Character Building as a Way of Life

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Character building may be a vague or unfamiliar concept to many people, especially alcoholics and addicts. Those of us who have the disease usually found ourselves with little time to do anything other than what our alcoholism or addiction demanded. We had to feed the beast, no matter the cost — though the cost was usually everything. We didn’t have the time or strength to learn how to become the people we wanted to be. 

Once we find the program of recovery and work the 12-Steps, we discover freedom from our disease. Now that we have the time to live the life of our dreams, we may find ourselves unequipped to do so. There was much time when we could have been learning, growing, and improving, but we were trapped by our addiction and alcoholism. This realization can leave us feeling like people left behind like it’s too little too late. 

But there is no such thing as too late, although there is such a thing as too little. We are in recovery now and with the 12-Steps and our higher power, there is nothing we cannot do. Though if we put too little effort into our recovery, our growth, and our improvement, we may find ourselves lost, even in recovery. This is where “character building as a way of life” comes to our rescue. It may be a misunderstood or muddy idea, but it is the crux of emotional sobriety, maturity, and long-term recovery.

What Character Building Means

The recovery literature can help us out here. The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says, “Whenever we had to choose between character and comfort, the character-building was lost in the dust of our chase after what we thought was happiness. Seldom did we look at character-building as something desirable in itself, something we would like to strive for whether our instinctual needs were met or not. We never thought of making honesty, tolerance, and true love of man and God the daily basis of living.” 

This is relatable to any of us who look hard enough at the words. We chase the outside things that we think will bring us happiness, even when we know they won’t. We do this instead of engaging with the internal work that will make us truly happy — work like the 12-Steps, meditation, and service. These inner workings are where the real work of a happy life takes place. Taking the time and making the effort to build our character, in turn, builds the life of our dreams all around us.

The book of Alcoholics Anonymous admits, “Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation. But we saw that it really worked in others, and we had come to believe in the hopelessness and futility of life as we had been living it.” Not many of us like character building at first, but we must try somewhat in order to work the 12-Steps. Some of us leave the character-building right there, doing no more than what is necessary to remain recovered. For those of us who really wish to find freedom and peace in this life, perhaps we owe character-building another try — a real try. 

What Character Building Brings

There is little debate about the fact that the 12-Step program must be the foundation of the new life we aim to build in recovery. Most can agree on that. Once sobriety is achieved and recovery is stable, most of us go our own way. We do just enough 12-Step work to remain recovered, and we go about the rest of our lives as though nothing has changed. We still value the things we did before we recovered. We chase money, success, relationships, and achievements, hoping that the next victory will fill the hole inside us where our higher power should be. We often fool ourselves into thinking the next achievement will make us happy.

We should all know better. Our connection to God, to love, and to our higher power (whatever we call it) is strictly an inside job. It requires some action and earnest seeking on our part. We also know that a new car won’t make us happy forever, maybe for a week or two. Soon we’ll need another new toy to feel “happy” again, and that’s not real happiness. True happiness, real and lasting joy, only comes as a result of character building, spiritual growth, and personal improvement. Our actions and thoughts have a great deal to do with our happiness. More often than not, if our thoughts and actions aren’t rooted in helping others and making the world a better place, then they won’t make us very happy at all.

Character building as a way of life might look something like this: regular and diligent 12-Step work, meetings, service, nurturing relationships and looking after our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. That doesn’t sound too unreasonable, right? It’s what many of us aim to do anyway. But how we get peace of mind, the fullness of life, lasting joy, and genuine meaning aren’t from chasing the next fun external thing, but from working on ourselves and our lives from the inside out. Conveniently, the 12-Step program has built-in ways to get us started on the lifelong journey of character building. The rewards are greater than you can imagine, and they keep getting better all the time.

Alcoholics and addicts often fail to mature and develop beyond the age when they had their first drink or drug. Though they may look like adults on the outside, they often missed the crucial opportunities to mature, develop, grow, and build themselves and their character. This is how truly all-consuming the disease of alcoholism and addiction can be. Thankfully, the solution found in the 12-Step program provides the opportunity to recover, find freedom from the disease, and resume growing, maturing, and developing. By working on ourselves from the inside, we can achieve an incredible life on the outside. If you are ready and willing to do what it takes to recover, Jaywalker Lodge is ready to help you. It’s never too late to get started and build the character and life you are meant to have. To learn more about our programs for men, call us today at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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