A relative newcomer in Al-Anon once confessed to me her reluctance about steps six and seven.
If God removed her defects of character, she wondered. What would be left of her? Would she be full of holes like a piece of Swiss cheese?
At the time, I confess that I couldn’t relate. Of course you won’t be like a piece of Swiss cheese, I answered. You’ll be the person you’ve always been, just without the character traits that have gotten in your way.
I sailed through step six. I couldn’t wait to humbly ask God to remove my shortcomings. I knew them all too well:
I was controlling, introverted and selfish.
I knew those character defects had started as self-defense mechanisms. I tried to control things because life in the family I grew up in felt so out of control.
I became introverted because I had learned early in my life that I could not count on other people. Life became easier and less painful when I relied only on myself.
I was selfish, because when I was growing up, it felt like there was never enough. There wasn’t enough money or time or love. So I horded these things. I was afraid that if I gave them away, there wouldn’t be enough for me.
I also knew those self-defense mechanisms had overshot the mark. Now, they just got in my way.
Good riddance, I said. I’m ready. Bring on step seven.
But as I got farther into my program and started to gain more insight, I realized that those obvious defects of character were just the beginning. One by one, I began to see how traits that I believed to be at the core of my very nature seemed to have been shaped by this disease.
There was my restlessness and need for constant change.
My serious nature.
My love of quiet and solitude.
Even my love of stories. I was an English major. I became a journalist. One of my greatest pleasures is reading. I couldn’t think of anything that was more central to my nature. But was that innate, or had it been an escape? I couldn’t be sure.
A some point, I made a list of the characteristics I was sure were not shaped by alcoholism. My list included my shoe size, my eye color and my IQ. The rest was pretty much up for debate.
I started to think that newcomer had been more perceptive than I had been.
For the first time, I realized I had no idea who I really was under all those layers. But I did believe that God could restore me.
And I could hardly wait to meet myself.
In the process, what I learned is that God doesn’t remove all my character defects at once. And for everything He took, He left something in its place.
As I became less introverted, I became more loving. As I became less selfish, I became more generous. As I became less controlling, I made room in my life for spontaneity and guidance from my Higher Power.
In every case, God didn’t leave me with holes. He left me whole.
And, no matter where I was in my program, He only removed my defects when I was entirely ready.
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