Ambition as a Character Defect

A reader writes:

Hi Lydia,

Thank you so much for sharing this list. What brought me here to read through these character defects is because it’s very hard to not think that my actions are based on my character defects. When I read each of them I can totally relate to each one and it does make me very confused because one of the things that I haven’t been able to manage or figure out if what I am doing it’s okay is my ambition. This is something that when I was acting out, I always acted with ambition regardless how I would get things (by cheating, lying, withholding, manipulating so on) because I needed to be validated and have a sense of superiority. However, when I want now to get back on the high way and get rid of from my depression, victimhood role, inferiority, not good enough, I get all confused because I think that ones again I want to be driven by my ambition and get what I couldn’t get when I was acting out feeling envious of what others are getting while I am the one who suffers and with a stupid idea that my recovery is not helping at all to get back up and get going with my dreams because right away I feel that whatever I am trying to do is because I want to compete,, have a place in society and get what others seem to be getting except me. So it’s very confusing at this stage of my recovery the healthy ambition and the non-healthy one, the one I had but I couldn’t keep up with it because each day it was more difficult to look at myself in the mirror.

Hope you can have some thoughts about this.

Thanks a lot and let’s hanging in there. Hoping that my stepwork is leading me to what I am meant to become.



From the 12 and 12:  Still more wonderful is the feeling that we do not have to be specially distinguished among our fellows in order to be useful and profoundly happy.  Not many of us can be leaders of prominence, nor do we wish to be.  Service, gladly rendered, obligations squarely met, troubles well accepted or solved with God’s help, the knowledge that at home or in the world outside we are partners in a common effort, the well-understood fact that in God’s sight all human beings are important . . . True ambition is not what we thought it was.  True ambition is the deep desire to live usefully and walk humbly under the grace of God.


Healthy ambition, I think, is making an effort to live up to my potential.  The ideal isn’t to feel inferior, of course, and it also isn’t to feel superior.  Some people in AA call it being “right-sized.”

To the Doubters We Could Say (Step One continued)

To the doubters we could say, “Perhaps you’re not an alcoholic after all.  Why don’t you try some more controlled drinking, bearing in mind meanwhile what we have told you about alcoholism?”  This attitude brought immediate and practical results.  It was then discovered that when one alcoholic had planted in the mind of another the true nature of his malady, that person could never be the same again.  Following every spree, he would say to himself, “Maybe those A.A.’s were right . . . .”  After a few such experiences, often years before the onset of extreme difficulties, he would return to us convinced.  He had hit bottom as truly as any of us.  John Barleycorn himself had become our best advocate.

To me it’s worth Googling the things I don’t completely understand, and John Barleycorn seems to refer to a book and a song.  I like the places in the literature where it tells of alcohol giving us a terrific beating, things like that.  There’s no other way I would have sought help or change.

My situation was a little different from the one described.  I didn’t doubt I was alcoholic, and I know people now who are like this.  I didn’t doubt that I was alcoholic, but I doubted that I wanted to stop drinking or, if I did want to stop, that I could.  I wanted most of all to be a functioning alcoholic.  AA promised me this was not possible, and it would always, relentlessly, get worse.  And it did.  I knew those AA’s were right, but I didn’t think I had the ability to join them.

My bottom was low to me.  I was young, still in school.  I had almost but not quite flunked out.  I chased alcohol to the edge of where I could function at all.  I had no job or wife or children to lose.  I hadn’t gotten them yet, and I wouldn’t get them, because I drank way too much.

As to the kind of person the section refers to, the one who isn’t convinced she is alcoholic, in the rooms we hear the darndest things.  Like, “Three doctors and four psychologists have said I’m not an alcoholic.”  Well, seven professionals aren’t likely to comment on this if there isn’t a problem.  We hear that people are at an AA meeting because they had some bad luck.  While it’s certainly true that many more people drive drunk than are caught, driving drunk is still not the thing to do, and it indicates a problem.  “If you had my problems, you’d drink, too.”  Yes I would, because I’m an alcoholic.  Many people with the same or worse problems don’t drink, because they aren’t.

I feel truly blessed that I saw it and stopped it at such a young age.  My sobriety is my most valuable possession.  My doubt, that I could get and stay sober, was answered by the people in AA also.  They said that others had done it, that they had done it, and that I could too.

May 13, 2014 (this day)

IMG_0075Twelve months ago we started the bathroom demolition.  Now the kitchen is demolished.  The bathroom we planned for, the kitchen we did not.  The joys of an old house!  Actually it is a joy, and we do love the oldness of the house.  But living without a kitchen sink is very very hard.

