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?

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3 thoughts on “Character Defects and Trauma

  1. I am thinking the exact same thing as you today. It’s not helpful to blame my life on the past but I do think it’s helpful to recognize the patterns that I fall into. My trauma is experienced not only intellectually but viscerally. The thinking I need to let go of but the anxiety that arises in my stomach I must bare witness and be mindful of. So that I don’t drink to make it go away. Compassion and mindfulness are important for me to grow into my sobriety. I want to heal the old wounds if I can.

    I really have been contemplating the very same idea today. 🙂

  2. I think that if I can uncover the cause of my defects of character I can then begin the work of overcoming them. The Big Book says that our drinking was but a symptom. If I believe that to be the case, which I do, then I need to get to the root of what causes my defects (which in turn cause me misery and could lead to drinking or other bad behaviors). I think that is the work of the 4th step; completing a fearless moral inventory through which we uncover parts of our character that cause us anguish. We look at our part in what causes our anguish — my reaction or gut response to what I learned to believe about myself and the world — and can then learn to overcome or change our view. That’s how I see it. I think it is important to uncover these things about myself, no matter how much pain or fear going along with that, so that I can continue to get better. I am recovered from alcoholism, but I still need to continue to work on myself. “This is not an overnight matter; it should continue for our lifetime.”

  3. I agree, and I disagree. Say, for example, my father died when I was six. A very likely root. There you have it. Now what?

    My first 4th step was decades ago. It’s not all still relevant. New things have happened, new trauma, newer roots. So what?

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