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Addictions Anonymous, 19: Growth Through Practice

 article about Step Six

This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.

Were entirely ready to practice the program in order to remove all these defects of character.

The word practice in this step means to become good at something by repeating it, by doing or practicing it over and over as a part of life. In other words, Step Six suggests incorporating into every part of life all the values represented in the Twelve Steps and its traditions. It means working to become honest, humble, forgiving, caring and so forth. If you just stop using a trigger or addictive, you are what is called a dry drunk. That is, you stay the same old person, but can no longer escape into an altered state. Whatever that elusive spiritual experience may be, it must involve personality changes, not simple abstinence. The personality change experienced by Bill Wilson, author of Alcoholics Anonymous, was probably similar to what Zen Buddhists mean by enlightenment, a sudden and radical insight into needed behavior change. Abstinence is only the opportunity to work on personality defects and to become a better person with a better life. Insight may be slow in coming or may dawn suddenly.

Step Six means knowing the character defects you tolerated during an addiction. It means deliberately practicing the character virtues that are their opposites. If it helps, go back to Chapter 17 and remind yourself of the character defects and character assists you want to work on. Allow your new values and habits to enter and become common in every aspect of living, not just in group meetings. The changes you make in your personality and behavior should be universal in the sense that they permeate all of life and become the new you. This, of course, will take time and you are justified in doubting anyone who claims an overnight recovery, someone who has had a blinding flash of remorse or who shows a sudden pasted on piety. Along with constant work, give the changes time to become natural and consistent in life. The ultimate rewards for such personal changes are often delayed. In fact, trying to change may alienate others who want you to remain the same familiar person they have always known.

In a larger sense, Step 6 suggests something many people never think about, it suggest that you can and should take control of your own emotions. There is no reason why you have to feel angry, anxious, or depressed all the time. There is not need to live life feeling like a victim. With practice, emotions can usually be switched on and off. Feeling down is a choice, not a natural law. Others can't tell you how you should feel, but you can. It's called self-regulation of emotions. This usually involves talking to your self in one way or another. Others try to help all the time by offering suggestions. A widow is told that her husband's death was God's will, and this is supposed to give her a greater understanding and acceptance of her loss. She could, as soon as possible, begin to plan for the rest of her life and realized that she has many years to make a good life for herself and many choices to make.

There are endless ways in which we can self-regulate our feelings, but this is a skill that has to be learned. Some people learn theses skill early in life while others, for one reason or another, do not. If you look again at the list of personality defects and assets you will realize how much each deals with emotions and feelings. You will realize that when you replace defects with assets you are taking a greater degree of self-control, and that is a characteristic most would agree is a very important part of getting over an addiction.

In previous chapters, I have suggested that one of the best sources of information about your own personality comes from those who know you well, from your family, co-workers, friends and your group members. The greatest obstacle to hearing valid feedback, of course, is ego. When you ask for feedback, don't argue, justify, rationalize or defend. Just listen. You do not have to like, accept or agree with what people think of you, but if you argue with their judgments they will stop trying to help. To see yourself you often have to look at your reflection in the eyes of others, to see yourself as others see you.

Once you have a working list of character defects in writing, the practice begins. As an example, here is a list of defects that a man I'll call Sam developed:






Sam had other problems, but these were the ones he kept hearing from others when he asked for ideas. Just listening to what they had to say was very difficult, but listening was excellent practice for what he needed to achieve. At first, he was repelled at the idea of trying to become gentle, serene, agreeable, planning, and open. He was sure it was a path to business failure, but he was willing to try. He made himself a checklist on a note care to remind himself of what and where he had work to do.

At Home

At Work Social Contacts




Planning Life

Open To Others

Over time, he found that people began to seek him out, they really seemed to like him. He did not become a business failure. In fact, his career began to flower. At first, the new character traits seemed uncomfortable, and he often fell back to old ways. But Sam was one who took the program of recovery seriously. Abstinence from drugs and alcohol made it possible for Sam to continue on the path of personal growth, but hard work and specific, written goals paid off.

A lady I'll call Joan, a slot machine addict, came up with the following things she decided to work on:

Passive Involved

Anxious Confident

Secretive Open

Shy Assertive

Timid Bold

Withdrawn Outgoing

You can see that Sam and Joan were very different personalities, but with a common problem of addiction. The also had individual habits that made their lives miserable and caused dark feelings relieved by practicing addictions

This was a pretty good description of Joan's lifestyle. She had spent long hours huddled in front of slot machines avoiding social contact as much as possible. Playing the slots took her out of her anxious moods until, as always happened, she ran out of money and the misery of being Joan returned.

I wish I had nothing but happy stories to tell about successful recoveries, but this is not the reality of addiction. Joan did not share her list of goals with others, she failed to attend meetings and found reasons to continue to isolate herself. She was told to try a course in public speaking at the local community college or to join a local discussion group. She never offered to tell her story at meetings and ignored advice. She went back to her beloved slot machines and dropped out of treatment. Perhaps, some day, she will find the courage to change.

In our hospital treatment program for addictions, we used to challenge our patients with, "To what lengths will you go, what prices are you willing to pay, for sobriety?"

Unless they replied, "To any length, any price," we suspected their sincerity. They had not yet seen the task they faced. Willingness is the real question posed by Step Six.

Here are some topics to think and write about:

New habits of behaving and thinking often feel uncomfortable at first. How can you make the growth process more comfortable?

Aren't there some situations were character defects such as anger or manipulation can't be avoided?

What are the rewards for you in changing your character?

What are some good ways of dealing with people who seem uncomfortable with your character changes?

If you do succeed in replacing character defects with assets, how will this improve your life? In other words, what's in it for you personally?

To what lengths will you go, what prices are you willing to pay, for abstinence?

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