Also hard is my dog in the thunder.  It thundered all night, and she panicked all night, and I was awake all night.  I’m tired now.  I’m tired, it’s hot.  I hate heat, and heat brings more thunder.  And I have no kitchen sink, no dishwasher, no stove, no counter.  I think my sinuses are chronically stuffy, my skin is really dry, and my hair is really huge in the humidity.  And I’m fat.  And old.  And next week, I have to have a scary lipoma removed.  It’s big, and the doctor does it in the office using only novocaine.  I’m overdue for my constant dental visits (every three months, really, so that I can keep my teeth a while longer).

Everything is just so much worse when you’ve had a 65 pound dog drooling and panicking on you all night long.  And of course while I was at work she rested up for tonight.  I may send her to a hotel.

Now, the way that AA works:  Thank you higher power for the bathroom with clean hot and cold water, the spiffy new bathroom with hot and cold water, the insurance that helps pay for the new kitchen, the new things in the new kitchen and the old things in the new kitchen, the workers to fix the new kitchen, to food to put in there and the money to buy the food, the old house, the money to buy and maintain the old house, the safe neighborhood the old house is in, the precious, precious dog, the money to maintain the precious precious dog, the partner to share the precious precious dog with me all night long, the thunder that brings enough rain to keep my environment watered and healthy, doctors of any type I need and the best medical care in the world.  Thank you for novocaine!  And hair!  And my job!  And money for tonight’s hotel . . .

Character Defects and Trauma

Character defects.  They make me unhappy.  Still, and again, and I have them all.

There’s a new thing where I work.  I won’t get into it, but basically it asks, “What happened to you?” rather than, “What’s wrong with you?”  The idea is to make us nicer, I guess, but really we are already mostly very nice people.  We are to acknowledge that everyone has experienced trauma.  OK, done.  What was your trauma?  Well thanks to years of AA, I’ve probably heard about your trauma on more than one occasion.  And if you’ve been in a meeting with me, I’ve probably told you about mine.  Yes, we’ve all been traumatized.  What happened to me?  I don’t think that’s as important as what’s wrong with me.

What happened to me hurt me, or it didn’t.  Is that where some of my character defects were born, in what happened to me?  Maybe.  My belief is that we could guess yes, or we could guess no, and we could be right, or we could be wrong, but we really wouldn’t have accomplished much beyond making me feel sorry for myself, or worse, making me think I can’t or shouldn’t or shouldn’t have to do better because, after all, I’ve been traumatized.

And I could think that, and no doubt I sometimes do think that.  But it doesn’t help me be any happier.  Explaining or examining my character defects in terms of where they come from isn’t very fruitful for me.  Plus even though I may think I know where some of them come from, I could be absolutely wrong.  Then what?

Where are my character defects going?  Are they mild enough that I can live out the rest of my life with them and not be too inconvenienced?  At one time in my life they tried to kill me.  When I was drinking they drove me hard toward destruction.  They are much, much less potent and powerful than that now, and in many ways my character virtues have grown and flourished at least a bit.  Yay for me.  I’m a good enough person, and healthy enough person to maintain sobriety, at least for a time.  Is that good enough?  Is that enough?

May 3, 2014 (this day)

IMG_0263Two years ago we traveled to be at my cousin’s wedding.  Now her baby is born and her father is dead.  And her cousin (me), has marked 30 years of sobriety.


Our kitchen nightmare continues.  As I write, men are repainting either the kitchen or the basement after taking down the kitchen ceiling, one of the kitchen walls, and taking everything out of the cold storage rooms.  It will be another three weeks (I say at least) until the kitchen is functional again.  It is disconcerting and disruptive, and we are so, so, so, so lucky that this isn’t a hardship, just an annoyance.  Our goal for the duration is not to gain weight as a result of it all.


A quick story about my character defect of self-consciousness.  I needed to buy yarn.  OK, I wanted to buy yarn.  For many reasons, I feel that shopping at the local yarn store is better than going to a big national chain.  My closest local yarn store is very very small.  I don’t want to go there alone because I’m afraid they will pay too much attention to me.  That they will ask me what I need, watch me look at yarn.  I was able to go yesterday and honestly, I left work at 4 and the local yarn store closes at 5, so I truly didn’t have enough time to make it.  The other, less local yarn store is bigger, and I pass near it on my way home, but I’ve never driven there by myself, don’t know how to park there, and the traffic was bad, so I didn’t want to get off the highway and back on.  So I went to the big chain store.


If I didn’t know better I would swear there is no hope for me.