Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Step Four

"Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

This is the step where the rubber begins to hit the road. And this is the step where I start to part company with many other AA members.  

When I got to AA, I was desperate to quit drinking.  I was desperate for my life to get better.  I read the big book in the first 24 hours of sobriety and although I was greatly befuddled, one idea came through loud and clear... that if I worked those steps, I would lose my desire to drink.  I was on fire with sobriety right then, but knew I normally had a very short attention span.  I figured I had about 4 to 6 weeks of enthusiasm for this "new thing," and then I would likely be in trouble - that is, of course, unless these steps actually worked.  If the steps worked, I would find myself at the end of my attention span with an endless supply of enthusiasm for sobriety.  So, of course, I needed to get to work.

I had already taken the Third Step with my sponsor.  When I approached her about getting to work on a fourth step, she said that I didn't need to worry about that, that I could just wait a while.  I didn't agree.  There were other issues with this sponsor, so I set about finding a new sponsor who would help me to get those steps done as soon as possible.  I did find one.  She had a few "issues" of her own, but she was supportive of my getting down to business.  

After a few days, I realized that I was unable to get my sponsor's help with the Fourth Step, I talked with her husband and he told me to just get started.  I asked him how I was supposed to do this.  He told me to pick up the big book and just follow what it said there.  

I sat down one morning, sober less than 30 days, and started writing.  By the end of that day, I had my first Fourth Step inventory written.  Really.  It was the most incredible day.  I started out with the intention of writing down every crappy thing that ever happened to me.  I structured it like the big book said - with those three columns.  

I'm resentful at:                             The Cause                                     Affects my:

I wrote and wrote and wrote. And then, I turned the page.  Literally and figuratively.  
"Referring to our list again.  Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes.  Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened?  Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely.  Where were we to blame?  The inventory was ours, not the other man's.  When we saw our faults we listed them.  We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight."  (p.67)
Then for the first time in my life, I looked at my life from another perspective.  I saw that I had been a participant in all of the events of my life.  That I had a part in all of it, however small or large my role.  I then continued with my fear and sex inventories.   There are clear instructions in the big book, and I just followed the directions.

This brought an incredible freedom.  It was the first time in my life that I thought that my life could change.  It didn't have to be an endless procession of "bad luck" and "poor choices."  It could change.  And it did.  

I needed to do another Fourth Step before my first AA birthday, and I did one every year after that, until I was sober 10 years.  It took a long time for me to get through all the stuff that kept coming up.  I was grateful for the structure of the steps to help me to "process" this stuff.  

A couple of years ago I sponsored a woman.  She was about my age, in her 50's, she was newly sober for about the fortieth time.  She just couldn't seem to get sober.  She told me that she had a book and she wanted to use it for the steps, it was called "The kinder gentler 12 steps."  I almost vomited.  Her life is a nightmare of poverty, disability, and chronic alcoholism, but she didn't want the steps to be too hard.  Our relationship didn't last long.  

I thank God that no one got hold of me and tried to convince me that I ought to take it easy on myself.  Was the 4th Step hard?  I guess.  But not harder than living with resentment that eats you from the inside out.  I was hard on myself - and in return, I get to live in freedom.  What a deal.  

Let me just share some stuff that was commonly talked about at meetings back when I got sober.  This was the culture I got sober in... they talked about the necessity of doing all the steps.  The old guys talked about how the thing that will get you drunk could probably be written on a matchbook cover.  That a Fourth Step was not intended to be the Great American Novel.  If it was more than a few pages, it was probably an ego trip.  That is why I love the structure of the four columns.  There is not a lot of room for writing about how special I am, or how tragic.  It is simple and straight-forward.  And it saved my life.

And once you have all that written down?  Well, it is time to do Step Five...


dAAve said...

I like it.
My first, full 4th step was only 3 pages long. I found it quite easy actually.

♥Shann♥ said...

I think the fear of the 4th step was the anticpation of the 5th step...

