Step Six – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
All of them? As Bill W. points out in the chapter on Step Six in the “Twelve and Twelve,” “Some people, of course, may conclude that they are indeed ready to have all these defects taken from them. But even these people, if they construct a list of still milder defects, will be obliged to admit that they prefer to hang on to some of them.”
Several years ago I had a vivid personal example of what he was talking about. At that time I had a sponsor to whom I was devoted, one reason for which, possibly, was that she and I shared some of the same characteristics or, as some would say, defects. One of them was a quick temper. Restraint of tongue and pen didn’t come easily to either of us.
One day, after a brisk altercation on the phone, she hung up on me. Indignation swelled up inside me. That was absolutely no way for a sponsor of many years’ sobriety to behave! Indignation was followed by a delicious sense of grievance, of having been profoundly wronged.
For the next twenty-four hours I fed and watered that delightful sense of victimhood. I would not, of course, have admitted for one moment to myself or anyone else how much I was enjoying it, or my discovery that being a victim was not far removed from (in the words of the Prince of Denmark) a consummation devoutly to be wished. In my own mind I replayed the incident on the phone over and over, brushing aside my recollection of what I might have said or done to bring on my sponsor’s action. And each time her hanging up on me grew more heinous. I was innocent, and in a case like this, innocence is power.
The next afternoon, after being out of my apartment for several hours, I called my answering service to pick up messages. The young woman at the other end of the phone said, “Jean called to say she’s sorry and would you please call her.”
You would think, wouldn’t you, that now, with my sense of grievance fully vindicated, I would be filled with joy and forgiveness? You would be wrong. My first feeling, and I remember it well, was dismay, followed quickly by a flattening sense of letdown.
I worried at that letdown for a full day before some glimmering of its real cause dawned on me: I knew that when I would call Jean she’d repeat her apology and I would have to forgive her. And by forgiving her, I would yield up the sense of power, of self-justification, that I had enjoyed so much.
It took me another several hours to define what my choice was: I could have my grievance or I could have my friend. Not both. I had to choose. And I saw further that choice is one of the fruits of sobriety that by putting down the bottle I now had, not only about this, but about other aspects of my life and other defects of character. It was the first time I understood a defect for what it was: something out of which I derived pleasure or power and was therefore not entirely willing to give up. Obviously, in this particular example, by relinquishing the pleasure I would get something better–the restoration of friendship.
But sometimes the sense of gratification, of power that a grievance can bring is hard to yield up. I once heard a well-known doctor, one of the first to recognize what AA could do, say: “Self-pity is followed by isolation is followed by a drink.”
And I began, especially after the incident involving my sponsor, to understand why when I first came into Alcoholics Anonymous, the most frequent warnings from some of the old-timers were against self-pity. All those sensations I’d been wallowing in with such enjoyment–of being aggrieved, of being wronged, of (for once!) being in the right, of being victimized–added up to the heady brew of self-pity. And I then comprehended fully why self-pity, leading to isolation (and wasn’t I isolating myself from my sponsor?), was presented by that doctor and the old-timers as such a formidable enemy of sobriety.
P.S. I called Jean and we made up and the incident passed. But I still think about it a lot