Category Archives: Twelve Steps in Everyday Living
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Twelve
Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
I can’t believe I’m at the end of this series of posts. Clichés do exist for a reason: time really does fly! It feels like yesterday that I published step one. But anyway…
Step 12, as I understand it, has a few sub-steps within it. First, it supposes that by the time you have gotten to this step, you’ve had a spiritual awakening. Now, I have only been around for a short time, but I have encountered many people, and I have never heard of anyone deny that this is true. When I first heard the term “spiritual awakening,” I pictured something like being hypnotized, or drinking the Jonestown Kool-Aid… basically, becoming a completely different, more ethereal person. Now, this may happen for some people, but it certainly did not for me. I am the same sarcastic, wise-cracking, wife, mother, sister, and daughter that I was before I completed the 12 steps. There was no lightning bolt, or burning bush, but by the time I had reached step 12, I could honestly say that I had a much deeper relationship with my Higher Power, that my obsession to drink and drug had been lifted, and that I believed God is doing for me what I could not do on my own.
The next sub-step: carry the message. Certainly, from a recovery standpoint, the meaning of this portion of the step is self-evident. As a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is my duty and my privilege to teach someone newer than myself what I have learned in the program of recovery. If someone is struggling, it is my responsibility to reach out a hand and help them, the same way people reached out their hand to me. I can say that helping others bolsters my own sobriety, possibly even more than the people I am helping. It keeps me committed, it keeps me honest, and it keeps me connected.
The final sub-step: apply the same principles within these steps to all aspects of our lives. Basically, the whole point of me writing this series of blog posts is an extension of this part of step 12; to show that what I have learned through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous really teaches me how to live all aspects of my life. It helps me when faced with indecision, it helps me to parent more effectively, to communicate more honestly, and to keep my focus on the things I can control, rather than railing against what I cannot.
The point of this step in everyday living is the basic stuff we learned in kindergarten:
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Put things back where you found them.
4. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
5. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
6. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
7. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
-adapted from Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
These lessons turn into well-known proverbs as we get older: do unto others, live and let live, but it all boils down to the same thing: live the best life you can, do the next right thing, and always be available to help another human being. And, just like recovery, helping someone is a reward in and of itself, and living right is its own reward!
The Steps in Everyday Living: Part Eleven
Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Alright, we are in the home stretch! That is what I thought when I got to this step while going through them, and that is what I think as I am writing this series. Recovery-wise, Step 11 works in conjunction with step 10, and so are typically done simultaneously. The way Step 10 is a mini-step 4, Step 11 is a mini-step 3 (Turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him).
Here’s the logistics of Step 11: In the morning, say your prayers, and make sure to ask God to direct your thoughts and actions so that you may better serve His will. This is important, because it is so easy to revert to self-will, asking for what we want, demanding what we think should happen. So getting in the proper mindset, right up front, is important. Next, take a minute to review your day, what’s on the to-do list, and what decisions need to be made. Ask God for help with the decisions, and take some time to meditate. Remember, praying is asking for God’s help, meditating is listening for His answer. Conclude with a prayer asking to be free from self-will, since it is something that pops up again and again.
Throughout the day, when faced with anxiety or indecision, pause, and ask God for guidance, help, direction. Turn the problem over to Him, and have confidence that He will handle it.
At the end of the day, take a moment and reflect on what you’ve done, both good and bad. There are many different checklists available that you can use, if you find that sort of thing helpful, but the idea is: what did you do well? what could you have done better? what amends need to be made tomorrow? Ask for forgiveness for the failings, thank Him for the successes, and pray for direction in determining any corrective actions that might be taken tomorrow.
This sounds like a lot of stuff, but in reality, each of these steps take but moments of each day, and I can tell you, make an absolute world of difference in the quality of my life.
I can’t say enough about how this step helps in everyday living. The minute I feel out of sorts, I make it a point to shoot up a quick prayer and ask for His help. Just that very small act almost invariably lifts whatever burden I am carrying off my shoulders, and I can breathe easier. When I make the effort to clue in to my surroundings, I find He answers even more than I have asked of Him!
The Steps in Everyday Living: Part Ten
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Step 10 is the first of the “maintenance steps:” actions to be taken on a daily basis for the rest of our lives. Assuming that you have done the “searching and fearless” inventory required in step four, and assuming you have done (or are working on) the amends process in steps 8 and 9, step 10 is pretty simple. As often as need be, I was taught at least on a daily basis, take a look yourself… thoughts, actions, attitude… examine, and ensure that all are in line with your new way of living. Of course, the not-so-fun part, if you happen to discover that you’ve said or done something that is not in line (Who? Me!?!), repair the damage as quickly as possible, so that you may move on.
