Series Two: Blog Forty-One
Acceptance of personal flaws is a difficult experience for anyone who seeks to find sobriety and serenity in life. You begin by observing that everyone has shortcomings. It is a characteristic of being human. This is a safe place to begin the journey of self acceptance. We are all the same.
Yet, when you begin to dig into life experience, you don’t go very far until you recognize that there are flaws in others that you don’t like and personal flaws about yourself that you come to hate. Looking back, there are traits of my parents or siblings that are true of me that I don’t like—even despise. Most of these unwanted traits are shrouded with shame. Unearthing shameful traits that make you feel less than is a reason many in recovery get stuck in Step 4, “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”. Taking inventory of personal flaws is unnerving and unsettling. It activates the shame that subtly grips your life. It quickly triggers discomfort that becomes intensely painful. It’s like when I was a kid and someone finding out that I wet the bed until I was in 5th grade. When my brother told my 5th grade teacher that I wet the bed, I thought I would die inside. I wanted to find a hole to crawl into it. This is the nature of intense shame and discomfort that gets triggered when you uncover personal flaws.
In one sense, step 3, “making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him,” creates a deep acceptance of self and life circumstance that can only be experienced by turning things over to your Higher Power. This deep acceptance is contingent upon uncovering personal flaws that fuel destructive living. Step 4 deepens the letting go process of Step 3 by facing the pain of personal flaws. The only way to be successful in completing Step 4 is to surrender and turn over your flaws to a God of your understanding.
In recovery, when you lose it and go into a rage, shame spiral or rant of criticism of others closest to you, it is difficult to face your shortcoming. There is a sense of self-disgust. To be gentle, even sweet to another when you feel loathing dislike about their behavior is difficult. You can struggle with letting it go. It is very difficult to face your own personal flaw of a judgmental spirit. The energy is to blame outward and not look inward. Without this inward look, you will never find acceptance of your own personal flaws. You won’t be able to accept the personal flaws of others. You will become judgmental and intolerant. You might be able to stop acting out in your addiction, but, you won’t experience the serenity that comes from embracing and accepting your own personal flaws. Addicts can become stuck in this place in recovery. They don’t act out, but the color and vibrancy in everyday living is not there. Recovery becomes only a job, even drudgery for those who do not experience acceptance of their personal flaws.
When you don’t accept your own shortcomings, you become blind to the views and experiences of others. You can fall into a mentality of my space versus your space. When this happens you divide community into an “us” versus “them” mindset. This dynamic creates distance within community and accelerates intolerance and a lack of acceptance of others. It creates isolation for an addict.
Intolerance of personal flaws triggers emotional deprivation. Deprivation propels a mentality of entitlement that suggests you deserve what you want. Left unaddressed, shortcomings fuel shame with the message that you are not enough and cannot get your needs met. To compensate, addicts can adopt a “power over” mentality.
Starhawk, an American teacher, writer and activist, delineates how power can diminish acceptance and warns against the domination from those who embrace a power-over dynamic. She explains “power over” as manipulators trying to get someone to do something against their will. Addicts often blatantly or covertly utilize manipulation of others to get what they want. Addicts can exercise positional power by manipulating a position such as head of the household, a place of power in an occupation or in other relationship settings whereby they insist on getting what they want when they want it. Positional power can be taken for granted by those who have it, yet rarely forgotten by those without.
Other forms of power over dynamics include institutional, cultural and structural power. Institutional power activates economic, legal and political power which is directly wielded by institutions. Cultural power is the cultural norms, conditioning and privilege regarding race, class, gender, age, and ability from the perspective of the dominant culture. From the perspective of oppressed people, cultural power is a consciousness of community, class and culture that serves to empower. Structural power can be covertly exercised within the context of dominant institutions. All of these forms of power over are examples of flawed ways in which an addict can divert addressing h/her own faults and shortcomings which disrupts the acceptance of others who are different and block the reception of diverse people. This attempt to avoid their own flaws will create distance and isolation which are high risk experiences that trigger addictive behavior.
Power over expresses domination and exclusion whereas power with others emphasizes the capacity to influence and take action on uniting with others through solidarity, community and cooperation. This measure of power happens in a 12-step community. It unlocks the power within for those in recovery to accept their own personal flaws and the shortcomings of others that contributes to addictive behavior. Acceptance of your own personal faults comes from a vast resource of personal brilliance inside your wisdom, knowledge, experience and skills. Accepting the differences of others supports tolerance and requires using the power with and power within skillset.
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