“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
In new sobriety, I had a few tiny issues. I was living in overwhelming fear of people, fear of being alone, fear of working, fear of being unemployed, fear of boys or absence thereof. Most of all, I had a fear of being known, and that once you knew all about the real me, you would be gone instantly. I once heard a woman in a meeting say, “My higher power is the look on your face.” I could identify. I knew I thought I was pretty worthless; did you think so, too?
My sponsor, Sally, was love and support wrapped up in jet-black hair and red lipstick. She had her own place, an interesting job, a car, many friends and she was sober. She loved the steps and knew that they worked. I adored her and I wanted her to like me. My people-pleasing habits saved me because I would have done anything she said.
In the Alcoholics Anonymous-approved literature, the 12 steps and 12 traditions, it states, “By going back in our own drinking histories, we could show that years before we realized it we were out of control, that our drinking even then was no mere habit, and that it was indeed the beginning of a fatal progression.” One of the first things Sally asked me to do was to write out a history of my drinking and using.
I did as I was asked. I typed out my history. For added dramatic flair, I wrote it all in the third-person. I read it out loud to Sally and she said, “That’s great, honey. Now I want you to go back and re-write it as if it all happened to you. And no typing, do it in your own handwriting .” I had told the story of a fatal progression, but apparently I was just the slightest bit disconnected from my feelings.
There were times when I would call Sally and tell her the events of my day. “You must be so happy about that,” she’d say, or “You must be pretty angry that happened.” She was teaching me to identify my feelings. I needed the help.
Welcome to Step Four
I had heard early on about the notorious step four. I was in no hurry to talk about my past and all of my moral defects. Depending on whom I asked, step four was either terrifying or horrifying, but I would get there, I was told, if I was lucky. I had proven that I was not a fan of “feelings” and this step promised to be a feelings festival. As always, I was scared.
Sally told me to pray with these words each time I sat down to write this “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself: Dear God, please guide my pen. At the time, God and I were on a break so I really could not see how this could help me, but I did it anyway.
We followed the fourth step inventory example as written on page 65 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The list is divided into three columns: “I’m resentful at”; “The Cause”; and “Affects my.” It was time to start with my resentments. This required me to think back on my past, the past I’d been drinking and using to get away from. It was just the thing that I knew would split me open and leave me in pieces forever. Sally pointed out that getting it down on paper would be a relief compared to all the baggage I was carrying around in my head and heart.
Over and over again, I listed myself at the top of my resentments list. Resenting the choices I had made. Resenting the choices I’d let other people make for me. I had resentment about how often I had abandoned myself in the search for something outside of myself to make it all better. Me, me, me. There was a lot about my favorite topic, me.
Winded from that experience, I couldn’t imagine that I had many resentments against anyone else. I was hard on myself, but wasn’t I easy breezy with the rest of the world? Apparently not. I found that a lot of the fear I operated on was driven by sadness and anger with others.
So as I described my resentments, I listed what part of myself was hurt or threatened and I saw where I was to blame. I saw where fear and ego had driven my behavior. My fourth step was sad and messy and true. It was the dark corners of the real me spread out on paper. It was done. I felt a sweet relief that was foreign but welcome.
I would go on to do other fourth steps in the future – I thought of them as “tune-ups” — but finishing that first fourth step affected me physically. Things looked different. The chroma in colors was amped up a little. I was lighter. My head did not hang so heavy.
I called Sally to tell her that I had finished. “How do you feel?” she asked. “Weird. But I did it,” I said. “You and God did it,” she replied. “I think you’re feeling some joy.” We both laughed. There was a new open space in my chest where the laughing came from. Theologian Karl Barth wrote, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” I had arrived at the end of my fourth step and I was experiencing grace. As I continued my steps there would be more grace to come.