By: Marilyn L. Davis


Identified the Problem? Then Do Something Different


“Once you admit to yourself that you are or aren’t something, then you can begin searching for the reason why,” Deuce went on. “And once you’ve found that, you can begin to take steps toward making it better. So, tell yourself you’re an asshole, stop being an asshole, your problem’s solved,” Deuce said in a pleased voice.”― Abigail Roux, Sticks & Stones 


Up to $500 million is spent on personal development products every year, including books, CDs, seminars, coaching, stress management, and gyms. All of these self-help aids are so people can change something.

We know there is a desire for people to change. They are spending millions of dollars on books and therapy to get to the root of their problem. Many religions and beliefs emphasize the emotional suffering of attachment, negative behaviors, and man’s responsibility to change for the better. 

Those familiar with 12 Step based recovery hear character defects discussed in opening readings as the underlying cause of dissatisfaction with life. Shortcomings are descriptions of the aspects we need to change, and they, too, are often mentioned in meetings.

However, if the hidden or less apparent motives for the self-defeating behaviors, actions, and thoughts remain unaddressed, there is usually just surface change.


What Needs Changing? It’s Within You



We all know that stealing or taking something that belongs to someone else is wrong. Although there are laws against it, religions have rules about it, and most people acknowledge that it is terrible; it happens every day, and people get arrested for stealing.

  1. So why do people steal? 
  2. What are the motivators for theft? 
  3. What prompts a person who does not need the stolen item to embezzle, take, or use what does not belong to them? 

There are many underlying reasons that people steal. One may steal because they are jealous of what someone else has or because they are greedy. Another takes what doesn’t belong to them because they feel entitled to have what they want when they want it and think they deserve someone’s possessions. Someone else may take something that does not belong to them to inconvenience someone else – revenge is what fuels that action. 

And unfortunately, even if the individual stops stealing, they still have theft in their hearts without working on the underlying motives. Therefore, you can see that the why or reason for theft is different for each person. Attitudes, Character Defects, Negative Aspects, and Self-defeating Behaviors are the underlying “why” behaviors. 


Changing the Insides Doesn’t Cost You


These character defects or self-defeating behaviors, thoughts, and actions, consciously or unconsciously drive the person. They need to change if life experiences are going to change from unwanted consequences. 

The good news about making internal changes is you don’t have to buy anything to improve – just make changes in the underlying thoughts and feelings. 


What Fuels Self-defeating Behaviors?


You will frequently find that fear fuels or eggs on your Attitudes, Character Defects, Negative Aspects, and Self-defeating Behaviors. For instance, you are arrogant, believing that you know all things. But the reality is that you do not have the experience or knowledge in early recovery to know everything. 

When you’re dismissive of directions and suggestions, you’re probably going to get the same negative results you’ve constantly obtained. Becoming open-minded, willing, and determined to followed new instructions means that your outcomes will probably be better as well. 


34 Years of Recovery? I Should Have Listened


Grey Hawk had 34 years in abstinence-based recovery and freely shared his experience, strength, and hope. When he asked me to read a paragraph in a recovery book, I, of course, read the entire chapter. I took notes, used a dictionary for unfamiliar words, and did an outline with bullet points of valuable information, complete with page and paragraph. 

Oh, was I ready!

When he asked me what I had learned in the first paragraph, I wanted to impress him with my comprehension, so I started discussing the chapter’s merits.

He let me “enlighten” him for about 15 minutes before he interrupted me and then informed me of the approximately ten fundamental concepts, words, or phrases that I had missed in the first paragraph. Grey Hawk told me, “Whatever you know has value; whatever you don’t know might have more importance; please follow the directions.


Fear and the Illusion of Self


What fueled this need for me to prove to Gray Hawk how smart I was? I was afraid that my drug and alcohol use had so drastically impaired me that I would not comprehend simple recovery writings. 

I was also scared that if I were not the “best student,” he would find someone to take my place. Although he was a top-rated and sought-after speaker at meetings, he did not coach many people, and I felt privileged to work with him.

I also felt guilty that I was in the situation because I believed that I had to recover quickly.

My attitudes, fueled because I squandered personal resources on my addiction, and given my children up, forced me to rush. My actions harmed my family and children. I falsely believed that the sooner I got all the materials read, digested, and put into effect, the sooner I would recover.


Changing: It’s a Little Each Day


When he asked me about my character defects and self-defeating behaviors in the experience, I told him I felt rushed to recover.

He laughed and said, “At my age, it might be okay to rush; after all, how much more time do I have on the planet? However, it would be best if you took the time to inspect the aspects of yourself that cause you problems. You’ll look thoroughly and fearlessly without rushing through it. You need to take the time to read, understand, comprehend, look at, and find the underlying behaviors, and then change them.”

It was at that point that I knew that change was a permanent job. I would uncover aspects of myself that caused embarrassment. But my recovery would only happen if I dealt with these underlying issues, which meant that I’d have to overcome my fears of change and stop beating myself up. 

Looking at ourselves and deciding what to change takes courage. I found it easier to view negative aspects like things that no longer worked, rather than judging myself as bad. Click To Tweet


Using Resources at Hand to Change


My next assignment from Grey Hawk was to use a dictionary and learn the words and meanings for negative attitudes, self-defeating behaviors, and complicated feelings. It was 1988, and no Internet, so I researched at my library. However, I was determined to change, so I found what I needed. I started with the 7 Deadly Sins. Although not a religious person, I knew that they could not possibly be productive. Going back to school in my late thirties, I had textbooks as well. That gave me more qualities that were self-destructive and self-defeating.

I asked if anyone could tell me where to find character defects in our literature in recovery support meetings. Several group members starting laughing, and one spoke up and said, “Oh, you know what they are.”

I politely stated that if I knew what they were, I would not be asking; then, a kind woman told me we would have coffee after the meeting. I got many ideas from her and did not interrupt her by telling her what I knew, so I could genuinely see some progress in my arrogance and fear of not being the best student.


Changing: Adopting Better Qualities and Positive Aspects


When Grey Hawk and I met the following week, he thought the negative list very inclusive. Then, he wanted me to decide what aspects were positive. Again, I got out the trusty dictionary and found these attitudes, behaviors, and feelings that I thought represented better qualities:

  • Accepting
  • Caring
  • Compassionate
  • Flexible
  • Forgiving
  • Humble
  • Mindful
  • Nurturing
  • Open-minded
  • Optimistic
  • Patient
  • Reliable
  • Respectful
  • Willing


Better Qualities are Within Us: We Just Have to Use Them


I was genuinely surprised to find many of the qualities within myself on my list. Granted, I didn’t use them in my addiction. But I could refer to a time on the playground when I was caring and compassionate towards a little girl who other students bullied. I decided to play with her instead of joining the cause and teasing her.

I realized that I did have some humility when I listened to the women after the meeting. People leaving detox needed someone patient with them. Remembering how foggy I was right after detox, I listened as people struggled to read and didn’t make comments like some other participants.  

While I had to unlearn many of the negative aspects and character defects, I would not have to learn nearly as many “good” qualities as I had initially thought. 

All I had to do was use the ones within and add a few more.


Choices: Apples or Oranges? 



If apples and oranges are both fruits but different, then Character Defects or Spiritual Principles are similar; both are behaviors and qualities. 

You can use character defects and self-defeating behaviors or use better attitudes, admirable qualities, spiritual principles, or positive aspects. 

Just as the fruits are readily available, it is your choice which you choose to eat, so it is with which aspects you want to use in your life.  



Writing and recovery heal the heart.


Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at Two Drops of Ink and From Addict 2 Advocate. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Books, and Books A Million.


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