“One Step at a Time” is a series of original essays we will be running monthly. We are excited to have writer and mom Patty N. share her fresh perspective as she embarks on the road to sobriety.
by Patty N.
Last month, I celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As a convert, I have often felt self-conscious and a little like an imposter during the High Holidays, more worried about my outfit than the sins I was confessing. I don’t read Hebrew so I can only understand about five percent of the services; I am not good at fasting – one year I fainted on the way to the restroom and knocked over an old lady and her walker; and I’m never sure about the food (I popped champagne at a break fast when everyone just wanted coffee and served cold cuts at a traditionally dairy Rosh Hashanah lunch).
But this year, in recovery and five months sober, I felt a new appreciation for the Days of Awe. As one of my fellows said, “It’s Yom Kippur every day in A.A.!” With the focus on humility, forgiveness, transformation and repentance, the Jewish holidays did feel a lot like my 12-step program packed into 10 days.
“May this be a year of listening,” the Rabbi said leading into his sermon on Rosh Hashanah eve. “May you recover what you’ve lost, and may you lose what weighs you down.”
Is he speaking directly to me? I wondered. My focus was so intense. I was right there with the Rabbi.
“Confronting your failures honestly makes you a human being,” he said. “These ten days are about transformation. We can leave behind the things that entrap us. We can leave behind the old person and start fresh. We can even take a new name.”
At the end of the service, the Rabbi called up a man to blow the Shofar, a ram’s horn, whose loud noise is supposed to be a wake-up call to rouse our souls and inspire us to do better in the New Year.
Over the next several days, I did not take a new name, but I did get a new, dramatically shorter haircut. I tossed my sins (in the form of breadcrumbs) into the Hudson River during the beautiful ritual of Taschlich. And I thought a lot about Step 6, the readiness to have God remove all of my character defects. If I truly believed that the defects were responsible for my wrongdoings, then it would seem logical that I would be ready and willing to have those defects removed. But I was struggling.
A.A.’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says, “…We exult in some of our defects. We really love them. Who, for example, doesn’t like to feel just a little superior to the next fellow, or even quite a lot superior? Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable. In a perverse way, we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority.”
Wow. Yes. I was attached to my two biggest defects – self-centeredness and resentment – and was convinced these were actually character strengths. Wasn’t it my love for being the center of attention that led me to a rewarding career that included public speaking, television appearances and first-person writing (including this series on Drinking Diaries)? And instead of wallowing in my anger, didn’t I use my resentment—that chip on my shoulder about being a child-of-divorce—like rocket fuel, giving me the power to move 3,000 miles away from home and to keep me flying high above my dysfunctional family? The anger was my protection. And the self-centeredness was my personality. How could they be defects? Who would I be if they were removed? How would I survive?
The following week, I was back in synagogue for Yom Kippur. During the long Kol Nidre service, I flipped through the prayer book as the other congregants chanted in Hebrew. I discovered lots of sidebars—translations, interpretations, poems and even prayers—written in English. As I turned the pages, my eyes landed on a one-sentence plea: “God, we ask you to subdue our instincts so that they may better serve You.” I thought about the self-centeredness and the resentment. These were survival instincts. But they had far exceeded their intended purpose.
I have learned in sobriety to ask others for help and to rely on a Higher Power for protection. I no longer needed the anger and resentment to protect me, to help me survive. In fact, these defects were preventing me from becoming the person I wanted to be. I prayed for the courage to let them go. I prayed for the willingness to have them removed. And I asked God to forgive me for those times when my self-centeredness and anger hurt others.
Weeks later, I am still working on my moral inventory. I’m certain more character defects will be uncovered and I hope that I will be ready to have them removed. I know the transformation won’t happen overnight, but as the 12 and 12 book says, “Step 6 is AA’s way of stating the best possible attitude one can take in order to make a beginning on this lifetime job.”
*To read Patty’s previous posts in this series, click here.