This step is a good way to continue the practice of looking at myself, my behaviors, and my mistakes, rather than reverting to form and condemning the behaviors and mistakes of others. It’s an ongoing way of “keeping my side of the street clean.”
It’s also a way of maintaining the serenity gained from working the first nine steps. Here’s an analogy: I am guessing that everyone has at least one area of their home that serves as a dumping ground. Sadly, I have a few areas, but the worst offender is the basement. And when I do not maintain the order, and keep inventory of what is going into the basement, things slowly but surely spiral out of control, organizationally speaking (which, by the way, is the current state of affairs). Numerous times in the past 7 years of living in this house I have done the “big clean:” purge the basement of all non-essential items, organize the remaining, and then clean it from top to bottom. But then, we host a big party, and we need to get stuff out of the way, immediately! Then, Christmas comes, and all the newly emptied boxes need to go somewhere, as well as the gifts that we are unsure where to put. And then a change of season comes, and the previous decorations need to come down in a hurry, so who has time to store them properly? Before you know it, the basement is a disaster.
Now, if I had just taken the few minutes needed for each of those occasions, found a home for new things, organized the old, the basement would be in good standing. Because I did not, I now need to do the “searching and fearless” inventory that I had already done several times before.
Step 10 is taking those few extra minutes each day to keep my life in good working order. If I fail to regularly take a look at myself, resentments start to pile up, regret over poor choices gather, and, before I know it, I am feeling horribly and can’t begin to unravel the emotional knot my life has become.
There are other benefits from taking this mini-inventory: it keeps me from the wasted energy of judging everyone else, it keeps the focus on what I can control (myself) and keeps the focus away from what I can’t (everyone else). Making amends promptly is, like everything else, not easy to do, but with practice gets a lot easier, and there is something to be said for laying my head down at night with a clean conscience!
The picture above is my son and his boy-band mates (my son, in the middle, sang, while his friends played sax and guitar) after their performance in the school talent show yesterday. What a miracle to witness their enthusiasm!
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Nine
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
There is a lot of debate among members of the 12-step fellowship about which step is the hardest to complete. If I was the deciding vote, it would be step nine. Full disclosure: I am not even halfway through this step yet, I am procrastinating for all sorts of reasons. Here is what I can tell you about this step: it does give a real sense of freedom. For me, when I have completely and thoroughly made amends to someone, I felt like I could, once and for all, stop hanging my head in shame regarding my addiction.
So, let’s break it down: what does it mean to make direct amends? Here is how I was taught to complete a step 9 amends: first and foremost, it should be a face-to-face encounter (the “direct” part). Next, it is very important to explain what you are doing to the person with whom you are making amends. After explaining the process, you should dive right in, and list out the harms you have caused, being as direct as possible. It is critical when doing this process to focus only on the harms you have done… this process is about cleaning up your side of the street, not pointing out the failings of others. After you have listed out the things for which you wish to make amends, tell them the regret you feel, and ask what you can do to make things right. At this point the dialogue can vary, depending upon the response you receive. Finally, ask if there is anything you left out that is still hurting the person, something you may have forgotten, or not realized you have done.
The difference between step nine and an apology is the part about making things right. As alcoholics/addicts, we have all apologized too many times to count. An apology is regret for a past action; an amends is a commitment to rectify the past action to the best of your ability, as well as an honest effort not to repeat the mistake.
So why, if it’s so liberating, have I not completed it yet? Because, and here’s the bottom line: it’s damn hard! It’s hard to sit down and write out for each individual everything you need to make amends, it’s hard to muster up the courage to approach the person, it’s hard to explain to someone not in recovery why you must dredge up the past, and it is really, really hard to look someone in the eye and admit your past mistakes.
Another stumbling block for me personally is the second half of step nine: except when to do so would injure them or others. This portion has stopped me in my tracks with many of my amends. Dredging up the past in order to “clean up my side of the street” sometimes feels as though I am doing it at the expense of causing those closest to me pain, which seems contradictory to the process. How I have handled this conflict so far is: when it doubt, hold off on the process. I believe when the time is right, I will know it.
