Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Near the end of a recent Big Book study, we talked about Al-Anonisms, those particular defects of character that tend to come with the disease. Those of us who didn’t already have the list were encouraged to write them in our Big Books.

It started off lightheartedly.

“Sarcasm,” the list reader would say.

“Not me!” someone else would say in mock horror.

“That would take us back to denial….”

We all laughed.

But after a while, I started to wonder if this list had an end. It seemed to go on and on. I was getting tired just hearing it all.

Someone else said what I was thinking.

“There’s still about 10 more,” the list reader said.

By the time she was done, the list included nearly 40 isms. I saw myself in most of them. It felt like a lot to have to carry around.

I overheard two women talking on the way out. One said she didn’t think all those things applied to her.

“Then you must be in denial,” the other said in a tone I took to be sarcasm.

They weren’t laughing.

A dear friend said she thought it was all too much. That people were wallowing in their defects.

“How do you even start to tackle all those things?” she asked. “I prefer to focus on what’s good about myself.”

Then she asked me if I thought I was a good person.

The question stumped me. I didn’t know how to answer. I don’t think the presence or absence of these isms makes me a good person or a bad one. They are just the way this disease of alcoholism affected me.

Though I have long been familiar with these defects, I didn’t always attribute them to alcoholism. I thought they were just my temperament, in my genes, the way I was wired.

The realization that my serious nature, for example, was part of this disease was one of the bigger lightbulb moments I have had in this program.

I considered it good news. It meant that humorlessness wasn’t a fixed part of my personality. It meant I could be restored to good humor along with sanity.

To be able to see myself in this list also felt like good news. To me, it represented awareness I didn’t used to have. Without awareness I can’t change, no matter how many years I spend in the program.

I still find the list fascinating, but I no longer feel burdened by it. I have been taught that if I do the things that have been suggested to me in this program, God will do for me what I can’t do for myself.

I’ve also been taught that I don’t get to choose which defects God removes, or when. In the seventh step prayer, the Big Book doesn’t tell my to pray that God remove isms one through 38.

It suggests that I pray that God remove the defects of character that stand in the way of my usefulness to Him and to my fellows.

Pondering this list, I realized I no longer judge myself for my defects. I accept them. Just as I accept that as long as I continue to do what I’ve been taught to do, as long as I attend meetings, pray on my knees, read Al-Anon literature daily, call my sponsor, work steps, take commitments, and sponsor others—I will get better.

But in God’s time.

And in God’s way.

I believe this because I have gotten better.

I get a daily reprieve from some of my defects to the degree that I remain spiritually fit. Some are still with me, but have faded considerably. They are less a default setting and more a response to stress. Others are still very much with me.

But I don’t worry about them.

As with everything in this program, I can only do my part and let go of the outcome.

We are not bad people, my sponsor is fond of saying. We’re just sick people trying to get better.

Here is the list:

Addiction to excitement, good or bad
Drama queen
Crisis junkie
The need to be right
Vindictiveness/mean spiritedness
Low self-worth/self-esteem
People pleasing
Fear of abandonment
Lack of humor
Power pout/silent scorn
As soon as… yes, but
Explain, explain, explain
Taking hostages
Believing I know best


  1. You are moving forward, and that is what matters. :) I take one day at a time and ask "What do you want me to hear from you today, Lord?" And then I I listen and obey. Brick, upon brick the house is made. God bless your construction.

  2. Looks like my 4th step list! Thanks for sharing this - I hadn't seen it before. And I love the reminder that we aren't defined by our defects. We just need to remember to be willing, do the footwork and see where it takes us.

  3. i see a LOT of alcoholic traits on that list. i can raise my hand on a lot of them.

    you are rare and special, kathy. i admire the honest way you go deep within to reveal yourself when you write. i don't know how long you've been at this thing; and i know this is a journey, not a destination. but your wisdom about who you are in al-anon really shows. thanks so much for sharing it along with your usual eloquence.

  4. Thanks for posting the list....I needed to see it today.

  5. Oh my, this turned out to be VERY beneficial to me tonight. I adore the way you write and the messages you sent out to us newbies.

  6. I love that you share so openly and honestly and while you speak of tough things you share in a way that gives hope. As hard as I strive to over come, I am continously reminded that I am a work in progress...and to be thankful that I have a God that loves me. XX

  7. I recognize those. I believe I have them and about 20 more. But some have been removed. It just seems that through working the steps, going to meetings and working with others, I no longer have so many character defects. But not being humorous at every moment is not one of them.

  8. Now that I have been working on my own list for a few years, the list is becoming less in capital letters, and into small letters. Not exactly blurry but not in my face.

  9. Thanks for posting the list - not to say misery likes company - but it makes me feel good to know that I am not alone AND that being said, like you said, since coming to al-anon and learning these isms, the awareness of them allows me to begin change... to see them for what they are and why they are... the root of them. In al-anon I have seen many miracles, and as I listen to others' experience, strength and hope. I know anything is possible.
    God bless.

  10. Sounds like human traits to me. I like the part about recognizing the ability to change. I know this is the key to my happiness. When I found out that nothing was set in stone the sky was the limit. Until the program I thought you were just born the way you were and that was the end of the story. True freedom meant I could keep working on myself and trust the process or I was free to quit at any time. Thanks for reminding me of all that is possible on this journey.

  11. Kathy, thank you for sharing. Blessings.