Taking Inventory – A.A. Grapevine, January 1955, Vol. 11 No. 8
WHEN I first began to hear people in AA talking about character defects I presumed I possibly had one or two. I knew definitely that I drank much too much but aside from that fact I was a pretty good guy.
One day I attended a meeting where a large sign was displayed:
- False Pride
- Condemnation of Others
These words made little impression on me at the time as they evidently applied to someone else--not me.
At meeting after meeting that infernal sign stared me in the face. I resented it. One day I said so to myself and then I realized I was showing evidence of both resentment and anger. Maybe, I said to myself, I did have a character defect or two; maybe I should look them all over a bit more carefully.
All right. . . I'll concede resentments and anger but that's all! Except possibly selfishness--maybe I did have a tinge of that? And what about impatience? Well, yes, but who isn't impatient when other people behave the way they do? Then that one called remorse. . .sure, I was sorry for many of the things I did. In fact,
I'd give anything if they hadn't happened, but what good guy, like myself, wouldn't be? This was a virtue, not a defect.
And so on down the line I went: bigotry--no; condemnation of others--no, except perhaps a little bit. Honesty? No I never stole anything except from my family.
At this point I stopped and asked myself: is this strictly honest? Let's go back to that "condemnation of others" again. I answered that "No" but if I'm strictly honest I must admit that I answered this one with a barefaced lie.
So I might as well admit it--I've got 'em all. Maybe I'd better take them one at a time. I couldn't quite see how I could be such a louse, but try as I would to avoid it I had to admit that I had each and every one to some degree.
Then another horrifying thought occurred to me: is the list complete as far as I'm concerned? What about lust? I hadn't noticed that one listed but that could be covered by self-seeking. What about lying? Maybe dishonesty covers that one but I don't think so. Some of my lies don't hurt anybody; I just tell them because they make a good story or maybe just to keep in practice in case I ever go back to the bottle again. . . .
I can't keep this up. . .this kind of thing will either put me back on the stuff or I'll never speak to myself again. But wait a minute! Isn't this type of thinking in itself a character defect, known as negative thinking?
Some of these defects are native to my character and some are acquired. I must accept those I cannot change and change those I can. Even those I cannot eliminate entirely I can perhaps divert to useful purposes. Anyway, it's worth a try, so here goes:
Dishonesty: this is a natural character defect of mine but I can refuse to be dishonest for my own benefit. That will still let me tell a little white lie if in so doing I can help a guy or prevent hurting his feelings.
Selfishness: another natural, but I can do unselfish things for my own selfish gratification.
Resentments: I can be resentful of those things which interfere with my AA activities. Certainly, I must take care of those other duties but my resentment will make me hurry back to AA whenever the opportunity does present itself.
Egotism: I've got a load of this but it makes me like myself so much that no one, in or out of AA, can make me start knocking my own brains out again. As far as my sobriety goes, I'm the most important man in AA.
Fear: I used to have a ton of this but now I can confine my fears to just one thing--that first drink.
Anger: this trait, like profanity, is the most useless character defect a person can have. It accomplishes nothing and is destructive to peace of mind and self-respect. I'm trying to tone this down to righteous indignation.
Hatred: this is but a prolonged and aggravated case of anger. Anger is a rash but hatred is a deadly cancer, This I can truthfully say I have whipped for the time being, at least. I know it is a characteristic that an alcoholic can't afford to have.
False pride: I've still got the pride, perhaps, but I've written off the false. I definitely know that I'm but one drink away from a stumblebum. I am what I am by the Grace of God only.
Self-seeking: this is a tough one. Where does it start and stop? Isn't it all right to seek those things for yourself that enable you to provide for your family? Surely, there's no argument here. Maybe I'd better play it safe and seek only those things which are rightfully mine, which enrich me either materially or spiritually and which leave no man poorer because of my acquisition.
Conceit: do I love myself? I do, and what's more, I'm going to continue doing so but I'm only going to love those things in me that are lovable. I can keep some of that conceit if I keep it on that basis.
