Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Am More Than The Sum Total Of My Character Defects.

Many of us have developed coping mechanisms in our dealings with alcoholism, which if "reasoned out with someone else," can lead to the discovery of our individual character defects.

If we are new to Al-Anon, and this process, it can feel devastating to realise for the first time, that we are manipulative, or judgemental, or deliberately punishing, or whatever it is. Opening the door to that closet of self, reaching in and yanking out one item, can cause a deluge of realisations about the way in which we move in the world.

I know that this was how it felt to me, in the beginning of this process. When I began to open my mind to the possibility that I was the creator of my own unhappiness, and embarked upon my first Step 4: "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.", I would be swept with great waves of shame about my character defects. I'm grateful for my first sponsor, who would listen lovingly to my hesitant (and heavily edited) attempts to get some clarity about a character defect, and when I finished, ask baldly, "Is this something about which you feel ashamed?"

I'd nod, unable to meet her gaze, and afraid that if I used my voice, it would crack and break, and I'd collapse into tears again.

"Why are you ashamed?"

I hated that question, and would mumble and mutter and sidestep and wiggle and squirm. My sponsor allowed this for quite a few weeks, before one day saying firmly, "You're evading my question; come on now, it's not so terrible, why are you ashamed."

I gritted my teeth, fishing around in my head for something to satisfy her, and finally replied, grudgingly, "Because I feel like a horrible person."

She stood up, reached for my hand, and pulling me to my feet, walked me out into the hallway, to stand before the full-length mirror. She told me to look at myself, and say, "I am more than the sum total of my character defects."
I thought this was extremely silly, and would have argued, but I trusted her; if she was asking me to do this, she had a good reason.

I mumbled through it, as quickly as I could, looking anywhere but at my reflection.

She said, "Nope, you need to make eye contact with yourself, and say it as if you mean it."

I did. It felt strange and uncomfortable and wierd. We went back to the kichen table, and carried on with my Step 4. As I was leaving that day, she hugged me warmly, and said into my ear, "I would like you to do that mirror affirmation every morning when you first get up."

I didn't argue, just nodded, and I did as she suggested. It continued to feel wierd for a while, until one day when I was headed down the hallway in my house, and caught myself giving myself  hell, for whatever real or imagined wrong I was lashing myself about. I stopped walking, struck by the sudden realisation that it was true, I am more than the sum total of my character defects. I just hadn't ever thought of it that way, because I was so used to bashing myself.

Admitting "the exact nature of my wrongs" to myself, had been a frightening and shaky endeavor, because it triggered some vicious self-talk about what an awful human being I truly was. Admitting them to another human being, my heart would pound like crazy. My sponsor was trying to gently point out to me, that there was more to me than what was wrong and needed to be fixed. That day, I went straight to a mirror from my startling revelation, and repeated the affirmation, gazing into my own eyes, truly feeling and believing it for the very first time.

I may not like what I discover about my character defects, and I may have to go through a process of detaching from my self-talk, before I can reach a place of acceptance about them. If I continue to remind myself that they do not make up the entirety of my nature, I am more willing to admit to them.
I am no better and no worse than the other people in the fellowship of Al-Anon.
I am only human, and I possess the normal human frailties. Hard as it would have been to believe, back when I embarked upon this process of self-discovery, our individual character defects have been the subject of some of the best laughing fits I've ever had with program friends. For me, once I've seen myself through the lens of humour, I can never again take myself quite so seriously on that topic - always a good thing.


  1. This is an incredible post. Simple solution to what I believe is the core problem we all face loving ourselves. Giving our child within the love and encouragement we would give a child we loved. I am often asked how do you become enough. Until recently couldn't accept that I was enough. I did this exercise of looking in the mirror and saying you are enough. It was weird at first but then it became easier. I am Gods creation and not a mistake and I need to own that. It goes aganist being taught to be humble but claiming your traits good and bad is just stating the facts. Thanks for the post.

  2. So so true. It sounds like you have a wonderful sponsor who knew what you needed at the time. Looking back, I can see how hard and judgmental I was towards myself. Echos of my childhood. My sponsor taught me I was human, just like everyone else and that I had her permission to get over myself and get on with my healing (said gently and with love). I loved her ability to see thru my bs. Good post.


  3. The positive affirmations do work. I can look in the mirror and see who I am and accept that I like what I see and who is there. That was not possible many years ago.