Everyday life can prove equally as challenging in the application of this step, but the payoff is just as rewarding. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to have life-long resentments, hurt and anger you hold on to way longer than is necessary, and ultimately hurts you more than it hurts anyone else. Making amends, doing what you can to right your wrongs, has a way of releasing that negative energy from your life. Step 9 is not something that you can just pluck out of order, do and expect instant results… you need to do the prior steps in order to have the right perspective to make a proper amends. But if there is something in your life… a relationship, a past incident, anything, that just keeps resurfacing, then in all likelihood it is something you need to examine, and find your responsibility in it. If you can do that, and clear up your part in it, then you are the best possible position to let that pain go, and what better payoff is that?
I can tell you this, even with the limited number of amends I have completed… when I finished each one, I felt freedom unlike anything I have felt before.
In honor of my friend Christy, today’s miracle is five badass days in a row of exercise!!!
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Eight
Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all
If you have been doing your steps thoroughly all along, step 8 is a lot easier than it may at first appear. Once you have completed, in writing, the fourth step inventory, the list you need to make in step eight really writes itself. In terms of specifics, there are a variety of ways I have seen people write this list. My sponsor instructed me to review my 4th step inventory, and, using it as a guide, write down all the people I had hurt. From there, I was to divide the list into 3 categories: those with whom I should make amends immediately, those with whom I should make amends at some point in the future, and those with whom I cannot make amends (such as, for example, the person has died). I guess the trick, if there is one, is in the idea of willingness, and developing the appropriate humility it will take to move on from this step into the action step nine. To mean that you are truly willing is a bigger deal than it seems, much like “became entirely willing” was in step seven. I can say that I feel terrible remorse for my past actions, but, until I am really ready to put my money where my mouth is, then I am not willing.
Being completely aware of the damage I caused to the people in my life has given me a new empathy in dealing with their personalities, their defects, and their differences in approaching life. I once gave little thought to the opinions of others, because, after all, my way is the right way. Now, having a concrete list of all the people in my life whom I have hurt, and a visible reminder of how they rose above that hurt and allowed me to try again (and again, and again), I can see that I need to consider what a gift I’ve been given, and I must give back by having the same compassion and understanding they have given me.
In a sense, the end result of the Step 8 list produces the same feelings as those generated by a gratitude list. Having a visible reminder of the past harms I have done, and such a challenging “to do” list, really does help me, in everyday life, to treat people better than I have before. First, as I mentioned, because I have gratitude for the compassion they have shown me. Second, and not quite as altruistic, I do not want to add any more to my amends list! It sounds silly, but a positive side effect of working these steps is the extra incentive not to repeat mistakes, and thus repeat the amends process. I can’t tell you how many times in the past year I have shut my mouth simply out of the stubborn refusal to need to make an amends to my husband! Now, to be fair, there are probably as many, if not more, times that I chose instead to let the choice words fly, but the point is that I am thinking about it at all, a feat unheard of prior to working the steps. In the past, my motto was “argue now, and most likely argue a little more later.” Having done the work required of the steps, I now will take the time to pose the question, “Is this really worth it?”
My husband is coming home after 4 days away, and all three of us at home can’t wait!
Introduction to The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living
I should have written this post two months ago, but the subject is on my mind, so it will have to fall into the category of “better late than never.”
Did you ever go to the gym and observe the different motivations present? Some, like myself, go in, head down, do what we really don’t want to do, but know we have to, and are at our happiest when the workout is done. Others seem genuinely happy to be moving their bodies, making the best use of the physical gifts given to them. Still another set, perhaps a more mature generation, are there with purpose, looking to maintain… weight, flexibility, endurance, they are seeking to hold on to what they have. And, of course, there is the group that are there to push their limits, to pursue greater and greater physical goals.
You will find this same scenario almost anywhere you go… church, work, school, even the grocery store. In each case, the players are all presumably doing the same thing (exercising, praying, working, studying, shopping), but, because the motivation is so vastly different, the experience and outcome vary widely.
And so it is in recovery. Everyone sitting in an AA meeting has the same ostensible goal, sobriety. But ask each person in that same meeting what sobriety means to them personally, and you will probably get as many answers as there are people in the room. For some, simply putting down the drink or drug is the period at the end of the sentence. Once they have stopped ingesting mind-altering substances, the game is over, and they have won.
