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!
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.
Last night I completed steps 10 and 11, which means only one more to go, and I will have officially completed the 12 steps of recovery! And yes, my friends in the fellowship, I do know that means I have not graduated. I think of it more like Weight Watchers… 10 and 11 are the maintenance program, and with step 12 I am a lifetime member. As someone who, in the past, joined Weight Watchers more times than I could ever count, it feels like a HUGE accomplishment to be in the maintenance program of anything (I was insanely jealous of those people who had the special colored weigh-in cards and did not have to pay their weekly fee!)!
I must add, for the record, that step 9, making amends, is a process, and I have continued my step work even though I am not through making my amends. Depending on individual circumstances, making amends can take years, and it would not be efficient to stop step work until you are completely through step 9.
I was required to complete 2 amends before advancing to Step 10. My original thought was saving my husband for last, but when I realized how long the process could take, I decided to “do” him first (sort of like movie credits, the most important actor is listed either first or at the end with an “and” in front of the name). As long as I was getting important ones done, I asked my Mom if I could also make my amends with her.
Here is what I think about Step 9, now that I have officially done some work on it: it is painful!. The worst part of the whole thing is the preparation for it, because I am once again reliving the horrific mistakes of the past. Second worst is the wait time between preparing for and actually sitting down to do the amends. Because I live with my husband, and because I have procrastination in my blood, I put this off as long as I possibly could (seriously, I did both amends the same day I was scheduled to meet with my sponsor for Step 10!). During those few days, any of which I could have sat down and done it, I did not sleep well, had a hard time making eye contact, and was generally pretty crabby.
The actual process itself is not quite as painful as the prep work, but by no means is it a party. Luckily for me, with both amends I completed, I was dropping no bomb shells, and I had a pretty good feeling that both amends would be accepted. There was some painful feedback, but it would have been weird if there wasn’t, and by the end of both I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction that it was DONE!
My greatest fear in making amends, particularly with my husband, was that I would re-open some pretty fresh scars, and that by doing what I needed to do for my recovery, I would in fact be hurting him. Thankfully, this did not seem to be the case, and with both amends I was able to spend “normal” time afterwards, and it really was normal. Such a blessing!
This post is going too long, I was really going to write about Steps 10 and 11, I guess I will save that for tomorrow!
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which use to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but they will always materialize if we work for them. –Alcoholics Anonymous
Okay, I feel much calmer today, as I usually do once I understand what I need to do, and why I have to do it. Here is what I learned: making amends is important, because it allows me to wipe the slate clean, once and for all, in terms of the wreckage of the past. Step 4 (the personal inventory), allowed me to “get right” with myself, Step 5 (admitting to God and another human being) allowed me to “get right” with God, and Step 9 will allow me to “get right” with the world. Once completed, the remaining steps are more or less a maintenance program for the rest of my life… pretty cool stuff.
A lot of the questions that I was frantic about yesterday got answered in the same way… trust the process, and give it to God. I believe trusting the process will be critical for me, as one who tends to intellectualize everything, and thus habitually believe I am falling short of my goal. I’ll tell you what, though, the minute I heard my sponsor say to me last night, “trust the process,” it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I simply have not been trusting this process enough, and when I do, I realize how effectively this process has been working for me. I get so obsessed about doing things perfectly, and all that anxiety gets me further away from my goal, rather than closer to it.
I will be honest about one thing, and I hope I am able to prove myself wrong on this. The quote I listed above is taken from the pages of the Big Book, and it is called “the 9th step promises.” This is supposed to be the way I feel once I start making amends. Truthfully, this seems a little far-fetched, but I have been known to be wrong before, and I am certainly hoping to be wrong this time. As always, stay tuned…