Atheist Big Book Study: Step Four
Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
When I first approached this step, I was concerned with doing it exactly right. I thought it had to be done precisely as laid out in the Big Book, and although Bill W. outlined a different method in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the Big Book is what counted to me. I guess I was a bit of a fundamentalist at the time and feared that it wouldn’t work if I didn’t follow directions exactly.
With this mindset, I went to several different people to ask how they worked this step. Much to my chagrin, each person gave a different answer and they all seemed fairly nonchalant about it and none too concerned with how it was done.
I now understand that how it’s done is not as important as the experience of actually doing it. In fact, I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to work any of the steps. Furthermore, “working the steps” may not be the best description of our encounter with them anyway. I have since realized the real benefit and personal growth came from my total experience with the steps, my awareness of that experience, and what I learned about myself as a result.
On first reading this step, I was taken aback by the phrase “moral inventory”. It seemed to suggest that I would be judged as good or bad by the rules of some religion. I can understand why those who were victimized by religion would be tempted to avoid this step rather than subject themselves to the hypocrisy of religious authority. However, in Step Four we aren’t judging our actions by the standards set forth by others, we are instead looking within to discover the truth about ourselves and the forces that shaped our personalities.
A good reason for taking an inventory is that it helps to uncover those things that fueled the fire of our alcoholism. Over time we became increasingly dependent on alcohol and though we may have been physically addicted to alcohol the drug, the addiction itself was a behavior. In this sense our drinking was only a symptom of our problem and to recover we need to change our behavior, we need to change on a psychological level. A personal inventory helps us identify our reaction to past events that are causing us difficulty and emotional pain in the present day. This makes it possible to change our behaviors and to become healthier more balanced people.
I was sober in A.A. for four years before I started this step. That may seem like a long delay, but as mentioned earlier, my recovery is the totality of my experience, and this delay is now part of my story. Though, others may have been pressuring me to get through this step, I simply wasn’t ready. We all come into A.A. at different stages of life and with varying circumstances. I started out with nothing and my needs were much more basic.
During the first two years of sobriety, I worked at some very low paying jobs, and it was a constant struggle to keep food on the table, a roof over my head and gas in the car. I was stuck on the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It was not until these basic needs were satisfied and life was more than a fight for survival, that I would be ready to work for emotional growth.
Some will find humor in the following statement and others will relate, but I believe that procrastination is part of working this step. Even if you are ready as I eventually was, there will be temptation to put it off. As mentioned earlier, one problem that I had was this obsessive desire to do it exactly right, but it was also painfully difficult to look at the past, and sometimes I was just plain lazy. None of that matters except I can now use the experience of that period of procrastination to help others who may be going through the same thing.
If you are new to A.A. and feeling pressured to work this step, please take it easy on yourself. In my experience, I found that simply attending meetings, listening to the experiences of others, sharing my own experience, and forming friendships in the program kept me sober.
In Step Three, I became convinced that I had more problems than out-of-control drinking. I became painfully aware of my self-centered behavior and I wanted to change, but more than just wanting to change, I felt that I had to change. I was now ready for Step Four.
I never thought of myself as a resentful person, but I don’t think I really understood resentments. Resentment is mentally reliving some past event and experiencing the emotion as if it were happening today.
Often the emotion is anger, but it can also come in the form of remorse. It’s important to note, that we are not looking to assess blame, it does not matter who was right or wrong, we simply want to put on paper the memory that heretofore lived only in our mind.
Taking out a pad of paper, I divided it into four columns. In the first column I listed the person or institution I resented, in the second column, I listed the actual event that caused the resentment, the third column was used to note how the resentment affected me, and the fourth was to indicate if fear was involved.
The first two columns are self-explanatory, but the third column requires some thought. When considering a resentment, we ask ourselves why we have it, what was it about us that was impacted? Were we afraid? Was our self-esteem, financial security, ambition, personal relationships, or security threatened?
Here’s an example of two resentments, one in which I am not to blame and another where I am at fault. Again, I found it unimportant who was at fault, it only mattered that I put these memories on paper in an effort to learn about my emotional make up and hopefully come to understand why I have certain behaviors so I can learn to change.
|I Resent||Why I am resentful||What is affected||Fear|
|My mother||Committed suicide||Self-esteem, Security, Personal Relationships||Yes|
|My employer||Fired me for drinking||Self-esteem, Security, Financial Security||Yes|
I continued to write as these memories just came to mind. Sometimes, the thoughts came in chronological order and sometimes they didn’t. I just wrote and let it flow. In my experience, once I started writing, it was best to get it done in one sitting. It was important for me to get this stuff out quickly, to not ponder over it for too long and to simply list the facts.
When finished, I went over the list carefully reviewing what I had written, and in doing so, I began to recognize a theme of insecurity forming a pattern throughout my life. I carefully reviewed my resentments without consideration of who was right or wrong, but I looked only at my part. Where was I was selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and afraid? I paid particular attention to where I was afraid and asked myself why. Was I afraid of losing something I had or of not getting something I wanted?
I went through the same process with a review of my sexual conduct and relationships, subjecting them to the same questions, how was I affected and what part did I play? Where was I selfish, self-seeking, dishonest and afraid? In doing this, it was evident that I had some unhealthy relationships. I seemed incapable of forming a true equal partnership with another person. It may be that having started drinking at such a young age, I never allowed myself to feel the pain that helps one learn and grow. Sobriety, will give me that long lost opportunity.
The fourth step helped me to better understand and appreciate my own humanity which made it possible to forgive those who hurt me, and to become willing to make amends to those I had harmed. This step was liberating and I believe healing on a deeply emotional level. It was not as people may imagine an exercise in self-flagellation. On the contrary, this step helped me make peace with myself. I confronted my mental demons head on and found a sense of hope that I could create a new and better life for myself.