Then there is the other end of the spectrum: for some, sobriety is taking every element of their 12-step program to the extreme. These people will frequent 12-step clubhouses, hang out there between meetings, take advantage of every service and social opportunity presented, and get involved in the deepest way possible.
Some, like myself, started out with a goal of wanting the alcoholic obsession removed, but in the course of recovery have evolved to loftier goals, things such as serenity and peace of mind.
Of course among these groups lie too many variations to count. I am not judging any of these variations as right or wrong; as far as I’m concerned, if you are content with your recovery, then I couldn’t be happier for you, however you go about it.
For me, recovery started out as a triage situation: I needed immediate and severe help.
Once I stanched the flow of blood (metaphorically, of course), I had some decisions to make. Which direction did I want to take my recovery? I could clearly see the paths in front of me, as I have witnessed all sorts of recovery variations, both in the rooms of AA, as well as in the blogging world. Do I want to go “all in” with recovery, and become the poster child for AA? Or do I feel like I’ve gotten all I needed from the 12-step program, and now it is time for me to stand on my own two feet?
My thought process, in making this decision, was simple: the heart of the AA program, or any 12-step program, are the steps themselves. When I was taught these steps, I caught on, even while learning them, that they are more than just about putting down the drink or drug. The steps are meant as a blue-print for life: follow them to the best of your ability, and you will never need to pick up a mind-altering substance again. As I put them into practice, I had clear proof that they are helping me live a better life, not just because it is a sober one, but because the overall quality is better than it ever had been before.
Since I have seen the 12 steps work for others, and I can feel the 12 steps working in my own life, my answer was simple: keep what is working in my life, and use what is working to fix what is not. So my goal is to use the 12 steps to improve all areas of my life. I have many examples where I have succeeded, and I try to chronicle them in the series I am writing on Fridays. I have much progress to make, but I am human and so it is all about the progress, rather than the perfection.
So, short story long, I firmly believe that everyone can benefit from the application of the 12 steps to their lives. Whether you are an alcoholic or not, there is much in this life over which we are powerless, there is much that causes discontent, and so there is much work to be done to restore all of us to sanity. It is certainly not a magic potion, nor is it a one-time cure, like a vaccine. Rather, it is like learning a trade: once you know what to do, you just need to do it. Like exercising a muscle, the more you do, the stronger it gets.
Alright, enough analogies already!
I know it will soon get old, but I am loving stepping outside into ninety degree weather… summer is here in Pennsylvania!
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Seven
Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
Step seven seems almost impossibly easy… if you have completed 1 through 6 to the best of your ability; all you have to do is ask God to remove your shortcomings? I remember in early days of sobriety thinking, “ooh, I can’t wait to get to that step; I will breeze right through it!”
Not so fast. There’s an unspoken end to this step: then you need to act as if He has already removed it. There’s the rub! Yes, I was entirely ready to have God remove the obsession to drink and use drugs, and yes, I humbly asked Him to remove the obsession, but the action in this step is for me to get up from my knees, and go about life as if the obsession is gone. Some days easy, some days difficult, but it is in the continuous practice of this step that I finally found my release.
And it was one of those things that I did not even realize it had happened. I would have a thought about my addiction, and then I would try to remember when my last thought had been, and I couldn’t! And that is when I realized the miracle had taken place.
This step can be more challenging when dealing with less urgent shortcomings. Let’s take an easy one to identify, impatience. I’m sure every human being deals with it at some point in their lives, for me, it is definitely a character defect with which I still struggle. I have identified it, I have been more than willing to have God remove it, and I have asked Him, numerous times, to remove it. But it’s the acting as if feature that I still have work to do. I will find myself in the middle of yelling at one child or another, and I realize that I have reverted to my more basic nature. Depending on how deep I’ve gotten myself into the given situation, I will attempt to ask God in the moment to remove it (most of the time through gritted teeth, but still!). Now the real work begins for me… I need to act as if it is gone!
Of course, obstacles block the path to this step at every turn. I want to be patient and tolerant, but then the people around me behave in ways I find unacceptable, and I lose sight of these attributes. I want to have the best possible relationship with my loved ones, but if they have done me wrong, how do I handle that and have a good relationship? Sometimes, when practicing this step, it feels like I am always being the bigger person, and when the hell does everyone else get to practice a little humility?
Which of course brings it back to full circle… there is only one person I can control, only one set of behaviors I can correct, and only one person’s feelings with which I have to live… my own.
So if someone else is behaving badly, that does not excuse my bad behavior.
