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Removing Defects of Character: The Seventh Step

The statistics of drug addiction, such as the rates at which people are addicted to alcohol and drugs and the sheer volume of addicted-related deaths, are staggering. According to Harold Pollack of the Washington Post, the rate of overdoses, especially those that result in death, have been steadily and dramatically rising for at least the past 15 years. In 1999, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that there were 16,849 fatal overdoses that occurred over the course of the year; by 2010, that number had climbed to 38,329 fatal overdoses, and these count only those deaths in the United States alone. Globally, it’s estimated that there are currently about 200,000 drug-related deaths per year. The disease of addiction is truly a global pandemic and a scourge on humanity.

As such, it’s increasingly important for us to promote effective treatment for alcohol and drug addiction as well as to explore and develop new treatments that can offer addicts a means of regaining control of their lives. Of the addiction treatments that exist today, one of the most common is the twelve-step program, which has been popular and gained a massive following since it emerged more than 70 years ago.

Alcoholics Anonymous is the original twelve-step fellowship, born from the efforts of recovering alcoholic Bill Wilson to help alcoholic Dr. Bob Smith achieve and maintain sobriety. As Bill and Bob’s program grew and came to help more and more alcoholics to find the strength of conviction to remain abstinent, “The Big Book” was published and contained one of the earliest forms of the renowned Twelve Steps. With a spiritual underpinning, the Twelve Steps provided those who suffered from a substance abuse disorder with a way to work through addiction by turning the scope of recovery inward rather than relying on treatments in a hospital, which was the most common route of recovery for most addicts at the time. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous—and its somewhat more recent sister groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and so on—follow and complete each of the Twelve Steps one at a time, referred to as “working the Steps” by program members, progressing through successive stages toward recovery.

The first of the Twelve Steps, considered a major hurdle to jump for those new to the program, entails accepting the reality of addiction and the power it wields over those afflicted with the disease. Proceeding steps involve seeking strength in spirituality, recognizing powers greater than the self, learning to live as someone who’s newly sober, and helping others who suffer from addiction to alcohol and drugs as well. While it’s debated as to which is the most important step, there are those who would argue that the seventh of the Twelve Steps entails difficulty due to the intense inner reflection.

The Seventh Step: Humility

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In short, the seventh of the Twelve Steps—humbly asking God, or some other higher power of one’s understanding, to remove the shortcomings and deficits in one’s character—requires the addict to embrace his or her humility as part of the recovery process. This is such an important part of the process that Bill Wilson, in The Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions, says that “the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of AA’s twelve steps.” Despite the social connotations of humility that suggest it’s a sign of weakness or of a passive nature, humility is not only important, but essential to sobriety for several reasons.

One of the main problems in the social perceptions of humility is its association with punishment. Many are under the misguided assumption that achieving a sense of humility entails being punished in order to be absolved for imperfections and wrongdoing, but this association between humility and punishment is not the reality and not a part of the Twelve Steps. In fact, the steps prior to the seventh involve taking a personal moral inventory (step four), admitting and accepting the nature of our wrongs and misdeeds (step five), then reaching the point of readiness to purge or cleanse one’s self of these deficits of character (step six). By the seventh step, the addict continues the profound soul-searching begun in the fourth step by asking the higher power of his or her understanding—whether that be the Abrahamic God, some other deity, or perhaps just the force of nature as he or she sees it—to remove those character defects so that those defects are unable to cause relapse into addiction.

Removing Character Defects

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The expression “character defect” can be interpreted in a number of ways, encompassing all sorts of personality and behavior traits that combine to make us who we are. Over the course of working the Twelve Steps, addicts will identify their individual defects of character as they relate to their physical dependence on alcohol and drugs. This doesn’t include things like having an affinity for unhealthy foods, a dislike for sports, or other personal characteristics about ourselves that we might wish to change; rather, this includes facets of our personality that directly contributed to our addiction, which might include delusions of self-flattery, self-loathing, arrogance, being overprotective of ego, and so on. Additionally, this could also include knowing individual addiction and relapse triggers and recognizing the effect that triggers have on one’s behavior. There are a number of aspects of character that can cause us to use and abuse substances, which are addressed by the seventh step.

What’s more, ridding ourselves of defects of character affords an opportunity to simultaneously identify and develop our strengths to a higher level. Even though our assets don’t necessarily give us indefinite power, they can empower us to be better, make better choices, pursue a number of other improvements, and so on. Removing defects while strengthening the positive traits can promote confidence in recovery for the long-term.

Addiction is a lonely disease, but no addict has to fight it alone. If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction to alcohol or drugs, the Palm Beach Institute offers addicts a number of helpful programs to begin a life of recovery and fulfillment. Don’t wait; call us today.

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