“If your virtues hinder you from salvation, discard them, since they have become evil to you. The slave to virtue finds the way as little as the slave to vices.” – Carl Jung
“It is to surrender yourself, to make yourself a slave to a teaching or belief, that makes it so that belief will always rule you.” – Kreia
Recently I hit 10 years of sobriety. I have been sober and have abstained completely from alcohol since 23 September 2012. Ten years is an accomplishment, but it is just a number. The length of time sober does not guarantee a permanent reprieve from alcoholism or a fundamental and permanent character transformation. I always remember that my sobriety is a reprieve contingent on the daily maintenance of my spiritual condition. Complacency and wishful thinking could still lead to a slip and a relapse.
In addition, ten years sober does not mean I have a high level of emotional sobriety. A sober alcoholic can still be a dry drunk who chooses to abstain from alcohol. Constant work and vigilance are needed to progress. We may be recovered but we are never completely cured or rid of character flaws that could land us back where we started.
After ten years I paused to reflect on where I had come from. It is not easy to compare oneself to a former version after many years has lapsed. Character change in sobriety is rarely dramatic and sudden. Change occurs slowly and gradually over time. You may not notice but sometimes other people do.
“The truth is often what we make of it; you heard what you wanted to hear, believed what you wanted to believe.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
If I am honest there are still many character flaws and faults that I need to work on. Many are relicts from my years of active alcoholism. They remain because I like having them or they are too hard to let go or because they are so ingrained that they have become part of my mental DNA. All that can be done is containment and mitigation to ensure that these faults do not cause more harm than necessary. This requires honesty. The honesty to admit to wrongs and the willingness to make amends for them is as relevant now as it was ten years ago.
As is the willingness to change.
I am no Saint, I am no Jedi Master. I can aspire for perfection but never hope to achieve it. All that can be hoped for is progress over time and growing self-knowledge. Steps 10, 11 and 12 are the maintenance steps that keep us sober and allow us to progress in recovery. Daily practice is essential. Any Jedi knows that one needs to practice, practice, practice to become better. This means practicing virtues that uphold our stated values and principles.
“Never step in the same river twice can you. Each time the river hurries on. Each time he that steps has changed” – Yoda
A value is something you hold as important. Principles are non-conditionals that govern behaviors that explicitly expresses your values. Virtues are character traits that underpins both your values and principles. For example, sobriety is a value, temperance is a virtue and complete abstinence from alcohol is a principle. Virtues grow with the practice of principals over time.
We may never gain mastery in the expression of virtue, but we can achieve desired change though effort and application of virtue.
Pursuit of Virtue
Practice virtues and live by your principles but become slave to neither. Once they impede or hinder your progress it is time to check in and see where you went wrong. The virtue may be correct but the application might be wrong. For example, rigorous honesty that harms others and yourself for the sake of honesty is counter productive. Excessive discipline that leads to an unbalanced life and strains relationships is also unhealthy. A sense of balance and pragmatism must be applied. Practice common sense. Be mindful.
“Compromise is a virtue to be cultivated, not a weakness to be despised.” – Yoda
Virtues are always used in a way that is beneficial. Being inflexible, uncompromising and fanatical may be unhelpful and lead to anger, resentment and bitterness. Being sane means being realistic with yourself and others. That means compromise.
The one exception is sobriety. When I hit 10 years the thought of having a drink came to my mind. I thought to myself “surely after 10 years I can have a beer or two and not let it get away”? Wrong. Experience and self knowledge taught me that most things I can compromise but with booze, there is no compromise. Abstinence means total and lifelong abstinence.
These are the virtues to work on through practice. They each reflect one of the 12 Steps. In some Steps more than one virtue is applied but there is a single principle at the heart of the Step which forms part of the 12 Step philosophy. Practiced daily without force and with right intent, these virtues will not only help you get stronger in sobriety but will help in your personal journey as Jedi. Here are the 12 virtues to Self-Knowledge:
Step 1: Honesty
Step 2: Hope
Step 3: Surrender
Step 4: Courage
Step 5: Integrity
Step 6: Willingness
Step 7: Humility
Step 8: Love
Step 9: Responsibility
Step 10: Discipline
Step 11: Awareness
Step 12: Service