Take a look at this if you like, we will be reading this for our Thursday Step Study this week, April, 23.
Of all the Twelve Steps, it seems the one most commonly rationalized and postponed is the Fourth. I had a bookful of “reasons” for not involving myself with it.
After all, it was bad enough that I had to admit defeat (First Step), without having to look at why I was defeated, at what was wrong with me (as if anything could have been that wrong!).
For the first ten years of my sobriety, I fought especially hard against the Fourth. How did I survive without taking inventory? By playing word games and becoming pretty adept at them. For example, jealousy was one of my most grievous shortcomings. By calling it rancor, I gave it literary value and thus made it acceptable, even desirable. Possessiveness: I regarded it as the only civilized way to show affection. Do I need to add that I civilized more than one romantic relationship right out of my life, and ruined several budding friendships? Fear was one of the most corrosive characteristics that clung to me, and I to it; yet I persisted in calling it caution or alertness.
I remember making a discovery about this Step that helped a lot. The word “moral” used to bother me, until I noticed that the word is not used once in the Big Book’s discussion on the Fourth. Instead, we read of personal inventory. A welcome discovery, because the word moral had been inextricably woven through the daily “don’ts” of my childhood religion.
The idea of fearlessness posed a special problem. How could I be fearless confronted by what seemed a horrendous task? When I was finally willing and ready to face up to it, the answer was forthcoming. The same Higher Power that was restoring me to sanity could wrap me round in a cloak of courage. God, as I understood him, who held my life and my will in his care (Third Step), would not abandon me as I worked my way through personal stocktaking toward the ultimate goal–carrying and living the message.
Speaking of messages, I used to work hard perfecting theatrical impressions I wanted to spring on AA groups as I traveled the local speakers’ circuit. The type of meeting I preferred was closed discussion, where I could lovingly play the role of AA oracle. The open meeting (three speakers) was not my favorite choice. It would be too much of a hassle to get into the “right” slot. I had to be the last speaker, so that I could remember myself as the cleverest and the group could remember me as the humblest. What a relief to finally discover, thanks to the Fourth, that I did not have the last word!
There were a few questions that bothered me a lot, questions that bother some of us as we approach this Step for the first time.
Why do I have to do the Step at all? Of course, I don’t “have to” do any of the Steps. But if I want to hold on to my sobriety, if I want to enhance it, I’d better do something about my old ways–those old ways that kept me drinking. How better to identify them than by writing them down? “Why not do what everyone else does,” was the suggestion of an older, wiser member, “instead of insisting on doing it your way? Your way doesn’t work, does it?”
How do I do it? It smacked of cruelty, to have to write down a list of weaknesses and strengths. Older members, however, said that was the way they did it. I made many attempts, but such was my resistance that it took a very, very long time before I could get at the festering trouble spots.
When should I do the Step? Perhaps the most predictable question, whichever Step is under discussion. As a group, we AAs seem to be, as my mother would have said, “bent and determined” to make up for lost time.
Well, did you ever hear of the theory of perpetual motion? It has to do with the idea, or principle, of a device which, once set in motion, would operate indefinitely by creating its own energy.
Consider how that theory becomes less of a theory and more of a fact in the life of a recovering alcoholic. In those localities, for instance, where ninety days are suggested before a newcomer can hold office or make an AA talk, if you ask that newcomer when he had his last drink, he can tell you without a moment’s hesitation: “Fifty-six days, ten hours, and twenty-eight minutes ago!”
Were you like that? I was. I could not wait to find a new place to live or to begin a romantic relationship or to be happy or. . .I could not wait for speaking commitments or for twelfth-step calls or for jobs at the group level or. . .I was on the run from one phone call to the next, from one person to the next, and from to meeting. I could not wait for you to finish your sentence, but finished it for you!
The question of when to take the Fourth Step, like so much else in AA, is an individual matter. In the early history of our Fellowship, it was suggested that it be done (not attempted, but done) within the first weeks or, at the most, within the first few months. Today, there are thirty-day and sixty-day alcoholic rehabilitation programs where a patient is required to write out a Fourth Step, and to discuss it with a counselor (Fifth Step).
On the other hand, there are some AAs who believe it a more humane and workable plan to put off the Fourth for as long as a year.
Possibly the most useful tool we have to help us in working the Steps–the Fourth in particular–is sponsorship. In my view, there is no substitute in AA for the practical experience of the older AA member. The suggestion that I was given in the beginning is as valid now as it was then. “You don’t have to do anything alone anymore,” they said. I took them literally and would not go to the laundromat without an AA at my elbow. (That was not quite what they had in mind, of course.)
When we have grounded ourselves in the first three Steps, the Fourth usually follows relatively easily. Seems to me that’s the reason it is not the Third, and not the Second either. Heaven forbid that it should ever have been the First!
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