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In AA, step 6 is one of most misunderstood and misinterpreted of the 12 steps.
Step 6 in Alcoholics Anonymous reads, “Were entirely ready to have god remove all these defects of character.”
(Remember, that’s a god of your understanding. You can work the 12 steps without god).
When we talk about step 6, we talk about horrors—the horrors of ourselves. We have a list of our character defects from step 4 and step 5. We know these things inside ourselves that are blocking us off from having good relationships—with people and with our higher power.
Now it’s time to face them.
In AA, Step 6 Is About Readiness to Change
What I think is so difficult about step 6 is that most people don’t know what it means to be entirely ready to get rid of a defect of character.
What it means to me is that I have looked at the character defect, and I have determined that it is 100% unacceptable in any way, shape, or form.
This is, of course, impossible. That would mean that I look at something like cursing and decide that I never want to curse again in any way, ever (even in my mind).
Is that possible? Maybe for a handful of people on the planet.
But for someone who has been cursing their whole life, I would say it’s probably impossible.
If we want to get rid of cursing, but we’re not entirely willing to let a character defect go, what does that look like?
Maybe it means that we just don’t want to curse at work or at meetings, or in front of our kids. We’re not entirely ready to give it up.
Just mostly ready.
In certain situations.
And that’s okay.
This is a program of progress, not perfection, right?
That means I’m going to struggle.
That means I’m probably never going to be perfect.
That means it’s okay that I’m not entirely ready.
It doesn’t mean I’m stuck on step 6. In AA, you can definitely get stuck on steps, but this is one that is a process that is ongoing—it’s not done and completed, like a 4th step would be.
If you’re struggling with this step, keep this in mind:
You don’t have to worry about the entirely ready part.
You have to worry about the become part.
That implies you need to become ready over time.
Becoming Ready Takes Time
I’ll give you an example of what becoming ready over time looks like.
When I first got sober, there was a character defect I had that I only learned about during my 4th step.
I didn’t realize (until I wrote it down) how much I loved to gossip.
It seemed strange, but there it was. There was nothing for me to do about it, I thought.
I’ll pray to god about it, I thought.
It will just go away, I thought.
Not the case.
I still found myself gossiping quite a bit.
I still found that I enjoyed it—especially now that I was no longer using and drinking.
It gave me that thrill that I once got from dope.
Not nearly on the same level.
But we’re hard-up for thrills when we get sober.
So I prayed about it. And prayed about it.
And prayed about it.
To a higher power I still don’t understand.
And I found myself still gossiping.
I had to do something different.
I started talking to people about what I was doing.
I started telling on myself when I would gossip.
I started making amends to people when I told them some gossip.
I started trying to change the behavior through action.
And you know what?
It only sort of worked.
Sure, I was working step 6. I was trying to become entirely ready for this defect of character to be taken away. I was trying to stop.
But I learned through this process that I wasn’t really ready to stop gossiping entirely.
I was only willing to stop spreading gossip that hurt people.
I think this was a good first step toward working step 6 for me.
But it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken some action.
How Step 6 in AA Works
Step 6 works not by some god taking away a character defect, by magically lifting out of you the desire to womanize or gossip or steal.
Instead, it works when you take the action of recognizing the character defect, deciding that it’s objectionable to you, and then actively trying not to do it.
However, if you find that you keep doing it anyway, then you have to ask yourself another question.
Do I really want this to go away?
Or, and this is maybe more important: Is this something that I can actually control?
Some people would say that overeating is a character defect, but Overeaters Anonymous exists for a reason.
Some people would say that womanizing is a character defect, but Sex Addicts Anonymous exists for a reason.
It’s important to take that hard look. Gossiping was something that I wasn’t able to get rid of entirely, but I became willing to have it reduced to a level that’s acceptable to me.
Overeating is something that is absolutely not a character defect for me, but rather is an addiction that I have to treat in the same way I treat my alcoholism and drug addiction.
If you have some other addiction, seek another 12 step program, or a therapist, or a psychiatrist. Maybe your anger isn’t a character defect, but rather a symptom of a mood disorder—something that can be treated through medication.
But, if you look at it through these lenses, and you determine that it’s not some new addiction, but really is just a character defect (you’re not addicted to stealing, for example—you just like it), then it’s something you’re going to have to actively try to change to work step 6 effectively.
Give Step 6 — And All of AA — Your Best Shot
No one is perfect, and no one is ever going to work this program perfectly.
But, you can still work it and make progress.
You can start being a better person.
I don’t gossip like I used to.
I hardly ever lie now (I used to lie constantly).
I don’t cheat anymore.
I don’t steal anymore.
I don’t treat women like shit anymore.
These are some of my character defects.
I faced them honestly, just like the book says to.
And then I stopped the behaviors.
Some were harder than others.
It was surprisingly easy to learn how to not lie.
It was surprisingly hard to learn how to treat women decently.
But ultimately, my life has gotten better as a result of continuing to work step 6 and continuing to look at behaviors that are problematic.
And then to take action to try to fix them.
If you haven’t yet, read this post on step 5 and learn more about what we have to do to get to step 6.