Once you begin to get sober, you rebuild skills to live without your addiction. Take a look here at the character defects that all addicts struggle with, such as accountability, authenticity, and honesty. We all share similar personality flaws, and there’s a reason why.
You’ll soon find out you have to change everything about yourself when you begin to get sober and stay sober. From personality to lifestyle, you will begin to replace toxic habits with more healthy, positive behaviors. Don’t be discouraged, it’s not as overwhelming as it seems. As life improves, you start to feel better than ever.
People with compulsive behaviors or addictions are alike in several ways, though they will tell you exactly just how different than everyone else they are. That’s actually one of the character defects- terminal uniqueness.
Whether your crutch was heroin, methamphetamines, crack cocaine, shopping, eating, or sex- we all have similar behaviors. We refer to these sets of personality traits in 12-step rooms as character defects.
What are character defects? These are the values upheld by most people that become overrun by the rearrangement of one’s addictive thought processes. Addiction is a disease of the brain. Your rational thinking gets bypassed as neurological addictive pathways strengthen. You associate survival with use. This is why those who are actively using something do things they normally wouldn’t do when sober. This is the dangerous part- they’re zombified.
Calvary Healing Center defines character defects as personal shortcomings or harmful behaviors that fuel a person’s addiction.
Although I hate to use the term character defects, they truly are when you are in active addiction. This labels individuals’ behaviors, and enhances shame, adding to hopelessness. Further, humans have a spectrum of characteristics. Our characteristics help us when applied in the right situation and environment, and are used as tools for good.
Everyone has flaws.
The collection of traits we hold is semi-permanent. To some degree, our personalities are fixed. With awareness, we can alter how they are expressed. Over time, little changes build up to permanency.
Examples of poor character patterns include insensitivity, insecurity, vengefulness, greed, gossip, excess, cowardice, dishonesty, disorganization, boastfulness, selfishness, lust, lying, anger, sloth, undependability, or gluttony. There are hundreds of these ways that people act at their worst.
Character defects will lead to auto-destruction. When indulged, these lead to escalatory behaviors in addiction. For example, fear can cause a person to stay in addiction or relapse. Fear of withdrawal, overwhelming feeling states, reality, or survival without that addiction keeps a person from getting sober or staying sober.
When we engage in character defects, we offend others. We also create more harm for ourselves. These push people away and do damage to those closest to us. Take anger for example. When you react with anger to those who you love, there can be great consequences, such as relationship loss or damage.
There are a host of emotions under anger. This primary emotion acts as a cover for pain, sadness, loneliness, overwhelm, insecurity, hunger, grief, contempt, stress, and more. The anger iceberg wonderfully illustrates this cap. When you see someone display anger, there is something else usually under the surface.
For some, anger is reinforced through societal norms. Men are taught through unconscious and conscious practice that anger is the appropriate emotion to display. According to the man rules, if a man shows pain, insecurity, grief, or any other deemed “weak” emotion, they will get shamed, ridiculed, or rejected. It’s a reflection of human social evolution.
Resentment is an incredibly important characteristic of those who try to get into and maintain recovery. Resentment is a deeply painful emotion that harbors anger against another person. The resentment grows over time as we remember our responsibility less and blame the offender more. Deemed the number one offender in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, resentment leads people back to relapse faster than others. When we swallow the bitter pill, it kills us- not them.
This was the biggest obstacle for me to overcome in my 4th step. I had to learn to analyze what my part in every situation was.
In those cases where you are a victim, there is no consideration of what you were responsible for. However, likening trauma to being shot, we are responsible for choosing to lie on the sidewalk and bleed out, or seek help to clean out the wound and heal.
To get out of these character defects, there are necessary qualities that one will need to replace them with in order to maintain a healthy recovery from any addiction.
Three of those are accountability, honesty, and authenticity.
Accountability is defined as the ability to take responsibility for your actions and commitments. Without this, you will make excuses rather than correct problems. Accountability allows you to take control of your life and to learn from mistakes. If you don’t recognize how you affect others or garner negative consequences from the decisions you make, you will stifle your personal growth.
Accountability is hindered by shame. This becomes a crucial step to overcome in sobriety. Without that ability, you won’t maintain a healthy recovery. Maladaptive coping skills cover the core beliefs that you are bad, wrong, broken, or incapable. In active addiction, you keep your behaviors secret because of the shame that would otherwise be experienced if exposed. Shame is the lie that tells you if you face your humanness, you will die. At the core of our beings, shame causes a deeply painful state of fear and pain. Evolutionarily, people developed strong reinforcing feeling states to drive positive behaviors in order to live in packs and promote life.