If I have a complicated history with a loved one, and I believe I have been wronged, that does not give me the right to respond in kind.
If my children make the same mistakes over and over, I do not have a pass to rant and rave about it.
It is every easy, when dealing with everyday life issues, to play the blame game, and justify why I revert to character defects… I am simply reacting to the bad behavior of others, and anyone would do what I am doing if they were in my position! But, of course, the victim mode is a slippery slope, and in the end, I am only hurting myself, and my own peace of mind, when I play that game. Bring it back to center, take stock of myself, and figure out what God’s will is!
My daughter will be turning 13 this weekend, and I will be spending the day figuring out how to make this event as special as possible… not too shabby!
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Six
Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Probably any member of a 12-step program, anyone who was once hopelessly enslaved to a mind-altering substance, but who now has some sober time within a Fellowship, can attest to the power of this step. For myself, I was once a person who had obsessive thoughts about my addiction from the time I opened my eyes in the morning. Not a moment in a day went by that I was in some stage of planning for my addiction… either I was figuring out how to get it, how to use it, or how to cover up my tracks.
Contrast that to present day, when the obsession is gone. It is hard to describe the miracle that is the release from the compulsion to ingest a drink or drug. So for people seeking recovery, reading this step and thinking it impossible (as I once did), I can tell you from personal experience it works, and it is miraculous.
It is the ongoing application of this step that is a great deal more difficult to practice. Step six, in everyday life, asks you to consider all of your defects, even the ones that are not as glaring as addiction, and suggests that you be entirely willing to have God remove them. When you think about it, that’s a pretty tall order. All defects? So what does that mean, this step is not complete until I am Mother Theresa?
My all-or-nothing thinking trips me up, in a big way, on this step. Since it seems a virtual impossibility to be entirely willing to remove all my defects of character, then why attempt it at all? Therefore I need to look at this step, in everyday living, as a yardstick. If being “entirely ready” is the gold standard, then I measure myself against it, and compare myself to myself. Am I more willing today than I was in active addiction? You better believe it, and I can celebrate that fact. Some days I pull the yardstick out and realize that I have not been nearly as willing today as I was yesterday, so I hit the reset button with which I have been blessed, and I start over.
Now, which of my many character defects should I use as an example? I’ll pick a common one: there are many times when I can be judgmental towards others. I know full well it is not my place to judge, but I do it anyway. I can certainly admit that it is a character defect, so will it work the same way as it did with addiction… I’ll just make myself “entirely ready” and then it will be gone? Maybe it would work that way, but first I have to really and truly be “entirely ready.” And, right or wrong, if I still get something out of this defect, if being judgmental makes me feel a little superior, and I enjoy that feeling, then I am not entirely ready.
The best I can do is to strive for the perfection the step suggests, work to be entirely willing, but all the while aware that, as a flawed human, I will never arrive at that destination. This is one step that is all about the journey. So, on a daily basis, I look at myself, I take stock, and I do the best I can to do the will of God.
Sometimes, it can be a small miracle: my son threw up in a sink full of dishes (including a rag). Cleaning up that mess, and not throwing up myself, is a miracle (came extremely close to not being a miracle, but I made it)!
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Five
Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
This step, the AA equivalent of the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation, is important because it is not enough to acknowledge missteps to yourself, it is essential to vocalize them aloud to another human being.
I think I may be an anomaly, but I could not wait for this step. Once I got through the inventory, I needed to run it by someone to make sure I had done it right (and yes, I do recognize that validation is a critical issue for me). I didn’t love admitting all my most shameful secrets to another, but having established a relationship with my sponsor, knowing that I could trust her implicitly, and, most important, knowing that she had been where I had been, made the process a lot less stressful.
What I learned from this step, recovery-wise, is that I am not alone. I am not the Worst Person on the Face of the Earth. And although I can’t explain it, there is something to the whole idea of unloading the burden of your secrets… it really did make me feel lighter mentally.
It was at this point in my step work that I became fully convinced of the power of this program. Towards the end of the 3 1/2 hour session with my sponsor, she said to me, “I feel like God keeps putting something in my head.” It would be too complicated to write out the play-by-play, but, long story short, she was able to show me patterns of my addictive behavior that I truly had never seen, I’m still flummoxed by how she put it together. But she was absolutely correct, and that she could point it out to me, simply by my speaking aloud my 4th step inventory, convinced me that the steps work.
