“When thus out of joint, man’s natural desires cause him great trouble, practically all the trouble there is. . . . We want to find exactly how, when, and where our natural desires have warped us.” Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
DURING ELEVEN years in AA, I have become more and more aware of the difficulty that so many of us have in the successful completion–or perhaps I should say the successful beginning–of Step Four.
There is much good material to guide us through this important Step, chiefly in the Big Book and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Perhaps because of so much written material, plus so many different personal approaches that I heard, it was for a long time very difficult, if not impossible, for me to “keep it simple” and thus approach the Step in anything but a mechanical manner. This I did twice in treatment centers, because I was told to do it, “and the result was nil” for me.
In retrospect, I see I had not accepted the three preceding Steps fully and honestly. My experience is only my own. I have known many who have apparently completed the Fourth Step successfully in treatment on a “forced feeding” basis.
Between these two attempts in treatment, I tried the Step alone on the “outside,” and it very nearly led me back to a drink. Again, I either was not ready for it or misunderstood it, and therefore was confused and did not possess the honesty, willingness, or ability to be “searching and fearless.”
Contrary as it may seem, it is now my firm personal opinion that Step Four is strictly a present inventory or accounting of myself, and not a history of misdeeds committed during a long career as a practicing alcoholic. It strikes me that what needs my attention today is my present attitude toward these many destructive incidents from the past, along with other character defects that could lead me back to drinking or, at best, to an unhappy “sobriety.” I can see no profit in creating or increasing a burden of guilt and remorse regarding the past by digging up those painful incidents with which I am already too familiar. Guilt and remorse are themselves among the very things that need looking at today in Step Four, so that they may be honestly admitted to in Step Five and removed in Steps Six and Seven.
As an aside, regarding the past, I have found comfort in two ideas. The first is this: Being a practicing alcoholic (a thing I did not choose or set out to be), I quite naturally did to myself and others many of the terrible things that are typical manifestations of the disease of active alcoholism. I am hardly alone in having demonstrated these outward manifestations. The second idea is this: Being a practicing alcoholic, I probably did about as well as I could under the circumstances at any given time. It usually wasn’t very good, but it was still my best under the circumstances, and I must remember that, for many years, I did discharge a lot of daily obligations pretty well–until I began approaching the end, the bottom of the chart, the hopeless, helpless, full-blown stage of chronic alcoholism. I sincerely hope I am not using this rationale as an easy way out.
Now let me tell you how Step Four finally came to me. And that’s exactly what it did. It came to me; I didn’t come to it. I had come to Step One, then to Step Two, and then to Step Three over a period of time with all the honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness I could muster. Then, one early morning, Step Four came to me quite unexpectedly. I found myself reaching for note pad and pen and began writing, very rapidly at first and then more deliberately as approximately one and a half hours slipped by. Somewhere along the line, I believe, two convictions had finally gotten a foothold somewhere in my mind. The first was that I would go to any length to avoid another long and totally debilitating and terrifying period of dry depression; the other, that if God was going to restore me to sanity, I would have to do my full part in the process, unreservedly.
I did not concern myself with any pluses. I was already too aware of what I fancied to be my few remaining virtues. Nor did I concern myself with details from the past. I zeroed in strictly on what was wrong with me. Of course, what was wrong with me was my thinking, those somewhat diminished but still very present and destructive remnants of the alcoholic mind. This defective thinking had kept me in bondage to alcohol. Later, it had condemned me to dry periods, more drinking, dry periods, more drinking, ad nauseam, and this thinking and the resultant feelings had made any true sobriety quite impossible. It was these old defects (the list was long) that had to be gotten out of me and onto paper so that I could look at them squarely and thus prepare myself for their removal in the next three Steps.
All that sounds rather simple, doesn’t it? The only hooker is that it isn’t. Among other things, I have had to violate one of my cardinal rules and jump out of order to Step Ten each day of my life since then. But then, why not continue to take inventory? The alternative is not at all an attractive choice.
My sincere hope–and my only reason for writing this–is that it may somehow reach and help somebody still lost in that awful wasteland from which I am just emerging and back into which I could so easily and quickly fall. My experience has been that Step Four was the beginning of the way out.
By: C. W. B. | Tryon, North Carolina
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