When I arrived at AA I had incredibly low self-esteem, and believed I was inherently inadequate. This belief plagued me the entirety of my AA membership. It didn’t matter how many times I worked the Steps, how many people I sponsored or how much service work I did, it was never good enough. As far as I was concerned, I was a walking character defect.
Such a belief primed me well for AA, with its talk of moral inventory, shortcomings and amends ‘confirming’ what I already suspected. Yet, quite early in my recovery I had been introduced to the idea that the difference between a shortcoming and an asset was merely the circumstance in which a particular trait was employed. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t something I learned in AA.
Whilst teaching business English, I discovered a model for successful team building in one of the text books. It outlined seven roles (or ‘types’) that were essential to forming a productive, cohesive team. It then listed each type’s strengths, how they contributed, and how they best collaborated with different teammates. It also listed their ‘weaknesses.’ As I scanned the chart, I noticed that the shortcomings and assets were essentially the same trait – i.e. what made them a fundamental part of a team also made them a vulnerability within it. Far from being a case of either–or, each team member’s essential qualities were both assets and shortcomings.
This revelation came as a bit of a surprise. Until then, I’d never even thought of exploring assets, let alone viewing them and character defects as one and the same. It was also a relief, for at the time I had been wrestling with a so-called shortcoming, and believed I had reached an impasse.
I was an AA fundamentalist, and had overstepped the mark in my home group on a number of occasions, trying to manage it as I saw fit. At the same time, I was doing very well at my job as a teacher: I had the highest return of students, consecutively; I was in demand for both group and private lessons; I had been placed in charge of teacher training; and I was being headhunted by other companies. Not bad for somebody who doesn’t have a formal education, or any teacher training.
I had always said that what people mistook for good teaching, was actually good classroom management skills. When I walked into a classroom, it was mine, and we did what I said when I said. If somebody didn’t like it, they soon would, for I genuinely believed that I knew better (which I usually did). My students, mostly professionals, business owners, and university students, trusted me because of my confidence in managing the classroom, not because of my knowledge of English; fortunately, it just happened to produce good results.
The problem was, however, that I was attempting to employ those same skills in AA, which only bred resentment and disunity. As I read through the seven types of team player, it struck me that the skills that weren’t working for me in AA, were working incredibly well in the classroom.
This was at first a bit confusing. Having achieved abstinence in a fellowship that was dominated by black and white thinking, I found it quite difficult to accept that there was no such thing as a character defect (or an asset). It wasn’t the behaviour in and of itself that was the problem. Whether a trait proved to be an advantage or a disadvantage was relative only to the circumstances in which it was utilised. Suddenly, asking a god to remove my so-called shortcoming didn’t seem so attractive: there was no way I wanted to surrender something that worked for me so well in some settings.
In all honesty, I can’t remember how I resolved this dilemma. I do know I did not ask to have the so-called shortcoming removed, but from that point forward, I really struggled with the concept of character defects. This revelation was perhaps the first time I’d ever questioned something in AA. What I once thought of as inviolable, now had a small chink in its armour.
Since leaving Alcoholics Anonymous, and converting to Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT), this early lesson has been affirmed time and again. I no longer think of myself as inherently defective or as having shortcomings. I’m just a fallible human being.
Although labelling myself as such may appear no different than declaring myself inadequate, I don’t think a better summation of the human condition exists. Unfortunately, in modern-day parlance, fallibility has become synonymous with being flawed or imperfect. Yet, at its root, it literally means, ‘that which can be deceived’ – i.e. that my perception of things is not necessarily accurate. For example, I once staunchly believed that AA was the only way to achieve sobriety. Attending meetings in which others constantly espoused the same belief, confirmed and strengthen it (known as confirmation bias). Obviously, I now know differently, and that’s not all I have discovered.
Thanks to REBT, I’ve learned that as a human being I make good decisions and poor ones; in somethings I err, and in others I succeed. I do some things badly, and I do some unwholesome things. When I harm myself or others I’m not bad, evil or morally wrong; I’m simply somebody behaving in a self-defeating and/or anti-social manner. Most importantly of all, however, I’ve learned that doing any of the aforementioned isn’t evidence of an inherent inadequacy, merely of my inherent humanness – and being human is not a character defect!