Step 5 is a work in progress in everyday life. Having learned that holding it in makes the problem worse, I work very hard to unburden myself at every opportunity. Whether it is admitting my feelings to my husband, confiding in my sponsor, sharing at a meeting, I make sure to verbalize whenever I feel bad about something. And the magic continues… usually, by the time I am finished telling whatever it is that’s on my mind, I really do feel better! I’m actually reading a book right now, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, and in it the main character talks about an experiment she did in her psychology class:
…these students she’d never known before, but had perhaps seen on campus, had freely told her about their breakups with their beloved high school boyfriends or girlfriends or the deaths of their mothers or even, once, the diving-accident death of a little brother. But the words they spoke were immaterial; they didn’t know that the only aspect she was studying for the experiment was body language. Jules watched their hands and their head movements, taking notes… They were relieved telling her about their pain, even though it didn’t actually matter how well she listened.
I guess the expression “getting it off your chest” exists for a reason. Only by articulating problems can we really and truly release them. For me, that is the true reward of step 5… voicing your fears, your worries, your resentments, your pain, so that you can let them go. In the past, I had the completely opposite mindset. My thought process was: “this is my shit, why should I burden someone else, that would just make two of us burdened with it?” I have since learned this is absolutely not the case. When I carry the burden of negative thought, and I keep it to myself, it stays with me. I can bury it, or gloss over it, pretend it doesn’t exist… but it is still with me. And it will rear its ugly head over and over again, unless I do something about it. The action I need to take is so simple, so basic, it almost seems too good to be true: I need to talk about it. By exposing it to the light of day, I take away its power.
My regular Friday meeting’s topic was Step 5; my husband read an insightful work-related article about honesty being the best policy, and the section of the book I read right before sitting down to write this post talks about the value of unburdening yourself… that’s a miracle!
The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Four
Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
I just went back in my past posts to read what I wrote about this step as I was undertaking of it, and here’s what I concluded: I am a whiner! But here’s why: nothing scared me more about the steps than trying to complete this one, and with good reason. It’s the first where more than a decision has to be made, you have to take pen to paper and do actual work. My fear prior to actually completing this step is that I would never be able to do it perfectly. And, good alcoholic that I am, if I can’t do something perfectly, then I don’t want to do it at all.
On the other hand, my desire to complete the steps outweighed my fear of doing them imperfectly, so onward I went. The most basic explanation of step four is this: get out a pen and paper (lots of paper), and look backwards through your life. There are categories, which may vary somewhat depending on who is “taking you through” the steps. My categories were: resentments, fear, sex conduct, and people I harmed. With each category, I listed everyone and everything that I could remember that would fit into each category, and write a short description of each. So, for example, if I had a strong memory from childhood that came up when I considered resentments, I would write down the person, and a brief explanation as to why I held the resentment. Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road: in the last section of each category, I needed to list my part in each resentment (or fear, or sex conduct, or people I had harmed).
As you might surmise, this was no small feat, and it takes a serious time and emotional commitment to complete this step. In terms of recovery, step four was illuminating. I discovered quite a few patterns of behavior that have been ongoing from as far back as I can remember. Even things that I knew about myself in a vague way, such as my tendency to be passive aggressive, was spotlighted throughout my entire life, in ways I did not even realize.
So from a recovery standpoint, step four allows the alcoholic/addict to see very clearly how the addictive substance is nothing more than a symptom, and that the true nature of our malady, the real cause, is in our minds.
Step four, while time-consuming, would be a fantastic tool for anyone to use in their lives. Here are some everyday analogies: did you ever attempt a diet that asks you first to not change your eating habits, but to simply record them? And when you do this, and look back over the log of your eating, you have a much clearer picture of what you are doing right and wrong?
Or how about any basic budgeting tool… isn’t the first step to take an accurate and honest survey of how you actually spend your money on a daily basis, and only then can you make the proper decisions on how best you can save your money?
Well, it’s the same basic premise. If you are looking to make changes in your life, if you are unhappy and can’t quite pinpoint the cause, then before you can make any meaningful change, you need to figure out what you have been doing, both right and wrong. The word inventory in this step is apt: you need to take stock of what is good, and not so good, before you can figure out what to keep, and what to throw away.
Feedback from my friends in recovery is requested: how has step four helped you?
My sponsee was in the hospital with a serious health condition, and she was discharged yesterday afternoon. Her first request: could I please come over this morning so we can continue our work on the steps? What a miracle!