Intolerance: I once knew a guy who knew everything, but time has demonstrated that he was wrong nine out of ten times. That guy was me. I am now trying to bring my average up to five out of ten. Until I pass that mark I am not prone to be too intolerant. I wouldn't want people to agree with me all the time anyway. It would make them as smart as me and I wouldn't like that.
Envy: this characteristic I can not only retain but enlarge. All I have to do is to change my standard of values: I can envy a person with more happiness, more serenity, more humility, more usefulness, and more spirituality, and I can work unceasingly to surpass him.
Bigotry: I've got a very personal God and a very personal religion. It's mine and I'm going to keep it. Others have or are looking for their own. If I retain this thinking I don't think bigotry will prove too much of a problem.
Laziness: yes, I'm lazy. . . . Always have been, always will be. Someone in AA told me "Easy Docs It" and I'm following that advice. It is going to take my entire life anyway to acquire this program whether I rush the job or not. The really good things of this life take a long time to develop and if we try to step up the process we are in danger of ruining the whole thing.
Frustration: working this program so that I will be at peace with the God of my understanding and with my fellow man, it is extremely difficult even for a lazy, inefficient and a rather unsuccessful individual like myself to have a feeling of frustration.
Impatience: of this I have a great deal. I suppose I will always honk my horn and pass out dirty looks at Sunday drivers, and feel considerably irritated when I phone a man and tell him I will be at his house in an hour to take him to a meeting and have him greet me at the door in his undershirt and tell me I will have to wait until he shaves. In cases like this I'm powerless but I'm still trying.
Condemnation of others: this one gives me a lot of trouble. I still like to take others' inventories even though I haven't received delivery on my own wings and halo as yet. Instead of condemning, however, I will endeavor to profit by their mistakes.
Feelings of Inadequacy: this is very confusing to me. In some departments of my life I admit inadequacy. In others I not only feel adequate but actually overconfident. Maybe when I have completely "turned my life and my will over to the care of God as I understand Him" I will be freed from all sense of inadequacy.
Jealousy: I am very fortunate in that I have never had occasion for a real case of jealousy concerning individuals but I am extremely jealous of the way of life I have found in AA and I intend to retain it with every resource at my disposal.
Arrogance: as with most of us, whiskey made me arrogant but hangovers cut me down to my proper size. I find it rather hard to have a feeling of arrogance after I've honestly examined myself under the revealing glass of these character defects.
Remorse: of course I did many things I am not proud of. Many of those things I don't remember; in many cases it would be impossible or useless to try to make amends. I like to think the old me is dead. So for the most part I try to let the dead past bury its own dead.
Self-pity: I have my sobriety, a God of my own understanding, my self-respect, peace in the family, no bills I can't eventually pay, good health, and a steady income. Yet I sometimes indulge in self-pity. This I say, is just plain stupid.
Revenge: this characteristic used to mean that if some louse did me wrong, I'd get even with him, thus making a louse of myself. This I will try to change. The person who did the most injury to me was old John Barleycorn and I'll get my revenge on him by severing all my former relations with him, by ignoring him completely.
Worry: I still have a lot of worries hut I've found a gimmick that enables me to ease the load: as my shoulders are only so wide, I load them up to the edges with other folks' troubles and I then have no room for my own. I find others' loads are much lighter.
Anxiety: this appears to me but a milder case of worry. I needn't have too much of this. I have formed a partnership with a Power so great that I am sure nothing can happen that He, with my willing cooperation, can't handle.
Uncharitableness: to me, the lack of charity--the first of all the virtues--applies to thoughts and words as well as to deeds and material things. I doubt if I could be completely charitable but I can try. There is no way I can use this defect of character so I must try to eliminate it. . .on second thought, I might be able to use it, because it will always give me something to exercise my soul on when I have eliminated all my other defects a hundred or so years from now.
As our admission and acceptance of our alcoholic condition was a prime factor in finding our sobriety, so let our admission and acceptance of our character defects enable us to find the AA way of living.
T. W. R. Alexandria, Virginia