Becoming accountable for your mistakes, intentional or not, does not indicate failure. You build an ability to say, “I did this, and take responsibility for it,” then make amends, without sliding down the toxic shame spiral. When you take responsibility and learn from your mistakes, you build an awareness of your effects on the world, personal growth, confidence, and better relationships.
Authenticity is essential in recovery. Every person wears a mask when presenting to the world. We show people what we want them to see and reveal who we are when we feel comfortable enough to let go of our fears. How much we let go and come out depends on the level of comfortability and acceptance.
In addiction, you lead a double life. You naturally hide those actions of desperation and inhibition that result from the impulsive behaviors. You cannot face the reality of use and will remain in denial so long as the consequences do not remain great enough to overpower your bind to the disease.
When you get sober, you learn a new and better way of living. You begin to practice the habits of those successful in getting through this crazy journey that doesn’t rely on a crutch to just get through the day. Authenticity refers to the ability to be who you really are and letting go of the image of what you think you are supposed to be.
Wearing a mask contrasts authenticity.
It feels like you shed a ton from the emotional baggage you carry when you are able to just be yourself. You free yourself from the burdens of putting effort and time into displaying parts of your false self. You gain more genuine relationships and truly intimate connections. When you can be you and comfortable in your own skin, you become open to change and growth, as you practice that acceptance of your shortcomings and begin to work in areas you wish to improve upon. It’s a gift, not a setback.
Being authentic does not include brutal honesty. The difference lies in the ability to speak genuinely without harming others. Dr. Michael McGee perfectly explains how containment of one’s reality is essential to building healthy, intimate relationships with yourself and others. Brutal honesty is cruelty in disguise, as it mixes your opinions and imposes your reality, beliefs, and expectations onto people without their permission.
Honesty with oneself is imperative. We can lie to people constantly. But when you are in active addiction, you are not honest. By nature of the disease, you lie. Your prefrontal cortex is taken offline as the pathways of addiction strengthen (NIDA, 2007). This is why everybody who is in active addiction has similar behaviors where they behave in ways that hurt people or themselves. You do things you normally wouldn’t do if you were in the addiction cycle. Every addicted person does.
If you are in active addiction, you will lie by omission- or leaving out details of your life that you don’t want people to know about. You will cover up the nature of your disease by hiding those behaviors that support your addiction. You will lie about your use, your ability to fulfill responsibilities, and likely those necessary actions in early recovery.
To be successful in recovery, you must develop the ability to become honest with yourself before others. Insight into the reasons why and what keeps you drinking alcohol or using drugs or compulsive behaviors is mandatory. You cannot repair anything you remain unaware of. You have to diagnose the problem before you can fix it. You may tell yourself that your use is normal, that you’re not as bad as “that guy,” or that nobody will ever find out. These are common rationalizations. However, you know. In the end, that’s the most important factor.
You put yourself in the position to get run over by the consequences of your addiction through constant dishonesty.
If you are thinking about getting sober, brand new to a program, or have years invested, it always benefits you by reexamining these traits. If you can maintain these areas of authenticity, accountability, and honesty, you will reach that goal of creating a strong and sober lifestyle faster.
Stay on the path. If you stray, don’t shame yourself. Find it again. It gets easier- progress over perfection.
- Volkow ND, Michaelides M, Baler R. The Neuroscience of Drug Reward and Addiction. Physiol Rev99: 2115–2140, 2019. Published September 11, 2019; doi:10.1152/physrev.00014.2018
- Calvary Healing Center. “What Are Defects of Character in Recovery?” July 14, 2023. Accessed from: https://calvarycenter.com/blog/defects-of-character/
- The National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA). The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction. January, 2007. Accessed from: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://nida.nih.gov/sites/default/files/1922-the-neurobiology-of-drug-addiction.pdf
- Joseph N. Ranieris. How Does Accountability in Recovery Help With Staying Sober? Discovery Institute: https://www.discoverynj.org/accountability-in-recovery/
- Hurley, Dawn. The Importance of Authenticity in Recovery. December 11, 2019. Sober Recovery. Accessed from: https://www.soberrecovery.com/recovery/the-importance-of-authenticity-in-recovery/