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...