It is day #657 on this particular journey and what resonates with me today is step 4.
As the title suggests we’re talking about a ‘searching and fearless inventory’ of ourselves. To those not in the program this basically means this: 1. write your life story (essentially) 2. pick out the parts where you screwed up. 3. identify what kinds of character defects caused these screw ups. 4. figure out a plan to fix this going forwards. Finally, 5. read the list/story in its entirety to another person so that it’s off of your chest.
So aside from the fact that you need to make a list of things you regret, you also make a list of things you did well. Or, things that you’re proud of. So you can basically make a one-for-one list of things on both sides of the equation. Like most people fresh off a retirement from a drinking career, I didn’t see a hell of a lot of good. To this day there are times when I don’t see a lot of good, but that’s usually before my morning coffees!
My fourth step was basically my life story, where things went wrong and times when alcohol was the gasoline on the tire fire that was my life. Occasionally I had moments where I thought to myself “Hey, that was pretty good!” Or, “I’m proud of that!” But for the most part I felt pretty terrible writing it.
And maybe that was the whole point. Maybe in the infinite wisdom of AA someone thought that we needed to get all the terrible stuff out. We needed to sit in it just one more time and stink. But this time when you stood up you got to hose off and be clean. This time you didn’t need to sit back in it. You get to spend your life without the stink of the shame, guilt and regret that you’ve had on the ass of your pants every single day you drank. You can enter the world and begin to look in front of you without being worried about, well, everything.
There are few things that I know for sure in this life. I know that I’m responsible for me. I know that there is good and evil in this world. Humans are predictably fallible. I know that love and happiness are things everyone deserves. And I know for sure that sitting down with a priest I’d never met, (and to whom I’ve not spoken since) and telling him my life story in gory, grisly detail has taken an enormous weight off my shoulders. I’d had this weight so long I’d no idea it was even there, but baby, did I ever notice when it was gone! I really think there is an argument to be made for about six of the twelve steps being ‘the most important’ step. Step one asks us to admit me have a problem; that one on its own takes years for some. Step nine asks us to make amends to everyone we’ve harmed, which can be a tall, tall order. For my money it’s 4 and 5. One big, long, twisted, terribly painful step that brought me more relief than any beer ever has.
Step four is the most personal you ever need to be in AA. You can attend a meeting every single day and get away without saying much more than your name. You can have a sponsor and only discuss alcohol’s negative impact without divulging much more than the basics of your life. You could avoid fellowship if you really tried, we’re not a forceful bunch, after all. While I don’t recommend doing any of those things, hypothetically it is possible. However with step 4 there is no skipping the nasty bits. There is no glossing over or softening blows; there isn’t an easier, softer way. The definition, when applied correctly, allows nothing but the barest, naked truth of our being. Everything out in the open.
That nakedness is what leads to a real change. When you strip something to it’s skeleton and begin to rebuild it you can’t escape the things you’re stripping away. You’re not going to miss major pains. Regret isn’t going to slip by. Grief, depression and loss will be out in the open, in a pile at your feet, so to speak. To really get to the bottom of our problems and begin to change them, we must expose these things and that’s all right. Sweeping a problem under a rug doesn’t solve it. Whether we choose to see it this way or not, that’s what our drinking was. It was taking our problems and drinking them under a rug. A stretched metaphor, no doubt. But still accurate.
Someone in recovery once told me that once we begin drinking (problem drinking, that is) we stop growing emotionally. (Thankfully it’s only emotionally and not physically or I might not be tall enough to ride a roller coaster.) Instead of learning how to deal with life, we learn how drinking is a short cut. The problem is that that short cut doesn’t lead to the same place. It is a big, hard to navigate loop where we end up back at the start only to find we still don’t know what the hell to do. So, what do we do? We drink! We do what makes us comfortable!
Step four allows us to move past that and to begin the process of, sorry for using this term, learning to ‘adult’. It allows us to begin to really experience life in it’s fullest. The good, the bad. The joyous and the desperate. By not numbing ourselves with alcohol, we are able to truly begin to develop. We learn how to cope with life in healthy, growth-filled ways. I know for me personally this has lead to great leaps forward in my mental health and the development of my character. I am miles from anything approaching perfect, but that was never the goal, anyway!
My name is David and I can not drink today.
Thanks for reading. I wish you another 24.
A friend of Bill