Dr. Bob was one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. His house at 855 Ardmore Avenue in Akron Ohio has twelve steps leading up to the front porch. Coincidence? Maybe some kind of strange divine prophecy. But I’m impressed that there is additional effort or work required to actually tackle the fourth step. It’s the same way for most in our program of recovery. Many struggle with facing the task of working the fourth step.
I know I did.
“Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
This one was going to be difficult but I sensed that it was also going to be important. I had to be thorough and make sure that I did it correctly. I had to make sure I did it right.
I remember how I responded when my sponsor nudged and nagged me to do my fourth step. I said that I wanted to make sure that I did it perfectly. I said I was a little confused and unsure about exactly how it was supposed to be done. So I read about it in the Big Book. I researched it by talking to other people who had been through the steps. I thought. I pondered. I overthought it for weeks and months. I even read another book that had to do with Steps 6 & 7. The truth is, I was procrastinating. I was putting off the process which would force me to look at some really ugly shit. Scary shit. My fears and resentments. My hate. My enemies. My sins. Myself.
It’s what we do, isn’t it? It’s what we did. We DRANK to escape those feelings. The guilt and the shame and the remorse. The anger and the frustration. It was so much easier to kill the pain and regret with that bottle and it’s numbing effect. For me, I could escape my fears and deal with my anger and frustration. I could temporarily drink away my self-loathing. It all just went away. I could drink to put it all aside. And by not doing the work for the fourth step….. I was doing it again.
Finally I was put in contact with a catholic priest who was in the program. Another drunk who understood. I was told that he could help me with Steps 4 and 5. My sponsor said that a Catholic priest was a good choice for someone to do my fifth step with. He said it was kinda like their job anyway, to hear confessions. I wasn’t raised Catholic and I didn’t believe that confession was going to help me. But I met with the man anyway and I heard his instructions on how to write out my searching and fearless moral inventory. We made an appointment for when to meet again to do my Fifth Step, the confession part. Now I had a deadline. At nine months sober, I was finally given a deadline to write out my Fourth Step on paper. I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. I knew that I needed to move forward with working the steps. I wanted to get well.
So I wrote it all out exactly as I was instructed. Lots of fears and resentments. People and institutions I had hated for decades. All of it. Pages and pages of THE CRAP I’d held onto. And then, an incredibly miraculous thing happened. In writing it all out, I was forced to look at the reasons the crap was there. I was forced to be honest and look at my part in each situation and relationship. My part. Was some or all of it MY doing? Was any of it my own fault? Absolutely. No doubt about it. A light came on. A revelation. I was looking at all of the crap that was about what OTHER PEOPLE HAD DONE TO ME…..and I ended up looking at myself.
Working Step Four led me to become honest with myself and learn about who I really am. It also led me to be more humble and forgiving. I could see myself in a different light and look at the people around me in a different way. I began to let go of some of my past. I realized how much I blamed other people for my problems when it was at least partly my own fault in every single case. Every single time.
In tackling that Fourth Step, I was forced to face an enormous fear. And I grew from that experience. I learned things that were some very hard truths about myself. There was long overdue honesty. There also came to be acceptance and forgiveness out of this work. It was humbling and there was a shift in my perspective. A transformation. I could no longer blame and hate others. I could begin to let go of the part of me that put me where I was.
I was beginning to heal.
If you are struggling with Step Four, just start it. Get the pen and paper and write stuff down. Write now right now. Be searching and fearless…and you will be blessed. You can begin to heal too.