I also had that feeling of whoa, the people in this world were often quite wrong, and that was as far as I ever got in life, until doing my first forth step! Until I looked at it from a differnt angle.. again I appreciate your esh on the steps.

Shadow said...

no matter what they say about the 12 steps. or aa. this is basic good 'housekeeping' of yourself. and it's something that needs to be done if you want to stay a clear and centred self. it all works. if you want it to. i'm glad you wrote this. this is something i'd like to do. something i'm gonna do...

Cat said...

I like the format a lot! My husband is working his 4th step, he has a bunch of great old timer AA people supporting him through the process and I am grateful for that. I think I will refer back to your format for the 4th step when I get there. Thank you!


Lou said...

MC,thank goodness you said it. I did the 4th step (the 1st time) in one day. I was on vacation & it was tranquil & I got it done. When I told people that, I was met with skepticm. Like in, I must not have done it right. Those people are still "getting ready" to do their
4th step. Sheesh..

Kim A. said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with the 4th helped me to remember keep it simple..and honest..


Syd said...

I did AA's fourth step and found it to be great. I also did the much longer Al-Anon fourth step workbook and found it to be long and intense. I was tired when it was all done. But was grateful to get it all down on paper.

I think that you are so right about working the steps and not hesitating.

AlkySeltzer said...

Oh, how I enjoy this! Lou said (they) told her she did it too fast, in one day! Ha!

I told a guy some years ago, that I did my fourth step in one weekend, and in my third month of non-drinking.

He laughed! I sponsor him now. He has just "come back", for the 17th time in 22 years. Who knew? Only god knows!

Thank you, Mary--for a much-needed look at myself BY myself.

Findon said...

I have done regular Step 4's. I find them useful. Stuff comes up from the past, stuff I've forgotten about, not realised it was wrong. Things to be dealt with. I have learned more about my own growth through this one step than any other thing. Thanks for the post.

Scott W said...

I was very willing to write my first fourth step. I worked on it for some time, procrastinating a bit here and there, but got it done in a timely manner. I had to look at it like the store inventory as mentioned, that made it sort of matter of fact for me.

Stephanie said...

One thing rang very true to me. The fear that my short attention span and lack of long term motivation will catch up with me and throw me back into using. I have 67 days clean today and I still fear the day that I get restless with this process or the day that I get too comfortable in my recovery. The worst thing an addict can do is get too comfortable. Attending meetings and consistantly working the steps is the key to recovery (so I have been told). I try my best to stay motivated but sometimes I get lazy and that's a scary thing.
The good part about recovery is that your entire life changes for the better. It's amaing and although it's scary ... it is worth it so work it!

Mary LA said...

What I love about reading your take on the Steps is not just that it is solid AA but the quality of lived experience that only comes with time. That commitment to AA comes through in such an authentic way.

At 20 months sober I have a taste of sobriety and a few helpful ideas but not very much experience. Reading you gives me such hope.


Pam said...

oh you know where I stand on this....right with you darlin'.
Thanks for all the work you are putting into this writing.

Kathy Lynne said...

that's how I did my fourth step too. Right out of the Big Book. I had all kinds of worksheets, one even called the Suduko of the fourth step or something like that...and it was too much. I went back to the grid and it worked for me. Simple and to the point. And it worked. Imagine that!

big Jenn said...

Oh, I'm catching up this morning. I wrote my fourth step in the aftercare part of rehab. God knew me well then. It was a safer bet for me considering who I might have chosen to help me. Thank you, jeNN

Just Another Sober Guy said...

I kinda fell behind on my reading but am so gald I came back to catch up.

Step 4 for me was huge. I dargged my feet on it for months. i was not sure how to do it and was never quite happy with the answer when I asked how. Finally, I did it.

I made an appointment with myself, based on a friends suggestion, to work on it for 30 minutes a day. I did not limit myself on the time and spent a couple hours over a few nights.

As I was near to finishing I could feel it coming over me. The reality of my part in my problems throughout my life became clear.

The 4th step, yes, Iwas hard on myself but it was worth it. I needed to be hard on myself, for the first time in my life.