By: Donald Huffman
“What’s wrong with people?” she says, almost too quiet for me to hear. “Were they born with parts missing or did it fall out somewhere along the way?” ― Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies
Character Defects Protect You, Until They Don’t
All shades of degradation and dereliction can visit the suffering addict. Horrifying events becoming normal events was one aspect of my addiction. The scared shitless sixteen-year old in the psyche ward for the first time became the twenty-five year old who drank coffee with his buddies in jail.
I see now that there had been plenty of times where the qualities that make a good employee would have left me at the receiving end of victimization and exploitation. A pleasant smile, a helpful attitude, and an unassuming disposition were several of the things I was smart enough to not bring into jail or a drug deal. I lived no hardened criminal life, but the fact remained that more and more dangerous people came into my life as the stakes continued to climb.
The respect or lack thereof given to me from others had become something I needed to mind. It was, in fact, tied to my very physical well-being. I had reached the point where I didn’t know whether a given situation was dangerous or safe. The defense became the default.
Adjust or You Don’t Survive
You adapt if you are a living being on this planet, and humans are exceptionally adaptive creatures. I understand now that I had to play the only cards I was dealt.
Addictive use is living on the seesaw of instant gratification and pitiful consequence. I am no more immature or self-destructive than anyone else. The ways of acting and thinking that we often dislike about ourselves as addicts are there for a reason. Call it defects of character, call it being maladjusted, call it anything you want to – these attitudes and behaviors arose as a way to protect us.
Telling the truth is hard for us not because we are bad people. Telling the truth is hard for us because we were very often in situations where being honest or telling the truth, would have been personally risky. Despite my male ego, I’m not certain that the relatively open, often joyous, and freely compassionate person I am now could not have hacked some of the situations I found myself in during my twenties, however, for me to survive in my life of recovery, I needed to change.
My personal understanding of what a character defect has, however, matured. They were survival mechanisms.
Character defects are one of the terms you will most likely hear even if you only attend one 12-step group in your life. I didn’t know what a character defect was when I got into recovery. The word shortcomings are used in reference to character defects and I equated it with sin. My sponsor would remind me that we are after spiritual progress and not perfection, and that without my defects there is likely a measurable chance that I wouldn’t be alive today. I never very much preferred the term defects. Defective would imply that you or I are any more screwed up than the next person.
Adjusting, Adapting, and Transforming Character Defects in Recovery
Adjusting to the new lack of chemical-fueled chaos in recovery can be difficult. Changing thoughts and behaviors that have been entrenched for years is not going to be a fast or smooth process.
Transforming can be done. We just need to make a sustainable, routine effort in ourselves to do so.
Let’s take work, for example. Early in recovery (and for some, later), the job situation was dicey. Show up in a situation where we are given a paycheck to take orders. Lowest on the totem pole, and it seems like disrespect greets us on every shift.
I would wonder what was wrong with me.
Why can the rest of the world go to work and put on the 8-hour smile without incident while I seemingly have this unbearable decision to make between keeping my paycheck and keeping my self-esteem?
Is my skin that thin?
Why can’t I let things go and be grateful to have a job?
Why does professionalism and customer service feel like a soft form of prostitution to me?
Now I’m expected to put a name tag on and do some of the very things that would arguably have been suicidal for me to have done in the not-so-distant past.
I may be thin-skinned at times. I may be over-sensitive, and I may at times have an inflated sense of what is owed to me. I am not, however, stupid.
Letting Go of Character Defects is Hard
It takes vulnerability. Raw, wretched, and exposed vulnerability. I don’t think you can force it. Letting go takes place in an honest conversation about the way I feel and what I’m scared of.
It involves feeling pain and letting it be uncomfortable.
It takes patience.
It takes excusing myself from difficult situations.
It takes a few deep breaths to center myself.
Mostly I find, letting go of problem and habitual behaviors involve doing things that I find frightening – very frightening at times.
There’s a healing, dignity I find in weakness and heartache. I’ve found sober life, to be forgiving, by relative comparison. I have a choice in how I want to greet life, and you do too. Do I want to bring my character defects into this day or am I ready to do something different, to try something new?
1. Am I ready to talk it out with someone I’m having a painful disagreement with, or do I want to avoid it for another day and go about my business?
2. Am I ready to say a quick prayer and call my grandmother to admit that I’ve done some things wrongs and feeling remorseful?
3. Am I ready to acknowledge my disappointment that I can’t always live up to mine or anyone else’s expectations?
4. Am I ready to admit that I’m not perfect?
5. Am I ready to admit that I can change, even if I choose not to?
6. Am I ready to ask? Am I ready to offer help?
Today, I’d challenge you to look at your character defects, shortcomings, or whatever you call the survival mechanisms we all used in our addiction, and see if transitioning to admirable qualities and positive aspects isn’t something you need to try.
Let me know.
About Donald Huffman
Donald Huffman is an aspiring writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has struggled with trauma, mental illness, and addiction. Substantial segments of his adolescence and early adulthood were spent in and out of hospitals, treatment centers, halfway houses and jail.
After a suicide attempt at 29, he got sober through the 12 Steps and therapy.
Now, clean, refocused, and rekindling a passion for writing, he began his autobiography.
Donald now has a full-time job in the healthcare field and practices daily meditation and writing.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart