Having facilitated hundreds – if not thousands – of psychodramas over the years with recovering addicts and alcoholics, one of my great beefs with AA is the term “character defects.” For those of you who are not familiar with the Steps, 6 and 7 are about being entirely willing to have those “defects of character” (that you identified in Steps 4 and 5) removed, and then humbly asking your Higher Power to remove those shortcomings. That word defects has always gotten under my craw.
In psychodrama after psychodrama after psychodrama I’ve directed with addicts/alcoholics, it’s their shame that has driven the disease of addiction, and it’s often what leads people back to relapse. And the thought that I’m “defective” is what’s at the core of shame.
For many addicts/alcoholics, those “defects” saved their lives. If they hadn’t learned to dissociate or to fight or to comply – or whatever else the brilliant coping mechanism was that they developed – they literally might not be alive today. And so I’ve come to call those behaviors character defenses instead – the tools I used (and the only ones I had at the time) that helped me get through difficult situations and feelings.
I’m defended, not defective, and with some willingness, I can begin to parse through which ones of those defenses I might use (and in what context) and which ones no longer serve me. For example, if I’m walking down a dark street at 2 am and a stranger starts to approach me, then my “Don’t F with me” posture could serve to protect me. If, however, I walk through the rest of my life with that posture, then people will typically avoid me or move away from me, and I’ll be alone.
In my own life, I have had to learn where and when to be appropriately defended, and when being so no longer works for me, or is the way I want to live my life. That’s a life-long journey – the hero’s journey…a coming back to myself. And that’s a journey worth taking.
And when I’m willing, shifts happen.