Step Six

"Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."

I love this step. It's the beginning of a process that will transform our very core. However, I have to admit that I initially considered this step to be a quick and easy, check-it-off, kind of thing. I wasn't even sure that it warranted a whole step to itself. Why not combine it with the next step? "Were entirely ready (Step 6) and humbly asked God (Step 7) to remove all these defects of character (aka shortcomings)." Isn't that much simpler? Well, no. We can't lump these steps together because it detracts from the importance of each one. Step Six is a very powerful experience if we give it the attention it deserves.

First of all the steps are set up to be a weave of preparation followed by action: We come to believe in a Higher Power then we turn over our will; we do a moral inventory then we share it with someone; we become ready to deal with our character defects then we ask for God's guidance; we become willing to make amends then we do it! Before rushing into any action we take the time to prepare ourselves spiritually. We ask ourselves what our motivations are and where we are holding back. We get more honest and more willing. We ask questions, dig deeper and pray. We are thorough because "half-measures avail us nothing."

The first five steps provide the necessary foundation for recovery. By the time we arrive at Step Six we have entered into a relationship with our Higher Power and acknowledged the mess. Now the cleaning up process begins. It has been said that the sixth step will separate the men from the boys. It is all well and good to do a moral inventory and to make amends but it is our willingness to avoid making the same mistakes, to let go of old ways, to trust God with our brokenness, that demonstrates a real transformation is taking place. I've done wrong (Steps Four and Five) and want to tell you I'm sorry (Steps Eight and Nine) but first I'm going to do some soul searching and look to God for healing so I might not make the same mistakes again (Steps Six and Seven). In Step Six we have a change of heart. We demonstrate our sincere commitment to living differently.

It seems like a no-brainer that everyone would want to have their shortcomings removed but the truth isn't so. Often our defects lead to behaviors that provide an emotional pay-off. Does the workaholic really want to come home earlier or is he more content at the office? Does the newly sober and lonely alcoholic also want to end her relationship with a married man? Are we just paying lip-service to the idea of giving up gossip or spending outside our budget? Do we truly believe that it is possible for God to remove perfectionism, social anxiety or self-esteem issues? Some defects may be so deeply ingrained they feel organic in nature. Perhaps we can't even imagine being free of those issues. Or, maybe we can easily ignore, rationalize and blame others for many of our shortcomings:

"Doesn't being molested give someone the right to be resentful!?"

"I deserve to pamper myself with nice things -it's not like I'm wasting money on drugs and alcohol!"

"My grandma was a worry-wart, my mom was a worry-wart and I'm a worry-wart. It's just a part of who I am. I'll never be happy-go-lucky."

You see how easy it is to "overlook" certain character defects? The readiness required to take the sixth step is a willing attitude. We shouldn't be fooled into thinking that we need to do this step perfectly in order to move on. Remember, this process is about spiritual progress -not perfection. We must do what we can to the best of our abilities at any given time. Every one of us, if honest enough, will discover reservations. We are human after all! But we can't let that stop us from taking this important step. It's like Voltaire once said, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." That isn't to say we shouldn't strive for perfection; these are ideals worth pursuing. What I am saying is we shouldn't be paralyzed by it! If we feel unwilling or incapable of having certain defects removed we should pray to God for the willingness.

The sixth and seventh steps are pretty big deals as far as recovery goes. We are being prompted to work with God in removing the blocks that prevent us from being healthy, wholesome and fulfilled. Imagine the freedom! The rest of the steps could be described as preparations for, or expressions of, the transformation that occurs in these two steps.

Here's what I did to work this step:

-I reviewed my first five steps to be sure I had done them thoroughly to the best of my ability. I asked myself if there was anything I needed to share regarding my inventory or reservations.

-I read about Step Six in the Big Book, the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, The Little Red Book and Drop the Rock: Removing Character Defects, Steps Six and Seven.

-I asked my sponsor about her experience working the step.

-I read online about other people's experiences.

-I searched for lists of character defects and then I took a good look at my moral inventory to identify the recurring defects (my major malfunctions!) that crippled me emotionally and spiritually. It's easy to focus on specifics (e.g. I lashed out at my husband) but we also need to recognize patterns of behavior (e.g. I often lash out when...).

-I prayed for God to reveal my defects to me, and for more willingness and trust in Him.

Here is a list of some common character defects to get the wheels rolling:

  • resentment, excessive anger, vengeance, hate
  • fear, cowardice, worry, anxiety, indecisiveness
  • self pity, having a victim mentality 
  • feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem
  • self-hate, shame
  • dishonesty, evasiveness, lying, making excuses, rationalizations, denial
  • insincerity, phoniness
  • being dependent on others to make us feel good about ourselves, sympathy seeking
  • isolation, being emotionally distant, fearing intimacy
  • controlling, manipulation, rebellion
  • lust, promiscuity, sexual deviancy
  • egotism, pride, arrogance, conceit, vanity, narcissism
  • envy, jealousy
  • laziness, inconsistency, complacency, procrastination, apathy
  • pessimism, negative thinking, frequent complaints
  • immoral thinking, finding pleasure in sinful thoughts
  • intolerance, impatience, being demanding, impulsiveness
  • perfectionism, being judgmental or critical, fault-finding
  • loose talk, gossip
  • greed, overindulging, gluttony, heavy spending, materialism
  • self-seeking, being self-centered, ignoring the needs of others
It can be overwhelming to see how far we fall short of innocence. Let's remember that the sixth step reads, "... to have God remove all these defects of character." Just like Step One we need to admit our powerlessness over our shortcomings and just like Step Three we need to surrender them to our Higher Power (when we reach Step Seven).

"We must learn to take the intellectual knowledge and turn it into emotional and spiritual reality -into living -so we can continue to change and grow and be useful. To become the person we can become we must drop the rock -all the grasping and holding onto old patterns of behaving, thinking and feeling that are harmful to ourselves and to others." (Drop the Rock)

Personally, I am aware of several BIG reservations with my sixth step. I have more than a couple of character defects that I feel are... well, just SO ME. For one thing, I can hardly imagine being me without carrying around the ball and chain of FEAR. As a child of two violent alcoholics I cannot remember life without fear. It simply did not exist, ever, for me. In fact life is almost worse when there is no chaos to focus on because I am waiting for something horrible to take away all that is good. What will it be this time? When will the other shoe drop? I prepare myself, always braced for unexpected blows. In a strange way I feel protected by my fears and I worry that letting go of them would mean dropping my guard and opening the door for disaster.

I am also aware of a strong tendency to be very harsh and critical -especially with myself. I play old tapes over and over, examining my errors, condemning myself again and again. I would love to be released from this character defect but I'm not yet convinced that it is possible. I mean, I know that God has the power to heal these afflictions but I don't yet trust Him absolutely to heal me.

And that brings me to a reservation I've been carrying around for the better part of thirty years. I believe in God but I don't always have the feeling that he cares that much about me. I sometimes wonder if I am really on God's radar. That particular reservation is fundamental stuff as far as recovery goes. It's an issue that has come up several times throughout my step work. What good is a belief in God if I don't trust Him with my life? My faith is growing though. I let go, one finger at a time.

So here I am, aware of my shortcomings and reservations, praying to God for the willingness and trust required to surrender. I cannot say I did this step perfectly, but I did it to the best of my abilities which is all that is asked of me.

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