, “I remember you” and then ever so gently, “You don’t work here anymore.” And we walk them to the door again. But we don’t kill them.

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